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Senate Judiciary Committee Approves The Immigration Reform Bill. Next Stop: The Senate Floor

The Immigration Reform Bill (formally known as the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744)") cleared its first major hurdle on Tuesday evening and it is now headed to the Senate floor.

Introduced on 16 April 2013, the Immigration Reform Bill sparked significant debate about whether, and how, US immigration laws should change. An overview of the Bill's original provisions is available here. On 7 May 2013, further amendments to the bill were proposed. Since this time, the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) began considering the Immigration Reform Bill and the over 300 proposed amendments.

This week was the Immigration Reform Bill's last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Having held hearings on Monday and Tuesday which stretched late into the evening, the debate has been heated and many contentious proposals had to be resolved or sidelined.

What was the outcome of the Committee's negotiations?

Both Democrats and Republicans made compromises in order to vote in favour of the bill and allow it to move forward to the Senate floor. Some of the hotly debated issues included:

  • Making changes to the H-1B visa programme. This proposal passed after heavy lobbying from US businesses despite vocal opposition expressed by US labour organisations (approved);
  • Allowing undocumented immigrants in the USA to eventually obtain US citizenship (approved);
  • Increasing US border security (approved);
  • Granting LGBT couples to obtain a green card for the foreign spouse. This amendment was withdrawn "with a heavy heart" at the last minute by Senator Leahy, its proponent (failed);
  • Prohibiting immigration raids in certain sensitive places such as hospitals and schools, unless exceptional circumstances exist (approved);
  • Requiring the busiest airports in the USA to implement a mandatory biometric exit system (approved). Proposals to implement such systems nation-wide failed;
  • Allowing US citizen parents to petition for their adult children if the parents were to endure extreme hardship otherwise (failed).

President Obama applauded the passage of the bill, commenting, "None of the Committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I, but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line. I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements."

What are the next steps for the Immigration Reform Bill?

On Tuesday 21 May, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Immigration Reform Bill by 13 votes in favour and 5 votes against. From here, the Immigration Reform Bill will go to the floor of the Senate to be debated and voted on.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives, in parallel efforts on immigration reform, is also debating a number of its own proposals.

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