Immigration Reform 2013: Bill Goes Through Grueling Amendment Process

Although there is much debate on whether immigration reform in general is a positive or negative, another debate is taking place over the immigration reform bill. A flurry of amendments are being considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee over how the bill should be modified before being sent to the Senate for a full vote.

The amendment process is expected to take weeks as the Senate Judiciary Committee slowly takes up the proposals. The proposals will cover areas as far a national security to poison pills designed to gut the legislation entirely and will all have to be considered.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) alone has introduced 49 amendments to be considered by the committee with regards the bill. But that is only second place, with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introducing a whooping 77 amendments into the process. Overall, 300 amendments have been filed and all will need to be considered for the immigration reform bill to make it to the next stage of the process.

The amendments vary widely. One amendment by Grassley would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement real-time data from student visa databases to the databases used by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The accused suspects of April’s Boston Bombings apparently inspired this proposal as it has been reported that they both were living in the country on expired student visas. 

Senator Sessions filed an amendment that would have limited the total number of legal immigrants to 33 million over the next decade. It was voted down 1-17 with Sessions the only Yea vote. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a Tea Party favorite, voted it down saying that he rejected the idea that the government should place hard limits on the future flow of immigrants.

"We need to remain a nation that not just welcomes, but celebrates legal immigrants. I think we should expand legal immigration but do so in conjunction with putting real teeth on border [enforcement]," he said.

The amendment process is a somewhat surreal phase in a bill’s lifecycle were things as small as grammar to as large major portions of the whole bill are modified during the process. For example one of Senator’s Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) amendments made technical modification to the bill including adding commas and correcting other grammatical errors. It passed on a voice vote.

Others were more contentious. An amendment by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) that dealt with making immigration border officials to have training to deal with children so they do not treat families with children in a way that would not cause the children unnecessary psychological distress passed in a 10-8 vote.

But while the amend process went on throughout the day, the opponents of immigration reform made themselves known. Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) held a press conference on Tuesday with several other anti-immigration reform Republicans. In perhaps a sign of his distaste of the bill, King called it "worse" then the GOP’s current number one legislative enemy, Obamacare. At the conference he said:

"If somehow there was an offer that you’re going to get one or the other … I would take Obamacare before I’d ever accept this amnesty plan. This is far worse"

Time will tell if what emerges is good enough to make King’s fears come true or if the whole bill flops before it hits President Obama’s desk. As the amendment process rolls along expect to at least hear more from both sides of the immigration reform argument. The 300 amendments expected to take until June to get through.