One Step Closer

Immigration Reform Passes the Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the immigration reform bill by a vote of 13-5 last evening, bringing a path to citizenship one step closer for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

All Democrats voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, joined by Republicans Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. (As the Huffington Post's Elise Foley notes, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said he'd have voted in favor of moving the bill to the floor had the margin been close enough for his vote to make a difference.)

Notable succesful amendments to the bill include a mandatory biometric exit system for visa holders at the country's busiest airports, an agreement on H1-B visas to make it dramatically easier for companies to import high-skilled labor, and a severe curtailing of the power of immigration authorities to raid places like churches, hospitals, and schools.

Three major provisions did not make the final version of the marked-up bill.

Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy withdrew his amendment allowing gay and lesbian couples equal protection under immigration law when it became clear it would significantly reduce the bill's chances of making it to the floor. Democrats, who strongly supported the measure, were loathe to take a vote on the issue for fear of its passage encouraging Republicans to drop their broader support of the bill.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions was unsuccessful in his efforts to include an amendment reducing legal immigration, losing one vote by a rather brutal 17-1 margin.

Finally, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's efforts to remove the pathway to citizenship from the bill also failed.

The House Gang of Eight immigration plan, expected to be released in early June, will also contain a path to citizenship. It will meet considerably more opposition in the House than Senate, but there is precious little way this immigration reform bill will become law without it, with President Obama all but certain to veto any such measure that reaches his desk.

As Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic half of this Rubio-Schumer bill, said: "If we don't have a path to citizenship, there is no reform."