BY ERICA WERNER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming this week to pass a landmark immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions, setting up a high-stakes debate on the Senate floor.
First, the committee must resolve a few remaining disputes.
One involves amendments over high-skilled immigrant visas sought by the high-tech industry but opposed by labor unions. The bill as written increases the availability of these visas, but includes restrictions aimed at ensuring U.S. workers get the first crack at jobs. Silicon Valley companies view some of the restrictions as too onerous and are lobbying to soften them.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, seen as a swing vote on the committee, is on the side of the high-tech industry, while Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is championing the labor position. Lawmakers and lobbyists have been trying to find a compromise that could win Hatch's support for the overall bill without alienating Durbin, one of its authors.
There's also a disagreement over whether gay Americans should be given the right to sponsor their foreign-born spouses for green cards like straight Americans can. Gay rights groups are pressuring Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to offer an amendment allowing this, but Republican authors of the immigration bill insist that they'll abandon their support for their legislation if such a measure is included.
Both disputes were put off until last week as lawmakers negotiated behind the scenes and weighed their options. The three public work sessions the Judiciary Committee held over the last two weeks featured little suspense, as committee members waded through some of the 300 amendments that were filed to the bipartisan bill. The legislation seeks to dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system and allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country.
Committee members accepted a number of Republican-sought changes to the bill, including provisions tightening up border security. But majority Democrats and the two Republican committee members who helped write the legislation – Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham – fended off major changes, branded "poison pills," that could jeopardize the delicate compromises at its core.
This week, in addition to the high-tech and gay marriage disputes, amendments will focus on the crucial sections of the bill dealing with the 13-year path to citizenship the legislation offers the 11 million people in this country who are here illegally.
Democrats have the votes to ensure committee passage of the legislation by the end of the week, before Congress breaks for its Memorial Day recess. The outcome is less certain on the Senate floor, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised the measure will be considered in June. Less certain still is the outcome in the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has not said publicly how or when he'll proceed with bringing immigration legislation to a vote.
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>