US immigration Bill clears Senate hurdle

Bill offers a 13-year path to citizenship for 11 million unauthorised immigrants

A family attend a  24-hour vigil calling on Congress to pass immigration reform in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A family attend a 24-hour vigil calling on Congress to pass immigration reform in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson


The most significant overhaul of US immigration laws in a generation easily cleared the final obstacle to passage yesterday, when 68 US senators, including 14 Republicans, voted to end debate on the Bill and move to a final vote.

The Bill is expected to pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support as early as Thursday, but similar legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled House, where there is significant opposition from conservative members.

The Senate Bill offers a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the US, as well as tough border security provisions that must be in place before the immigrants can gain legal status. Though overhauling the nation’s immigration system became a priority for many Republicans after the 2012 presidential election, in which Mitt Romney was defeated soundly among Hispanic voters, immigration opponents have mounted last-ditch efforts to derail the bill, which they say would offer amnesty without any real enforcement measures.

The legislation – drafted largely behind closed doors by a bipartisan group of eight senators – brought together an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business groups and labour unions, farmworkers and growers, and Latino, gay rights and immigration advocates. Along the way, the legislation was shaped and tweaked by a series of backroom deals and negotiations that, in many ways, seemed to mirror its inception.

Guest worker programme
The first big deal came early on at the end of March, when the nation’s top labour and business groups reached an agreement on a guest worker programme for low-skilled immigrants. Disagreements between the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, the nation’s main federation of labour unions, had helped doom a 2007 attempt at a similar overhaul, but the two groups came together to create a programme that will expand and shrink based on economic indicators – like the unemployment and job openings figures – and offer a maximum of 200,000 guest visas annually.

The group of senators who wrote the legislation had hoped it would receive overwhelming bipartisan support – as many as 70 votes, suggested some senators – to help propel it through the House, and when the Bill moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the group took pains to win bipartisan support there, too.

In an effort led by Sen Charles E Schumer, D-NY, an author of the Bill, the group wooed Sen Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, addressing his concerns about visas for skilled foreign workers who could fill jobs in the high-tech industry. Ultimately, the panel agreed to provisions by Hatch that raise the annual minimum number of high-skilled foreign worker visas, and create a market-based mechanism to ensure that companies in the United States can bring in qualified foreign workers for jobs that cannot be filled by Americans.

On the final night of consideration by the panel, in emotional and moving testimony, both Democratic and Republican senators argued against taking up a measure that would have allowed US citizens to apply for permanent resident status on behalf of same-sex partners.

Though Democrats supported the measure, Republicans said such a provision would have doomed the overall Bill, and the debate largely became moot Wednesday, when the Supreme Court ruled that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits.
– (New York Times)