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Amendments to the Immigration Reform Bill Pour In

The deadline for amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744), better known as the Immigration Reform Bill, was 5 p.m. on Tuesday 7 May 2013. Senators rushed to file their proposed amendments ahead of what will no doubt be a lively mark-up of the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Given the extraordinary amount of public interest in the shaping and the outcome of the Immigration Reform Bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy promised- and delivered on his promise- to post all the proposed amendments on the Committee's website so that any interested member of the public can view them. Indeed, as amendments started to be filed by the Senators yesterday, they began appearing online and they can be viewed at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/legislation/immigration/amendments.cfm.

While the list of proposed amendments is long, two amendments introduced by Senator Leahy have received the most attention and have been the subject of the greatest controversy. Both make immigration provisions for same-sex, bi-national couples who are currently denied US immigration benefits by the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law which only allows US citizens in heterosexual marriages to file an immigration petition for their foreign spouse.

The first amendment introduced by Senator Leahy seeks to include the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in the Immigration Reform Bill. UAFA is a bill which was introduced earlier this year and creates a new "permanent partner" category which would allow long-term foreign national partners of US citizens to derive immigration benefits. UAFA has been a controversial bill.

The second amendment makes a smaller change to existing immigration provisions and therefore may be more palatable to those who see the creation of a new "permanent partner" category as problematic. Instead, the amendment seeks to grant all married couples, whether same or different sex, the right to file an immigration petition for their spouse, so long as the couple's marriage is recognised as valid in the state where the marriage was entered into or, if entered into outside the USA, was recognized as valid both in the foreign country and the US state. This second proposed amendment is more narrow and responds with concerns expressed by, amongst others, Ohio Senator Rob Portman who believes that federal law should reflect the legal provisions made for LGBT couples under the various state laws. If passed, this would mean that a same sex couple married in Washington could obtain a green card for the foreign spouse, but a similar couple married in Ohio could not.

Other amendments introduced before the Senate Judiciary Committee include corrections of mistakes, typos and confusing language found in the original legislation, as well as substantive amendments such as a proposal to prohibit a border crossing fee for individuals entering the USA on foot or by car.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin the mark-up process on Thursday 9 May, and it is widely expected to receive a favourable vote. The much more heated debate is likely to take place once the bill reaches the Senate floor, where it will be further discussed and voted on.

The American Immigration Law Office is a US immigration law firm in London, UK, and will continue to monitor the US immigration reform debate. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ if you wish to receive updates as they become available!