Bipartisan Immigration Reform Makes Significant Progress in Senate

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On May 21, the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee passed a much anticipated immigration reform measure known as S. 744. Led by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” the measure passed the committee with a surprising 13-5 vote.

It is that surprisingly strong majority, plus the lack of acrimonious public debate, that has many immigration reform advocates excited about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform. However, major hurdles remain.

According to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, S. 744 will go before the full Senate on June 10. With 300 amendments proposed just in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it remains unclear if senators not involved in the internal negotiations or the Judiciary Committee will adopt entire provisions of the bill or propose additional changes of their own.

It is also unclear if S. 744 does pass the US Senate, in tact or otherwise, what changes could be introduced once the bill enters the U.S. House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate must pass any measures before reaching the president for veto or his signature.

Both Democrats and Republicans have core goals that have been largely addressed to increase the odds of passage. Republicans insist on securing the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent future influxes of undocumented immigrants and to address security concerns. Democrats are holding firm that reform must include both a pathway to citizenship, as well as the reunification of deported parents with their U.S.-born children.

At least for now, each side has swallowed the ‘get along’ pill and buried some of the more extreme proposed amendments such as requiring low wage workers earn 4 times the poverty line before qualifying for reform.

Trading off major partisan objectives while voting down far-fetched amendments appears to have led to cooperation and focus on core provisions of the bill. Each side has given in on demands in the interest of reducing opposition.

For Republican votes, sponsorship of spouses is limited to heterosexual couples and the path to full U.S. citizenship is extended to over a decade. For Democrats, fines or penalties are affordable and spread out while applicants will not be required to return to their native countries while applying for any passed reform. Democrats also secured expanding and accelerating the process for immigrants who entered the U.S. as youth.

If the civility of the debate in the Senate is any indication, the current immigration debate appears headed for at least serious consideration in the House and has a real potential for passage. But, with both parties having their share of hard liners in the House, patience and cooperation could soon be tested.

With both proponents and opponents of immigration reform mobilizing their bases to Washington, the question of what the reforms are may have already been answered by the Senate “Gang of Eight.” The question soon to be answered may be, will Democratic and Republican groups threaten members of Congress be seen as too bipartisan with defeat in the 2014 mid-term elections?

For California, it is no small question.

With an estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants in California, changing their immigration status could have a major impact on the state — in particular, Southern California, home to three-quarters of the state’s undocumented population.

With California holding a strong Democratic majority and a progressive and influential labor movement, supplemental state legislation regarding immigrants could follow. In the past, state lawmakers have proposed laws regarding state-issued identification cards, in-state college tuition, student financial aid, health care coverage, and worker protections.

Most notably on the horizon is the implementation of President Obama’s health care reform which currently does not allow undocumented immigrants to purchase. Either way, how much “love” is shown to immigrants will soon shift from words to deeds.