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10 Immigration Amendments to Watch

Leahy, right, is touting the markup process of the immigration bill in his committee. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Leahy, right, is touting the markup process of the immigration bill in his committee. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s marathon markup of the immigration overhaul drafted by the “gang of eight” senators kicks off Thursday morning, with 301 amendments filed in advance and available at the committee’s website.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, a gang of eight member was the only senator who didn’t file any amendments. Filing an amendment is no guarantee that a proposal will be offered. The Illinois Democrat told reporters Tuesday that he expected senators would work to whittle down the number of amendments and combine related proposals, saying that his experience has shown that his Senate colleagues often tire of a prolonged legislative slog.

Here are just 10 of the amendments worth watching:

1. Uniting American Families Act

Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy has filed amendments that would allow same-sex couples in which one partner is an immigrant to be treated the same way as married heterosexual couples when it comes to immigration policies for partners. One version of the Vermont Democrat’s plan, which supporters are calling a compromise, would only apply to gay unions in states that allow them. The vote could be difficult for the gang of eight, however, given that group members Durbin and Sen. Charles E. Schumer support the proposal, but GOP participants have said it threatens to wreck the careful compromise.

2. DNA Collection and Testing

Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, filed an amendment to require DNA testing of samples from people with undocumented status seeking to qualify for the new “registered provisional immigrant status” established by the proposal.

3. H-1B Visa Caps

Hatch has several amendments designed to increase the number of high-skilled workers eligible for H-1B visas. The most straightforward approach would increase the cap on such visas to 115,000 with provisions for further increases within a fiscal year. H-1B visas are used by many companies in need of high-tech workers such as engineers, and those companies have been lobbying hard for the ability to hire qualified immigrants.

4. Little Dreamers

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is sponsoring what he’s calling a “Little Dreamers” amendment. It would expand the bill’s version of the DREAM Act to young children who more recently entered the United States illegally. “The Senate’s bipartisan immigration legislation is a historic step, but it should not exclude the littlest DREAMers – children brought to this country through no fault of their own who are too young to qualify for the five-year pathway to citizenship that the DREAM Act provides,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

5. Filipino Veterans

An amendment from Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono would exempt children of Filipino veterans of World War II from some numerical limits on total immigrants. Filipino immigrants form a significant community in Hawaii and the state’s senators have long advocated for increased benefits for World War II veterans from the Philippines, including VA benefits.

6. Terrorist Screening

Gang of eight member Lindsey Graham wants to require extra screening for immigrants from regions where the Homeland Security and State departments see additional risk of national security threats. The addition screenings sought by the South Carolina Republican would be designed to make sure that prospective immigrants have no ties to to terrorist groups.

7. Immigration Enforcement Reimbursement

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas filed an amendment to set up a process for giving federal reimbursement to state and local governments for the costs associated with immigration enforcement and detention. The Lone Star State would undoubtedly receive a large share of that money because of its roughly 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

8. Federal Judges

The immigration bill also may become a vehicle for expanding the number of federal judgeships in judicial districts along the southwest border. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has filed an amendment that would provide for several new permanent federal district judgeships in California, Arizona and Texas.

9. Inflation Indexing for Visa Fees

Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa has filed 77 amendments to the bill on many related issues. One of the Grassley amendments would provide for annual inflation adjustments for an assortment of visa fees and penalties.

10. Northern Border Security

Another of Grassley’s amendments would require the Homeland Security Department to deploy an assortment of border security measures on the U.S.-Canadian border that the gang of eight bill itself applies to the Southern border. Parts of the Canadian border are far more porous than the border with Mexico is.


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