CIR Bill Gets Through Senate Judiciary Committee: Now What?

The recent progress on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) puts us in mind of an ancient Chinese aphorism, attributed to Lao Tzu: a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. In a flurry of legislative activity before the Memorial Day recess, the Senate Judiciary Committee brought the Gang of Eight’s CIR bill several steps closer to its destination, approving an amended version of the bill by a bipartisan vote of 13 to 5. Although this clears the way for the bill to be considered by the full Senate, CIR still has a long way to go.

The good news is that – at least in the Senate – the measure enjoys support on both sides of the aisle. The question is whether some of the more controversial amendments that failed in committee might pass in the full Senate and thereby endanger the prospects for final passage. For example, during the Judiciary Committee’s markup of the bill, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had to make the agonizing decision not to offer his amendment that would have made green cards available to same-sex partners of U.S. citizens. [See Immigration Overhaul Wins Panel’s Backing in the Senate, by Ashley Parker and Julia Preston, 21.May.2013, New York Times.] According to the Times, Leahy’s amendment would have been a deal breaker for some key Republican supporters, so he pulled it from consideration at the committee level. It remains to be seen whether Senator Leahy will offer the amendment on the floor of the Senate, but the question would be the same: would it sink the bill?

An equal but opposite calculus is in play for CIR’s opponents, who hope to shatter the fragile bipartisan coalition that currently supports the measure, by offering controversial amendments of their own. As the Washington Post reported, conservative opponents of CIR had many opportunities to amend the bill at the committee level, but were largely unsuccessful there. [See Conservatives Stymied in Attempts to Weaken Immigration Reform Law, by David Nakamura, Washington Post, 27.May.2013.] Although the center has held, thus far, there are no guarantees this will continue when CIR reaches the Senate floor in June.

The Senate has shown remarkable discipline in preventing “poison pill” amendments from halting CIR in its tracks; if the conventional wisdom is borne out, the Senate will pass a modified version of the Gang of Eight bill, and attention will turn to the House, where the real fight has been all along. According to Thomas Ferraro of Reuters, many House GOP members simply will not support a path to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented immigrants – and they hold the majority in their chamber:

“The problem: House Republicans are far from convinced by arguments from party leaders that passage of the bill would help Republicans draw support from Hispanic voters. Many also believe any kind of amnesty for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally is just plain wrong.” [See Will Immigration Reform Get Killed in Republican-Led House?, by Thomas Ferraro, Reuters, 25.May.2013.]

Meanwhile, ABC News points to three issues that make CIR a longshot in the House of Representatives:

  • Uncertainty from Leadership
    House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are torn between the party’s national interests in attracting Latino and AsianAmerican voters, and the local interests of members from conservative districts, who cannot stomach a vote for “amnesty.”
  • A Wild Card Conference
    House Republicans are riven by deep divisions on CIR, and opponents could defeat the measure by ginning up grassroots conservative outrage if the House bill provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
  • A Fractured Gang
    The House Gang of Eight has yet to assemble a comprehensive immigration bill capable of attracting bipartisan support, stoking fears that it will only offer piecemeal legislation. [See 3 Things Blocking Immigration Reform in the House, by Jordan Fabian, ABC News / Univision, 24.May.2013.]

In other words: getting CIR through the Senate Judiciary Committee is a significant milestone, but only one on the long road to comprehensive immigration reform. Many tedious and treacherous miles remain before CIR ever reaches the President’s desk!

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.