Immigration Reform 2013: Despite Some Rankle From the Right, Amendment Process Going Smoothly

Senators are currently wading through the 300+ amendments that have been proposed for the immigration reform bill (S. 744). Thus far, the process of amending the bill has exhibited bipartisan cooperation.

The amendments deal with a variety of topics, including border security and the path to citizenship. The first round of amendments focused on border security. On Thursday, May 9, 21 amendments related to border security were accepted. Democrats proposed 13 of them while Republicans proposed 8, and 20 out of the 21 accepted were accepted with bipartisan support. In total, 32 border security amendments were proposed last week. Four were withdrawn.

An immigration reform bill that is tighter on border security is more likely to pass in the House of Representatives, which has a Republican majority. That being said, there is a line that must be toed carefully in order to get the bill past Democrats in the House who are concerned that too much money has already been spent on border security.

Examples of rejected border security amendments include an amendment from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) which proposed that the U.S.-Mexico border be secured for six months before undocumented immigrants could begin the legalization process. Another rejected amendment was proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who wanted the U.S. to triple the number of officers along the U.S.-Mexico border and complete the 700-mile fence. This project would have cost billions of dollars.

Additionally, the four of the "Gang of Eight" senators that proposed this bill that sit on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee are evenly divided down partisan lines. These senators are The senators are Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Thus far, they have banded together in rejecting amendments such as the two outlined above.

An accepted amendment, also proposed by Sen. Grassley, would require "effective control" of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, not just areas deemed "high risk." The Department of Homeland Security would need to have "persistent surveillance" and control of 90% of the border before immigrants could begin applying for green cards.  Republicans, on average, have been arguing that the bill is not strident enough with regards to border security, so this amendment is a step in the right direction for them.

Another accepted border security amendment was proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His amendment prevents border fees at land ports of entry to the U.S.

The path to citizenship is also an important aspect of the immigration reform bill. One amendment that has not yet been voted on, also proposed by Sen. Cruz, would refuse U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants. This would, obviously, completely remove the path to citizenship.

The path to citizenship is a large problem for some Republicans. On Tuesday, Representative Steve King (R-IowA), who is known for his strong opposition to Obamacare, said that the he would rather accept Obamacare than the path to citizenship aspect of this bill.

"You all know how badly I despise Obamacare. I've spent years of my life fighting against Obamacare. It's terrible and it diminishes the destiny of America, but if I had to choose, if it came down to this, if there somehow was an offer that said you're going to get one or the other and you have to choose one, I would take Obamacare and try to live with that before I would ever accept this amnesty plan. Because this amnesty plan is far, far worse than Obamacare. That genie cannot be put back in the bottle," he said.

For the moment, however, the Senate is doing an impressive job of amending the bill in a cooperative, bipartisan manner. According to Lia Parada, legislative director at America's Voice, "The progress made in the Senate is a clear signal to the House: the only way to get immigration reform to the President's desk is in a bipartisan manner."