Status Update: Immigration Reform in the Senate and the House of Representatives – Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Yesterday at 5:30pm, the Senate held a vote on a motion to invoke cloture for debate regarding the Corker-Hoeven amendment. A motion to invoke cloture is a procedural tool used to ensure that debate comes to a close, which removes the threat that a filibuster may be employed to stall voting procedure on another amendment, motion, or bill. If a motion to invoke cloture is passed, then a limit must be placed on amount of time left to debate the piece of legislation. After the time limit has been reached, a vote will take place.

The cloture vote that took place yesterday was intended to end debate on the Corker-Hoeven amendment only, not on the bill (S. 744) in its entirety. The motion was passed by a vote of 67-27. All Democrats present in the Senate chambers voted in favor of the motion, as well as 15 Republicans.

The Corker-Hoeven amendment, sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), contains five “triggers” that need to be met before the 11 million undocumented immigrants can be eligible to receive their green cards. These 5 triggers are:

• The training and deployment of an additional 20,000 troops on the US-Mexican border. The total number of border security troops would be elevated to nearly 40,000 after the inclusion of the new 20,000 troops.
• The construction of a fence along the 350 miles of the US-Mexican border that currently does not have a fence.
• The implementation of an entry/exit visa verification system, which would employ biometric tactics, such as fingerprint and retinal scanning technology, to track visa holders. This verification system is intended to prevent non-immigrant visa holders from staying in the country past the expiration of their visas.
• The purchase and deployment of $3.2 billion worth of surveillance technology on the border. This technology should provide 100% situational awareness of activity on the US-Mexican border. The $3.2 billion will be used to purchase drones, cameras, night vision goggles, and surveillance towers.
• The creation of a national e-verify system to check the authorization of immigrants and non-immigrant visa holders to work in the United States.

Aside from strengthening border security, the Corker-Hoeven amendment serves to strengthen the prospects of final passage of S. 744. The amendment was authored to attract the support of those Republicans in the Senate who called for stronger border security provisions to the original bill, and includes additional provisions regarding the Alaskan seafood industry and the accessibility to federally means-tested benefits to appeal to senators in Alaska and Utah. The addition of the Corker-Hoeven amendment means that S. 744 will likely garner between 65-70 votes in the Senate.

A 70-vote super-majority would put pressure on the House of Representatives to craft a bill with language in line with the Senate version. Immigration reform faces an uphill battle in the House, as the Republican majority is opposed to many provisions laid out in S.744. The House’s Gang of 8 (which is now 7, following the departure of Raul Labrador) has failed to put together a truly bipartisan bill, which has led to what many have labeled a “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform in which several smaller pieces of legislation – instead of one comprehensive bill – are considered.

To date, the House Judiciary Committee has passed two bills regarding immigration reform, which will be introduced on the House floor for debate in the near future. One bill, labeled the Strength and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE Act), would give state and local governments increased authority in enforcing immigration law, as well as in creating and implementing civil penalties according to immigration law. The act would also strengthen the penalties for entering the country illegally and overstaying the expiration dates on visas. A second bill – an agricultural guest worker act – only permits agricultural laborers to work in the United States, and does not provide them a with pathway to citizenship.