Hard work, compromise are hallmarks of immigration bill passed by Senate committee

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In the midst of pervasive partisan rancor, a slew of congressional investigations and overall legislative gridlock, Washington, D.C., offered a glimmer of hope this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a comprehensive immigration bill with clear bipartisan support.

For months, there’s been cautious optimism about progress on immigration because of efforts by the “gang of eight” (four Republican and four Democratic senators) to draft legislation addressing one of the most divisive and elusive issues Congress has faced over the last two decades.

After a lot of hard work, much debate and (believe it or not) compromise, the Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 on Tuesday to approve a bill designed to address the inadequate system under which an estimated 11 million people are living illegally in the United States.

The measure includes a pathway to citizenship, with certain conditions; a significant increase in the number of visas for high-skilled foreign workers; and improvements in border security.

To secure committee passage, a bipartisan coalition in the committee stuck together to fight off amendments — from both liberals and conservatives — that would have made passage by the full Senate and House much more difficult. One of those proposals came from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who wanted to remove the path to citizenship and deny immigrants government benefits.

Democrats joined Republicans in defeating an amendment by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, that would have given same-sex partners the right to sponsor a foreign spouse or partner for permanent legal status.

If the bill becomes law, illegal immigrants could apply for “registered provisional immigrant status” if they paid a $500 fine and had a clean record: no felony convictions or more than three misdemeanors. After 10 years, they could seek a green card and permanent residency if they met conditions that would include paying a $1,000 fine and being up to date on taxes. Those brought to the country illegally as children could apply for a green card after five years.

The committee vote is just a start. Fierce debate is certain on the Senate floor next month; and if the bill reaches the House, the fight is expected to escalate. If only the Judiciary Committee’s spirit of cooperation could linger — and become contagious.

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