Immigration Reform 2013: Bipartisanship Reigns In Senate Judiciary Committee During First Votes

The first votes on amendments to the Senate’s Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform proposal took place in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Given the votes, bipartisanship is still in control.

The first group of amendments dealt with border security. 33 amendments were introduced. 15 were by Democrats; Leahy-2, Feinstein-8, Hirono-2, Coons-1, Blumenthal-1, Schumer-1. There were 17 by Republicans; Grassley-5, Sessions-5, Cornyn-3, Flake-2, Lee-1, Cruz-1, and one by the Gang of Eight. 23 were adopted, 18 by voice vote. Seven were not accepted, with GOP Senators Flake and Graham, both members of the Gang of Eight, voting with Democrats to maintain the spirit of cooperation established developed during preparation of the bill. Three amendments were withdrawn.

As usual, some of the amendments adopted were administrative, improving reporting and oversight of funds. Others showed there is a desire by both sides to strengthen the bill:

- Prohibit border crossing fees for pedestrians and passenger vehicles – Leahy (D-Vt.)

- Include human trafficking as a violent crime – Cornyn (R-Texas)

- Include private landowners on Border Oversight Task Force – Flake (R-Ariz.)

- Provide watercraft for maritime enforcement – Feinstein (D-Calif.)

- Apply border security strategy to all border sectors – Grassley (R-Iowa)

- Add additional permanent District Court judges in the Southwest sector – Feinstein (D-Calif.)

The final amendment of the day clearly proved bipartisanship will prevail. Senator John Cornyn proposed speeding up processing time for both persons and commerce through private-public cost sharing initiatives. Senators Feinstein and Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had concerns but instead of saying they would vote "no,"" they both offered to work with Senator Cornyn to resolve those issues so the amendment could be brought back for consideration. Senator Cornyn gladly accepted and withdrew the amendment.

The committee resumes the mark-up process next week, taking up visas and internal enforcement. If the first round is any indication, the Judiciary Committee will approve an improved immigration reform bill that should gain bipartisan support from the full Senate.