Comprehensive Immigration Reform Eludes Senate, Again
By Aaron Matteo Terrazas
Migration Policy Institute
July 16, 2007
The Senate resurrected comprehensive immigration reform three weeks after it first collapsed, but it failed to approve a cloture motion on June 28 that would have forced a definitive vote on the bill.
Since the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, the House has aborted plans to take action on the STRIVE Act or other comprehensive immigration reform bills.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, and Border Security, said that the Senate vote "effectively ends comprehensive immigration reform efforts in the 110th Congress."
While Senate leaders have echoed Lofgren's stance that the June 28 vote would be the final attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the 2008 elections, portions of the bill may be taken up in other legislation.
Notably, the Senate may independently consider AgJobs, a temporary agricultural worker program; the Dream Act, which would grant unauthorized immigrant children a path to citizenship through education or the military; and other border security measures.
How the Senate Bill Died
After negotiations between administration representatives and key senators, the Senate agreed to resume debate on the bill on June 26. In an effort to woo opponents, $4.4 billion in border security appropriations were added to the bill, which already included funding for increased border patrol agents and the construction of a physical and virtual barrier along the border.
In a tactical move known as a "clay pigeon," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) combined some two dozen amendments into a single measure to get around the possibility of filibusters on individual provisions. The amendments were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats — although the Senate ultimately voted only on six.
Two amendments, by Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), to facilitate family reunification were defeated as were three amendments by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Kit Bond (R-MO), and Jim Webb (D-VA) to toughen the bill's eligibility requirements for unauthorized immigrants seeking to become permanent residents and ultimately citizens.
On June 28, a cloture motion to end debate on the bill and move to a final vote was called and defeated 46-53. The vote divided both parties: Twelve Republicans voted with 33 Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman (CT) in favor of the cloture motion, while 14 Democrats joined 39 Republicans in opposition.
Many of the same issues that doomed the bill earlier in June recurred, notably complaints that Senate leaders were attempting to limit debate and concerns that the bill was drafted in secrecy.
Some have argued that President George Bush's intense lobbying appeared to have had limited impact on the outcome. However, all 11 Republicans who changed their vote between June 7 and June 28 ultimately voted in favor of invoking cloture although a vote in favor of cloture did not necessarily translate into support for the bill.
Eight Democrats changed their votes over the same three-week period in June: four switched against the cloture motion and three switched in favor. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) voted in favor of the motion on June 28 but did not vote on June 7.
Policy Beat in Brief
- Read more about the first series of debates on Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the Senate in the June 2007 Policy Beat.
- Read more about the Senate Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in the May 2007 Policy Beat.
- Read more about the House and Senate immigration reform proposals in the April 2007 Policy Beat.
- For a summary of the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act of 2007 ("AgJOBS") (S 237), click here.
- For the text of AgJOBS bill, click here.
- For the text of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2007 (DREAM Act) (S 774), click here.
Employment Visa Suspended. Just over two weeks after announcing that employer-sponsored green cards (other than those for unskilled workers) were available, the US State Department announced on July 2 that all green cards for foreigners applying to become permanent residents had been used up. The State Department cited a sudden processing backlog reduction by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that exhausted all of the 60,000 remaining employer-sponsored green cards for fiscal year (FY) 2007. Each fiscal year, 140,000 employment-based green cards are available for foreigners seeking to become lawful permanent residents. According to the State Department's monthly visa bulletin, employment visa numbers will be available for FY 2008 allocations starting in October. Applications for green cards require extensive documentation, and the announcement stalls the plans of tens of thousands of individuals, employers, and families who had already begun the process. The American Immigration Lawyers Association is preparing a class action lawsuit against the US government in response. As of July 30, the application fee for a green card rises from $395 to $1,010.
US Passports. Facing unprecedented delays for issuing new passports, the State Department has decided to delay for at least six months the implementation of a passport requirement for US citizens returning to the country by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Instead, as of January 31, 2008, US citizens will be required to present both proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license. Officials hope to fully implement the passport requirement at all land and sea borders by summer 2008.
Real ID Requirements. Six state legislatures have passed laws opposing federal requirements implementing minimum security standards for state identification cards by 2013. Legislatures in Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington claim that the requirements included in the Real ID Act of 2005 would be prohibitively costly and would compromise privacy. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that the requirements will cost states more than $11 billion.
Naturalization Rate. The number of persons naturalizing as US citizens rose to 702,589 in 2006, up 31 percent since 2004, according to newly released DHS statistics. The leading countries of birth of new citizens in 2006 were Mexico, India, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam, and newly naturalized citizens mainly settled in California, New York, and Florida. Monthly data on naturalizations through May 2007 indicate that the number of applications continues to rise and has increased every month this year. As of July 30, the fee for naturalization will increase 69 percent from $400 to $675; the fee is waived for members of the US Armed Forces. It is likely that applications have surged in anticipation of the fee increase.
- Read the US State Department's July 2007 visa bulletin here.
Refugee and Asylee Admissions. Refugee admissions decreased 23 percent between 2005 and 2006 according to newly released DHS statistics. In 2006, 41,150 persons were admitted to the United States as refugees, mainly from Somalia, Russia, and Cuba. The number of individuals granted asylum increased 4 percent over the same period. Asylum seekers came mainly from China, Haiti, Colombia, and Venezuela. An asylee meets the same definition as a refugee set out in the 1980 Refugee Act, but an asylee is located in the United Sates or at a US port of entry at the time of application. California was the top destination for both groups, attracting 13 percent of refugees and 24 percent of asylees.
- Read the DHS fact sheet on naturalizations in 2006 here.
- Read a complete list of USCIS service fee increases taking effect on July 30, 2007 here.
US-VISIT Exit Capabilities. Although DHS has successfully implemented the entry requirements of the US-VISIT program, which uses biometrics to monitor the flow of persons through air, land, and sea ports of entry, the program's exit-monitoring capabilities remain underdeveloped, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report concludes that DHS has delivered only one-half of the US-VISIT requirements despite investing around $1.3 billion over four years. GAO warns that without the exit capabilities of US-VISIT, DHS "cannot ensure the integrity of the immigration system by identifying and removing those people who have overstayed their original period of admission."
- Read the DHS fact sheet on refugee and aslyee admissions to the United States in 2006 here.
- Read the text of the GAO report here.
- Read more about the implementation of the entry capabilities of US-VISIT here.
- Read more about past setbacks to US-VISIT implementation in the October 2003 Policy Beat.
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