Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Washington, DC (March 27, 2006) - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates two guest worker programs as well as a mechanism for granting legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.
With bipartisan support, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to 6 to accept a bill largely patterned on the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act sponsored by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ). Republican Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) joined the Committee’s Democrats to win passage of the legislation.
The legislation would allow the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to apply for a work visa. Applicants must demonstrate that they have held steady employment since 2004, undergo a criminal background check and pay a penalty of one thousand dollars. After four years visa holders could apply for permanent residency if they pay back taxes and maintain “model behavior.” The legislation also increases resources and personnel at the border, places new sanctions on employers hiring undocumented workers and expands mandatory detentions and local police authority over immigration.
Additionally, the legislation expedites the reunification of families currently awaiting visas and increases employment-based sponsorships; measures that would positively impact some of the immigration related concerns of the Iranian American community.
Addressing one of the most controversial portions of the legislation, the committee voted to remove provisions that would criminalize immigrants for living in the U.S. illegally and voted to accept an amendment introduced by Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill) that would protect groups and individuals from being prosecuted for offering emergency aid to illegal immigrants. The committee defeated a proposal introduced by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to limit the number of H1B visas for specialized technology workers to 220,000 a year without exemption.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter urged his fellow committee members to complete the mark-up process in order to meet a midnight Monday deadline imposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Senator Frist favors an enforcement-only approach adopted by the House of Representatives last December. The House rejected calls for comprehensive immigration reform and instead approved a Border Security Bill (HR 4437) that would, amongst other things, make illegal presence in the U.S. a criminal felony, allow the government to prosecute any individual who helps an undocumented person remain in the U.S., and possibly deny admission to any citizen or resident of a country that does not have a repatriation agreement with U.S.
The full Senate is expected to debate immigration reform over the next two weeks. After the Senate convenes, the House and Senate will reconcile their differences in a joint conference committee. If passed, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform package is likely to meet stiff resistance from House negotiators.