Tuesday, June 11, 2013

U.S. Senate Votes 82-15 To Proceed With Debate On S.744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, And Immigration Modernization Act

On June 11th, 2013, the full U.S. Senate finally weighed in on S.744, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, And Immigration Modernization Act. First, they voted 82-15 to invoke cloture, and then they followed up by voting 84-15 on a motion to proceed.

The first vote, on the Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S.744, took place at 2:15 P.M. EDT. This motion required 60 votes to pass, and was designed to prevent a filibuster. The full roll call vote shows 82 Yes, 15 No, and 3 Not Voting. Among the latter three was Senator Lisa Murkowski. All 54 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders voted Yes. One of the Republicans voting Yes was New Jersey's new Republican Senator Jeffrey Chiesa, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to replace the deceased Democrat Frank Lautenberg.

The second vote, on the Motion to Proceed to S.744, took place at 4:01 P.M. EDT. This motion only required a simple majority of 51 votes. The full roll call vote shows 84 Yes, 15 No, and 1 Not Voting; the only differences this time was that Lisa Murkowski and Tom Coburn (R-OK) climbed down off the fence and voted Yes. New Jersey Senator Jeffrey Chiesa also voted Yes. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) switched his vote from “no” on cloture to “yes” on proceeding to the bill, while Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) switched from “yes” on cloture to “no” on proceeding.

The Guardian published an interesting live-blog of the proceedings.

Note that this does NOT mean the Senate passed the bill; it merely means they will now proceed with debate. And one Democratic Senator, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has already thrown a spanner in the works. Leahy has filed three amendments to add to the bill, and one of them would recognize same-sex marriages in which one spouse is an American. He said the amendment would remove discrimination from our immigration system. Another of his amendments calls for extending benefits to a child or spouse of immigrants who hold agricultural temporary work visas. Already, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the most prominent Republican in the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" who crafted S.744, called Leahy's amendments a poison pill virtually certain to destroy GOP support for the measure, and threatened to remove his own support from the bill if the same-sex marriage measure stayed. It is unclear whether Leahy’s proposal will get a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have yet to reach an agreement on amendments.

Even besides this issue, many Republicans who voted Yes on the motions have misgivings about the bill. In particular, Republicans are pushing for stronger border control provisions while senators from both sides of the aisle mull introducing amendments that are either non-germane to the bill or could disrupt the delicate political coalition championing the legislation, to include gun control provisions, as well as a series of amendments that would weaken the core of the bill from Republican senators who have little intention to vote for a final package. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a Joe Miller-type conservative who voted against both motions on June 11th, set forth his principal objections to S.744 in an op-ed published on June 10th by KSL Channel 5:

-- Provides immediate legalization without securing the border;
-- Rewards criminal aliens, absconders, and deportees and undermines law enforcement;
-- Contains national security loopholes and facilitates fraud in our immigration system;
-- Creates no real penalties for illegal immigrants and rewards them with entitlements;
-- Delays for years the implementation of E-Verify;
-- Does not fix our legal immigration system.

Sen. Lee proposed a slew of alternatives:

That's why I have sponsored, cosponsored, or supported several reforms, both as stand-alone legislation and amendments to the current Senate proposal, that would improve high-skilled immigration, address agricultural and seasonal workers, and create new incentives for tourism — many of which enjoy bipartisan support.

For example, The STEM Jobs Act (S. 303), I-Squared Act (S.169), DASH Act (S.292), and Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants (H.R.633) would bring our immigration system closer to meeting the needs of our economy. The Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act (S.202), as well as several amendments to the current Senate bill, would create a reliable employment verification system that protects immigrants, citizens, and businesses from bureaucratic mistakes. I have cosponsored legislation that would require full implementation of an integrated entry-exit system at every land, sea, and air port of entry.

S.744 will undoubtedly be toughened up before it passes the Senate. And even if it eventually passes the Senate in some form, there's no guarantee it will be tough enough for the more conservative U.S. House.

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