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Policy Update: Immigration Bill Enters Home Stretch in Senate

June 25, 2013 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On June 24, the Senate voted to end debate on an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that has been on the Senate floor for the past two weeks. The amendment, sponsored by Senators Corker (R-Tenn.) and Hoeven (R-N.D.) changes the underlying bill in a number of ways, particularly in the border enforcement section (briefly summarized below). The cloture vote on the amendment has set up subsequent votes on the underlying bill that is expected to lead to a final vote on June 27 or 28. The vote on the cloture motion was 67 to 27 (60 votes are needed to cut off debate.)

Corker-Hoeven Amendment

For complicated procedural reasons, the Corker-Hoeven amendment substitutes the entire bill. The amendment was meant to satisfy political needs of the moment—some Senators felt the bill as it came to the floor did not go far enough on border enforcement. Experts on the border would not consider the amendment good policy. Nevertheless, the amendment provides more support for a bill that legalizes the current undocumented population and provides more legal avenues for immigrants coming in the future.

It also contains several other changes to the bill that other Senators added. Given the refusal of bill opponents to agree to move amendments, this amendment became a train to which several amendments were attached. Here is a very brief summary of major provisions of the amendment.

The amendment adds “triggers” to the bill’s pre-title. At least six months before Registered Provisional Immigrants can be adjusted to permanent status, the Secretary of DHS must certify that the Comprehensive Southern Border Strategy has been deployed and certain border security measures are in place. Those “triggers” include the completion of 700 miles of pedestrian fencing on the border (approximately 350 miles are already in place); implementation of mandatory E-Verify; an electronic biometric exit system at all sea and air ports of entry where CBP personnel are stationed; and the deployment of at least 38,405 Border Patrol agents on the southern border (doubling the Border Patrol on the southern border). The amendment also includes a long list of technology that must be deployed in each Border Patrol sector.

The amendment increases authorization for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Trust Fund to $46 billion (up from $8 billion), and the Secretary of DHS is authorized to add a surcharge to the fees of immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions to pay for the enforcement functions in the bill, should the fines and fees established by the bill prove not sufficient. Of the $46 billion, $30 billion is authorized over a ten-year period to double the Border Patrol; $4.5 billion is authorized to pay for the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy; $8 billion is authorized for fencing and border monitoring technology.

Title I
In Title I, having to do with border enforcement, in addition to specifying that the Border Patrol be increased to 38,405 by 2021, there are a number of other changes. Among them, the Secretary of DHS is directed to initiate removal proceedings or otherwise resolve the cases of 90% of non-immigrants who have overstayed their visas by more than 180 days. It also requires additional reports on visa overstays. It authorizes a pilot program to notify non-immigrants that their period of authorized stay is about to expire.

Title II
In a change made to Title II of the bill, an undocumented immigrant who had been working and contributing Social Security taxes would not be able to claim credit for taxes paid during any quarter that the immigrant was not authorized to work. This applies to any quarter during the period January 2004 to December 2013.

Implementation of the merit-based visa point system would be moved up one year. The three- and ten-year bar to reentry is waived for merit-based track II applicants.

For employment-based workers in the STEM fields, the amendment extends the waiver of labor certification requirements (provided by the underlying bill only to national interest professionals).

Immigrants who have received certain military honors are considered to have met certain requirements for naturalization, including the English/civics test requirement.

Title III
In Title III, the part of the bill dealing with interior enforcement, the amendment adds a new Subtitle I, providing protections against trafficking for exchange visitor program participants.

Title IV
In Title IV, the amendment clarifies that the number of H-1B visas would not exceed 180,000 in a given year. There are minor changes pertaining to protection of U.S. workers regarding the H-1B program, including clarification that non-profit education and research institutions are not considered H-1B-dependent employers. There also is a provision to bar payment to states for medical assistance (except emergency medical care or medical care for pregnant women and children) for temporary workers or students.

New Title V
The amendment adds a new Title V to the bill, which establishes a youth jobs program, and will provide $1.5 billion over two years for that program.

Senate Action to this Point

Over the past two weeks leading up to the cloture vote on the Corker-Hoeven amendment, the Senate has slowly proceeded through other amendments to the immigration reform legislation. Dozens of amendments have been introduced, but only a handful have been considered. Opponents of the bill have been able to prevent the Senate from working through the amendments, because their consent is needed to bring amendments to a vote without going through the procedural hoops necessary to cut off debate for each amendment. Ultimately, proponents of the bill, in order to have business concluded by the Senate’s July 4th recess, resorted to one big amendment designed to increase support for the bill, and to file cloture to limit debate on that amendment.

Here is a summary of what was considered prior to the cloture vote on June 24.

To begin, there were two procedural hurdles to get over before actual consideration of amendments. On June 11, there was a vote to end debate on the motion to proceed with consideration of the bill. That vote was 82 to 15, and paved the way for the vote on the motion to proceed, with a similar result of 84 to 15
The first amendment to be considered, on June 13, was a Grassley amendment, #1195, which would prohibit the granting of Registered Provisional Immigrant status until after DHS maintains “effective control” of the border for six months. There was no agreement on whether that amendment would require 60 or 51 votes to be adopted, so a motion to table that amendment was offered, and the motion was agreed to by a vote of 57 to 43. A motion to table effectively kills the amendment.

It was June 18 before another batch of amendments came up for a vote:

  • Amendment #1197 by Sen. Thune (R-S.D.) would require 350 miles of double-layer fencing before Registered Provisional Immigrant status could be granted, and an additional 350 miles of fencing before provisional immigrants may adjust to permanent residence. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 39 to 54.

  • An amendment by Sen. Landrieu (D-La.) #1222, would apply certain provisions of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 retroactively for international adoptions, and would make certain other changes concerning children born abroad to U.S. citizens. This amendment was adopted by voice vote.

  • An amendment by Sen. Vitter (R-La.) #1228 would require the US-VISIT entry and exit system be fully implemented at every land, sea, and air port of entry before any undocumented immigrant could be granted provisional status or be adjusted to permanent status. The amendment provided for a fast-track Congressional approval process of the Secretary’s certification that the system is sufficiently implemented. It was defeated in a vote of 36 to 58.

  • An amendment by Sen. Tester (D-Mont.) #1198 would provide for the inclusion of representatives of tribal governments in the Border Oversight Task Force. The amendment was approved in a vote of 94 to 0.

On June 19, a few more amendments were dispensed with:

  • A motion to table an amendment by Sen. Paul (R-Ky.) #1200 that would require a host of new enforcement resources to be deployed prior to implementation of the legalization program was agreed to by a vote of 61 to 37 (thus killing the amendment).

  • Amendment #1268 by Sen. Manchin (D-W. Va.) to limit the executive and employee salaries of contractors working on border security was agreed to in a vote of 72 to 28.

  • Amendment #1208 by Sen. Lee (R-Utah) would have required fast-track congressional approval of the Secretary’s notification of Congress that border security strategies have been implemented and are substantially operational. The amendment was rejected in a vote of 39 to 59.

  • Amendment #1298 by Sen. Pryor (D-Ark.) requires efforts to recruit former members of the Armed Forces to for positions in Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The amendment passed by voice vote.

  • Amendment #1227, by Sen. Heller (R-Nev.) will add a representative from the state of Nevada to the Southern Border Security Commission. That amendment was accepted in a vote of 89 to 9.

  • Amendment #1237, by Sen. Merkley (D-OR), requires additional steps for employers seeking to hire H-2B workers in the forestry industry in order to ensure American workers have an opportunity to fill those jobs. The amendment was accepted by voice vote.

On June 20, there was only one vote during the day, on Sen. Cornyn’s (R-Texas) amendment #1251, which would set additional border security triggers prior to adjudicating Registered Provisional Immigrant status and permanent status. The vote was on a motion to table, and the motion passed in a vote of 54 to 43, thus killing the amendment.

CBO Score

On June 18, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) came out with its cost estimates on the version of the immigration bill that passed out of the Judiciary Committee.

The CBO analyzes bills moving through Congress and projects the impact of the bill on federal finances over the first 10 years after enactment. In these times of feigned concern for federal budget deficits, a high score from the CBO—a projection that implementation of the bill will cost more than it produces in revenues, can significantly affect the fate of a bill.

In this case, the CBO estimated that S. 744 will result in a reduction of federal budget deficits of approximately $197 billion over the next 10 years. With its cost estimate for this bill, the CBO also looked at a 20-year time horizon and concluded that the bill will result in a reduction of deficits of approximately $700 billion over that period.

In the case of this bill, the CBO also did an analysis of the bill’s impact on the broader U.S. economy. CBO found that, “[t]aking account of all economic effects … the bill would increase real (inflation-adjusted) GDP … by 3.3 percent in 2023 and by 5.4 percent in 2033….”

It was the cost savings projected by CBO that spurred the drafting of the very expensive border security measures in the Corker-Hoeven amendment. The Senators decided to spend some of the savings CBO projected on border security, to satisfy concerns of some senators.

On June 24, CBO sent a letter to Judiciary Committee Chair Leahy with a preliminary analysis of the impact of the Corker-Hoeven amendment on the bill’s financial impact. While the amendment substantially increases spending on border enforcement, the amount relative to the surplus projected did not change the overall picture for the bill:

    “As a result [of the amendment], 10-year savings would be smaller than the $197 billion projected for the committee approved bill by something less than $40 billion.”

House Action

In the House, no comprehensive bill has been introduced, though the House’s “gang of eight” (now a gang of seven, with the departure of Rep. Labrador (R-Idaho)) has been negotiating over a legislative package for months. Instead, Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.) is bringing up bills focusing on immigration enforcement, temporary worker programs, and the immigration of skilled workers.

On June 18, the Judiciary Committee passed the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2278), sponsored by House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Gowdy (R-S.C.). Among other things, this bill gives states and localities authority to enforce immigration laws, and provides resources for them to do so. It toughens laws governing removal of immigrants committing certain crimes. It requires mandatory detention for certain immigrants who have committed crimes. It limits efforts to mitigate immigration consequences of criminal convictions, including pardons by a governor or the President. The bill tightens oversight over student visas and educational institutions that sponsor foreign students. The bill provides for the hiring of an additional 2,500 ICE officers, and creates an ICE Advisory Council to advise Congress on enforcement issues. The bill eliminates discretionary relief from removal for immigrants who have been ordered removed. The bill also waives the applicability of environmental laws within 100 miles of the border if those laws interfere with immigration enforcement. And the list goes on.

The bill passed out of committee on party-line vote of 20 to 15.

On June 19, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 1773), sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte. The bill would replace the current H-2A temporary agricultural worker program with an H-2C program with fewer worker protections and no provision to legalize the existing, largely undocumented, workforce. (Farmworker Justice summarizes the bill here.)

This bill also passed out of committee on a party line vote, 20 to 16.

The House bills present a challenge for House leadership as to what to do next. The partisan, enforcement-only approach in the House Judiciary Committee presents a stark contrast to the bi-partisan comprehensive approach followed in the Senate. House leadership will have to decide how to manage the tension between those in the Republican party who are concerned about the party’s long-term viability in national races (and who have generally spoken favorably about a comprehensive approach to immigration reform) and those whose only concern is a primary challenge from the right. House Speaker Boehner has stated he would not simply vote on the Senate bill, but without a comprehensive House bill, he will need to decide how best to try to get immigration reform passed in the House by August recess, a goal he has also stated.

The Judiciary Committee will be taking up additional bills this week.

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