Immigration Bill S. 744 Passage: Reason to Celebrate

Last Tuesday night S. 744—Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 13 to 5.

Beginning with the Memorial Day recess and continuing into the summer, Gamaliel clergy and leaders across the country will be holding Congregation Basement Field Hearings.  Members of Congress and other elected leaders in our states and communities will gather with people of faith for a time of story-telling that puts a “face” on the issue of immigration in this country.  Most importantly, they will be asked to acknowledge that comprehensive immigration reform is about the lives of real people, not ideologies and political parties.  For more information about a Gamaliel “Dream for All” Congregation Basement Field Hearing near you, go to:  Dream for All

Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council: 

“We congratulate Senator Leahy and the entire Senate Judiciary Committee on the spirit of deliberation, collaboration, and transparency that marked the process. Many amendments added during the mark-up will strengthen the bill in the areas of high-skilled immigration, protections for vulnerable groups and due process. However, other amendments, like those attempting to deny citizenship, may have been driven more by rhetoric than reality. In addition, not providing some relief to siblings who face extreme hardships because of their separation and not ending the discrimination against same sex couples legally married in theUnited Statesis short-sighted and bad policy. Yet despite these high costs, the overall bill coming out of committee now gives the Senate an important and rare opportunity to complete the task we have been working on for years—passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that finally moves us to our goal of fixing our broken immigration system.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center:

“The ‘Gang of8’bipartisan bill, historic in nature, has survived the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup process. Most of the worst amendments were rejected, and some of the approved changes to the bill would make the road to citizenship more achievable and restore civil rights.

“However, this multiday, marathon markup session has also given us a glimpse of the anti-immigrant movement’s playbook as the bill moves to the Senate floor. Today, Senators Sessions, Grassley, and Cruz launched a broad-scale attack on working class immigrant families, attempting to keep these families from utilizing the government programs that could help them in realizing their American dreams.

“The questions proposed by these kinds of amendments go beyond the core of an immigration bill. They will help shape what we, as a society, expect of our government. Our fundamental governmental assistance programs — student aid, health care, and nutrition assistance — should help all Americans, whether citizens or aspiring citizens, get on the first rung of the ladder of opportunity.

“Compromises can, and will, be made on this bill. As it heads to the Senate floor, we urge the Senate Gang of 8 to consider how our economy and society will be shaped by these compromises, and to reject short-term political gains that could have long-term policy consequences for our nation.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration:

“This is an important step in the legislative process,” he said May 22, the day after the committee vote. “I applaud Chairman Patrick Leahy and the committee members for their efforts and strong bipartisan cooperation,” said Archbishop Gomez. The Senate panel considered over 150 amendments during the process.

Archbishop Gomez said that the bill should be taken up by the full Senate as soon as possible, and that amendments to improve upon the legislation should be adopted. In his remarks, he specifically mentioned the need for improvements to the path to citizenship and the family immigration provisions in the legislation.

“The path to citizenship should be widened, so that the maximum number of persons can access it and come out of the shadows,” he said. “To leave a large population behind would defeat the purpose of the bill, which is to bring persons into the light so they can become full members of our communities.”  The USCCB has been working to shorten the amount of time an individual must wait to apply for permanent residency, to move forward the cut-off date for eligibility, and to ease income and work requirements.

Archbishop Gomez also expressed concern over cuts to the family-based immigration system, a hallmark of the nation’s immigration laws for decades.

“We must not abandon our focus on families, which are the backbone of our society,” he said. “Family unity, based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children, must remain the cornerstone of our nation’s immigration system.”

Archbishop Gomez welcomed several amendments added to the legislation helping immigrant children. He also commended the Senators for turning back efforts to strike provisions assisting asylum-seekers and refugees.

It is expected that the full U.S. Senate will consider the legislation in June.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 34 pre-eminent Hispanic organizations in theUnited States, welcomed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s successful mark up.

Throughout the mark up process, NHLA’s Immigration Committee issued recommendations to Senate Judiciary Committee members on how to vote on 183 key amendments.  The committee took action on 78 (i.e., those with votes called) of those amendments; agreeing with NHLA more than 75 percent of the time. Votes on some or all of these 78 amendments might be used in compiling a scorecard that will grade Senators on their immigration reform record so that Hispanic voters have a clear picture of where their elected officials stand.

“Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and both Republican and Democratic Senators on the committee deserve recognition for successfully moving the Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal forward through the legislative process.  There is still a long road ahead to enact comprehensive immigration reform, but we are now a big step closer thanks to the bipartisan cooperation and leadership of the past weeks,” said Hector Sanchez, NHLA Chair and Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. “Latinos across the country will be looking to the full Senate to continue to work swiftly, in good faith and in a bipartisan manner as it debates and further amends S. 744.  We will continue to make our voices heard in the halls of Congress and townhalls across the nation.”

“We are encouraged that this important debate moves to the Senate Floor, with the promise of improving our national prospects by providing protections to many contributing immigrants.  We hope that this promising bill will be further improved by incorporating a clear bar on state and local regulation of immigration, restoring critical categories of family immigrants, implementing marriage equality in immigration laws, and expanding protections against discrimination, among other changes,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF and NHLA Immigration Committee Co-Chair. 

Last week’s “bipartisan passage of immigration reform legislation by the Senate Judiciary Committee is further proof that Washingtonhas gotten the message, despite efforts by some to try to derail the process. While not perfect, the bill that is going to the full Senate preserves key elements, namely a framework that will allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our nation to earn legal status and then citizenship and that recognizes the unique situation of our DREAMers and agricultural workers,“ said José Calderón, President of the Hispanic Federation and NHLA Immigration Committee Co-Chair. 

Among the amendments strongly supported by NHLA that were adopted were Coons Amendment #10, which would allow DREAMers and other immigrants who regularize their status to sit for professional and technical trade licensing exams so that they can be licensed and contribute their skills to the economy; Hirono Amendment #21, which allows DREAMers and eligible dependents of Blue Card holders to have access to federal student loans and work-study programs; the Franken Amendment #9, which ensures access to public and assisted housing programs for domestic violence survivors eligible for legal immigration status under the Violence Against Women Act protections; and Leahy Amendment #3, which would enable domestic violence survivors to obtain work authorization pending an application for legal status if it takes more than 180 days to process, so that they can afford to leave violent homes and provide for themselves and their children.

Among the amendments strongly opposed by NHLA that the committee rejected were Cruz Amendment #3, which would have removed any path to citizenship in the bill and could even have resulted in the retroactive repeal of certain U.S. citizens’ citizenship; Sessions Amendment #30, which would have denied the low-income families of 4.4 million Latino children access to the Child Tax Credit; and Grassley Amendment #22, which would have eliminated the government’s discretion in waiving deportation in certain cases, such as victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

Earlier this year, NHLA launched Latinos United for Immigration Reform, a grassroots mobilization campaign which includes an online platform at for the public to engage Members of Congress, over 60 town halls across the nation – of which 40 have already been held, phone banks, and dozens of meetings with congressional offices.  All these efforts combined are expected to generate over 100,000 pro-immigration reform contacts directed at Congress.

“We congratulate the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Leahy for conducting a transparent and constructive process that delivered solid progress.  Bipartisan efforts in the committee and solid support from the Gang of Eight helped defeat extremist measures that would have undermined real reform.  With their actions, Committee members sent a strong message to the whole Senate about moving forward in a way that delivers solutions to fix our broken immigration system, and finally addresses the high economic and human costs of inaction,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR.

“Moving forward, we hope that the Senate debate will focus on our nation’s urgent need for an immigration system appropriate for the 21st century—one that includes an achievable roadmap to legality and citizenship, upholds family and protects workers.  Latino voters are deeply invested in this issue and are watching developments closely as this debate now moves to the Senate floor,” concluded Murguía.

Voto Latino President and CEO, Maria Teresa Kumar:

“Immigration reform is personal to millions of Americans and their family, friends, fellow church members and neighbors that make up the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are eager to contribute to the American fabric. Today, all of us congratulate and thank the Gang of Eight, Sen. Patrick Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee for their work, leadership and courage to move this important piece of legislation onto the Senate floor for a historic vote next month.

“Not only did the bipartisan immigration bill come out of committee without major changes that could have threatened the diverse coalition supporting the proposal, but it came out stronger than it went in. Senators accepted dozens of Republican amendments that strengthened the proposal, including measures that give American companies access to the labor and talent they need to continue growing their business without costing American jobs.

“The Gang of Eight bill has cleared a major hurdle and today we celebrate this accomplishment, but our fight for sensible comprehensive immigration reform continues. As the House of Representatives prepares to unveil their own proposal, they should build on the Senate’s work by expanding immigrants’ access to healthcare, including preventive care that will strengthen families and reduce healthcare costs across the nation. We will also demand an earned, but fair path to citizenship for the 11 million because anything short of that will lead to a system that creates two sets of residents — American citizens and permanent second class. That we will never accept.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15):

“The CHC commends the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Patrick Leahy for completing markup of the bipartisan ‘Gang of 8’ immigration proposal.  Passage of the bill clears a big hurdle and continues to show that leaders on both sides of the aisle are willing to work together to develop a sensible immigration reform proposal.  We are pleased that our nine principles of immigration reform continue to be reflected in the Senate’s efforts and we look forward to continuing the momentum.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ):

“I applaud my colleagues from the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy, for holding a successful mark-up of the Gang of 8 immigration reform proposal.  After extensive consideration of hundreds of amendments, I am pleased to see that the original foundation of our legislation was not weakened.

“The wide range of amendments adopted were all made in good faith, and it is clear that there is consensus around the fact that we must fix our broken system once and for all. Our carefully crafted compromise withstood a tough series of poison pill amendments, and its passage out of the Judiciary Committee brings us a step closer to final passage by the senate.

“It’s a long road ahead, and our work is far from done, but the diverse coalition that has formed in support of comprehensive immigration reform continues to grow. Members from the entire political spectrum continue to support the bipartisan proposal put forth; this is the right approach at the right time.  I will continue to do everything I can to push this bill across the finish line, and I look forward to a thoughtful and fair debate in the senate floor.”

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