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Immigration Reform: Week Two Is Through

Michael W. Macleod-Ball,
First Amendment Advisor,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 20, 2013

After two more long days last week of largely unsuccessful attempts to scuttle the immigration reform bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee now is looking at the gargantuan task of wrapping up consideration – somehow, some way – before the end of this week. On Tuesday, the Committee completed work on the border security section of the bill and then began consideration of the section dealing with non-immigrant visas – addressing labor needs. Work on those issues continued on Thursday and then transitioned to enforcement, including the E-Verify employment verification system. All told, the Committee was busy this week – considering 64 amendments and adopting 40 of them. All but two of the amendments were adopted on a bipartisan basis. Ninety-nine amendments have now been considered (including modifications), and quite a few more have been withdrawn, out of the 300 amendments originally filed. Despite the accomplishments, the Committee still must figure out a way to deal with perhaps 150 amendments before Senators return to their home states at the end of the week for the Memorial Day recess.

Tuesday’s session finished off the work on border security. Those largely opposed to providing a path to citizenship are intent on making sure the southwest border, in particular, is as militarized as possible before any such path will be created. The original bill includes many provisions doing just that, but further attempts were made on Tuesday. Two of the most dangerous and disingenuous amendments came from Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.), who tried to impose impossibly high security mandates as a condition for, in one case, adjustment of status decisions and, in another, the visa waiver program. Fortunately, both amendments were rejected in bipartisan fashion. Other key votes included:

  • The Committee adopted a modified version of a Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) amendment that restricted the use of unmanned surveillance drones to within three miles of the land border in southern California.
  • And the Committee also adopted a proposal by Senator Coons (D-Del.) that would limit certain dangerous deportation practices that put migrants in jeopardy when they are returned to their country of origin.
  • The Committee approved the proposal of Senator Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to provide immigration status for certain domestic violence victims.

Each of these items was adopted on a bipartisan voice vote. Our vote recommendations on the border security section of the bill are here.

On Thursday, the Committee completed its work on non-immigrant visas and then took up enforcement issues. Our vote recommendations on the enforcement section of the bill are here. The original immigration reform bill mandates the nationwide adoption of an employment verification system – E-Verify – that we have roundly criticized for years. The system is fraught with inaccuracies and the pilot programs currently in use contain few due process protections. In short, the system is a nightmare – for ALL workers and employers, not just those it’s designed to keep from working. The drafters of the bill, to their great credit, provided certain protections for those unjustly barred from obtaining employment approval. It provides mechanisms to correct records and obtain relief.


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Senator Franken (D-Minn.) also offered several amendments designed to improve the accuracy of the system and to provide assistance to smaller employers attempting to deal with the mechanics of the program. Two of those amendments were adopted by a bipartisan voice vote. The Committee also approved a proposal by Senator Coons that would improve security and privacy issues with E-Verify by requiring the issuance of a notice to anyone whose name is being checked through the system. And a bipartisan group of Committee members rejected a proposal by Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have allowed a patchwork of different state employment eligibility laws to control until the E-Verify system is fully phased-in in five years. One major outstanding issue that has not yet been addressed is the push to put every American’s photo in the E-Verify system. In short, the system is a big part of this immigration bill – it contains some substantial and essential protections that have never been included in earlier proposals to adopt such a system but more work needs to be done.

It will be a long week, this week. On Monday, the Committee will finish up provisions dealing with enforcement and, if there is time, move on to the core of the bill: the eligibility provisions. Here is where those who oppose the bill can do the most harm. So far, the bill has retained its essential character as a product of extensive negotiations between those with fundamentally different views. Both sides have offered significant concessions. But the debate to come offers the opportunity to change the bill at its heart – and the outcome of the amendment process this week may make the difference in determining whether this bill has the legs to get through the approval process on the Senate floor next month. Stay tuned!

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