Update on Immigration Reform Bill: On to the Senate Floor

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform dubbed “CIR” has made its way out of the Senate committee system and now goes to the Senate floor this week for debate and vote by all members. A special procedure called cloture (to end debate) must be invoked and approved in order to eventually end debate on the floor and cut off any filibustering. Cloture must be supported by 60 Senators which traditionally has been difficult to obtain and failure to reach cloture has been the death knell for many bills over the past several years. However, due to the bipartisan nature of the bill’s birth through the “Gang of 8” Senators and strong support it had in the committee process (13-5) , the bill is expected to meet the cloture requirement and pass the Senate.

The CIR bill’s main tenets remained essentially in tact despite over 300 amendments proposed in the committee process. These tenants are:

1. A path to permanent residence/citizenship for undocumented/illegal immigrants with the first stage resulting in a Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. This will allow undocumented individuals eligible to get work authorization and legal status first, but they must wait many years before applying for legal permanent residence.

2. An overhaul of the employment-based immigrant visa system creating a Merits Based Visa and additional entrepreneur visa options, exempting STEM graduates and other high-skilled workers from quotas, eliminating country specific caps, and recovering unused visas to ease the tremendous backlog in the current system

3. The overhaul of the agricultural temporary work visa, the creation of a year-round unskilled temporary work visa and a solid increase in the H-1B visa quota with other minor important changes as to how our temporary visas work

4. Increased security at the border which as written in the proposed law currently, must take place first before other reform measures can take place

5. A moderate overhaul of the family-based immigrant visa system creating exemptions for LPR spouses and children from quotas, allowing fiance visas for LPRs, and easing the burden of proof on hardship waivers to name a few

6. Increased enforcement rules and procedures for US employers regarding the workplace.

The Senate is anticipated to take until July 4th recess to debate this large and complex bill and then hopefully enough votes will be tallied for cloture to bring the bill to a vote.

The House of Representatives, dominated by the Republican party by 32 members, is currently still in critical discussions on the framework of an immigration bill and is not taking the Senate blueprint at face value. Despite negative rumblings and some breakdown in talks this past week, the Republican House leadership, in a rare joint statement, announced it would work toward passing an immigration fix. Earlier Thursday, June 6, 2013, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia,  whose committee is primarily responsible for immigration legislation, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California unveiled legislation aimed at attracting more high-skilled workers to the US. Theirs is the fourth immigration bill offered by the House GOP to date.

The House may well have a weaker bill excluding a path to citizenship for undocumented. However, if approved, the two bills will go to “conference” whereby a compromise is reached in Congress between representatives of both chambers.

Stay tuned for an exciting legislative summer at least until Congress breaks for a recess in August.

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