Immigration Reform 2013: Bill Passes Committee, But Will the Full Congress Go For It?

After many months of behind-the-scenes planning and days of debate, the Senate Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill was passed out of committee Tuesday evening. The bill will now be presented to the full Senate after the Memorial Day recess. 

After considering the final 35 amendments, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 in favor of the bill. Republican Senators Orin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined the 12 Democrats on the committee. Flake and Graham were part of the Gang of Eight that drafted the bill.

Hatch’s support was solidified today after his amendment dealing with H-1B visas, co-sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), was accepted. Hatch still has four amendments that require action by the Senate Finance Committee that unless adopted, could jeopardize his support on the Senate floor.

The final amendment offered was presented by Committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), dealing with granting same-sex couples equal treatment in immigration sponsorship of non-citizen spouses. This had been anticipated with much speculation that it would be a deal-breaker for Republicans.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) immediately brought that point up. However, after pleas from Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Schumer, Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Leahy withdrew the amendment. The amendment might be brought up during the floor debate, but the likelihood is that it will not be brought up until the Supreme Court rules on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

GOP Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sessions, and Mike Lee (R-Utah) withheld support in committee, hoping for their concerns to be addressed when the full Senate debates the bill.

Comprehensive immigration reform is one step closer to reality but by no means is it assured. The bill will be further amended during floor debate. The House needs to pass its bill, and then a conference bill would have to be agreed to and passed by both chambers.

When the clerk read the results, the gallery broke out in chant, “Yes we can” and “Si se puede.”