Senate to Start Vote on Immigration Bill

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate is scheduled to start voting on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744), otherwise known as Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the bill up for debate on Friday and the bill is scheduled to be debated for three weeks with the final vote occurring before July 4th recess. In preparation for first round of voting, below is a summary of the political developments that occurred in the past few weeks.

Since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on May 21, the political landscape of immigration reform has changed considerably, and the past week alone has seen many notable developments. Over the weekend, Senator Kelly Ayotte became the first Republican non-member of the Gang of Eight to announce support for the immigration bill. Senator Ayotte’s endorsement brings immigration reform supporters closer to the sixty votes necessary to close debate or “invoke cloture” on the bill, a threshold that must be reached for the bill to pass in the Senate.

Additionally, last Wednesday, the House’s “Gang of Eight” was reduced to the “Magnificent Seven” following Representative Raul Labrador’s exit from the group. Representative Labrador’s departure symbolizes a major setback to comprehensive immigration reform in the House as Representative Labrador was a key figure in selling immigration reform to conservative members of the House. Responding to Labrador’s departure, Rep. Luis Gutierrez reporting that “80 percent” of the bill had already been drafted and the work group would move forward with finalizing the language nonetheless.

If the work group is unsuccessful in the upcoming weeks, then many predict the House is likely to revert to a piecemeal approach as several immigration bills have already been introduced before the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Bob Goodlate, the Republican Chairman of House Judicial Committee and a major supporter of the piecemeal approach, announced earlier this week that he believed the House could pass an immigration bill by August.

Also this week the Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn released an outline of his upcoming border security amendment. This amendment, entitled “RESULTS,” was written to increase Republican support in the Senate while specifically addressing the conservative House leadership’s security enforcement concerns. Senator Cornyn’s amendment followed as series of high-level meetings between the Republican Senators of the Gang of Eight and House Republicans held on Wednesday to engage on strategy for the Senate floor debate. Following this announcement, several Democratic Senators denounced the idea of Cornyn’s bill as a sincere compromise attempt and instead labeled it a “poison pill” based on Cornyn’s inclusion of “enforcement triggers” that would have to be met before the path to citizenship measures became available.

Finally, Senator Marco Rubio, originally considered the Republican champion for the immigration reform bill, has joined with other conservatives in expressing concern about the current status of the bill. Senator Rubio proposed several amendments that were not passed in Committee and is reportedly now seeking out support for their introduction on the floor. While Democratic members of the Gang of Eight have not expressed concern about his criticisms, advocates will be watching closely to see if Rubio offers support for Cornyn’s amendment and any other indications of the Senator’s strategy going forward.

For more information on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, see the Immigration Policy Center’s media and public guide or the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s overview of the voting process.

By Katie Klein, Legal Intern at HRI, Penn State Law, Class of 2014.

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