Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Immigration Overhaul

A Senate panel approved the bipartisan immigration overhaul on May 21, and now the bill will go through months of debates in the Senate for its final stamp of approval. The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” legislation was passed 13 to 5 by the Senate Judiciary Committee vote, and three weeks of debates finally approved what many have been hoping for: an immigration overhaul. Although parts of the bill are likely to be changed and updated during the next stages of debate, the central part of the bill remains intact for now. Border security, citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are living in the country illegally and an altered immigration system for the future are three aspects that will likely stay standing after the Senate comes to a final decision.

President Barack Obama has shown support for the bipartisan bill from the beginning, and he told Senate members that he wants a final product so the bill can move “over the finish line.”

“I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

The president went on to note that the bipartisan bill is what he had hoped to see in an immigration overhaul, and that he remains positive that further improvements will be made as soon as possible.

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy and a bipartisan group of eight senators, the legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee with a strong bipartisan vote is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., expressed that the current immigration plan is not working and this immigration overhaul is necessary.

“It’s long time past for reform,” Leahy told the Los Angeles Times. “I hope that our history, our values and our decency as a people – as a people – can inspire us to take action. We’re Americans. We need an immigration system that lives up to American values.”

According to Reuters, Leahy withdrew the amendment that would allow same-sex couples to apply for citizenship through sponsorship. Other members of the committee noted that this would not likely last in the Senate, as Democrats are likely to vote in favor of equal rights for same-sex couples. Republicans on the committee urged Leahy to postpone introducing the bill, saying that they would not vote in favor of the overhaul if it was included in the amendment process.

“If you want to keep me on immigration, stay on immigration,” Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told U.S. News. “You’ve got me on immigration, you don’t have me on marriage. I just can’t tell you more directly.”

Although not all members got what they wanted out of the bill, they were able to reach a middle ground on some issues, including visas for skilled workers. The updated bill increased the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled technical workers. The bill urges businesses to hire U.S. citizens first for these positions, but some of the hiring requirements have been lifted.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, noted that the progress the committee made was impressive.

“It’s remarkable,” Sharry told Reuters.”You have a dysfunctional Congress, where both parties have been at war with each other, working together on a bipartisan basis on a controversial issue and making tremendous progress.”