By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill Tuesday night. The bill, which includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and tighter border security, now heads to the U.S. Senate floor for final consideration.
A bipartisan group of eight senators led by Marco Rubio, R-Florida, drafted the legislation and have worked to make this the year sweeping immigration reform finally passes. Their bill is now a step closer to becoming law, and immigration reform a step closer to becoming reality.
The vote was 13 to 5, with Democrats joined by three Republicans Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch, who secured a last-minute change adding more visas for tech workers. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Even tougher prospects lie in the House, which has yet to produce its own bill.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is not on the committee but was a critical member of the Gang of 8 that wrote the bill. Rubio lent support for amendments that were added to provide even tighter enforcement, including an exit visa tracking system.
However, gay rights advocates and union officials have said the bill is imperfect.
Rubio was part of an effort to keep an amendment out of the bill that would have allowed non-citizens whose same-sex partners are Americans to receive automatic green card privilege. Currently, only married heterosexual couples have this privilege.
According to The Washington Post there was a significant effort among conservatives to keep this out of the bill:
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, perhaps the main Republican shepherd of the immigration bill in the Senate, has warned the amendment could kill the bill, saying that “if that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have the support. It will not have my support.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told the New York Times the provision was a “deal-breaker for most Republicans.”
[Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont], of course, disputes that, telling Politico, “It’s not going to kill the bill.” Jonathan Rauch, a leading gay libertarian, supports bringing up the amendment if for nothing else than as a test of Republicans. “Just how much electoral support and moral standing does the GOP want to give up to affirm its hostility to homosexuals?” Rauch asks.
The effort to keep the measure out of the bill succeeded.
Unions, on the other hand, are upset over an added provision that would create an easier visa process for high-tech workers.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the amendments job killers for U.S. workers.
“Let’s be clear: Senator Orrin Hatch’s H-1B amendments are unambiguous attacks on American workers,” Trumka said.
“Hatch’s amendments change the bill so that high tech companies could functionally bring in H-1B visa holders without first making the jobs available to American workers. Hatch’s amendments would mean that American corporations could fire American workers in order to bring in H-1B visa holders at lower wages.
“The next Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google) might be sitting in an American classroom right now,” Trumka said. “But if that future innovator cannot get an entry-level job in high tech because employers prefer importing temporary workers, entrepreneurial innovations will not occur in the United States.
Rubio said the provision will “boost American job creation.”
Despite discontent from gay rights groups and union, immigration reform faces its toughest fight in the more conservative U.S. House. Many GOP House members are opposed to any path to citizenship, which conservatives consider a form of amnesty.
Moderate Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, are working to hammer out the House version of the bill. However, no legislation has been released yet.