Final Hours for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the Senate

Yesterday was a busy day in the Senate. At 11:30am, the Senate began a nearly 1.5 hour long series of roll call votes regarding the comprehensive immigration legislation.

In accordance with the motion to invoke cloture passed on Monday, the Senate’s discussion of the “Border Surge” provisions came to a close at 11:30am.

The votes, their results, and some framing context follow in chronological order:

Vote on Motion to Waive Budget Act Points of Order: 68 “yea”, 30 “nay”
Yesterday, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) raised 11 points of order against the bill with regards to its violation of a few provisions in the Budget Control Act for the fiscal year 2013. One point of order reminds the Senate that the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot pass legislation that spends more money than the committee is authorized to allow legislation to spend. Other points of order called into question the validity of the designation of some expenditure as “emergency expenditures” in the bill.
A three-fifths majority is required to pass the motion, and since the motion secured 68 votes, all points of order failed.

Vote on adoption of Leahy Amendment #1183: 69 “yea” 29 “nay”
With 16 co-sponsors, it is important to understand that Leahy #1183 is a compilation of many amendments introduced by various Senators since the bill’s introduction to the floor. Perhaps the largest component of the Leahy amendment is the “Border Surge,” or Corker-Hoeven amendment. As expected, discussion of the border security provisions almost exclusively dominated the debate surrounding Leahy #1138; however, the strategic importance of including the smaller provisions cannot be overstated for the future prospects of the bill, as quite a few more Senators are now in favor of the bill.

Vote on Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Committee-Reported Substitute Bill: 67 “yea” 31 “nay”
Two S. 744 bills now exist in the Senate: the original and a substitute bill. The substitute bill is simply the Leahy amendment integrated into the pertinent parts of original bill. The motion to invoke cloture mandates that debate regarding the original bill vs. the substitute bill come to a close. The motion is a procedural tool to ensure that the Senate may continue to move forward with the substitute bill.

What to Expect in the next Two Days

It is very likely that the Senate will vote on S. 744 in its entirety either late Thursday, June 27th, or Friday, June 28th. Now that three procedural votes have concluded, there remains only hours for Senators to introduce, debate, and vote on amendments.

Even though the bill appears to be riding on a wave of strong support, many in the Senate, both Democrat and Republican, have criticized the Gang of 8 for the lack of opportunity to consider amendments. Only 10 of the roughly 350 amendments filed for S. 744 have been debated, which has prompted the bill’s most vocal critics to label the process of engaging with the bill as lacking transparency and despotic. Moreover, the opposition points out that the bill was crafted behind closed doors by a very small group of individuals, who continue to operate in secret to secure the votes of colleague Senators. Hence the long list of co-sponsors and the additional provisions included in Leahy #1183.

There have been hints that the Gang of 8 is working to compile a list of 30-40 non-controversial amendments to be submitted for a unanimous consent vote by voice. According to the rules of the unanimous consent vote, every member of the Senate present in the chambers must vote “yea”, or else the entire amendment fails. If the unanimous consent by voice vote proves unrealistic, then the Gang of 8 may allow the introduction and discussion of a select few amendments.

It is clear, however, that the next actions for the Senate will be to vote on the substitute S. 744, and then to vote on the motion to invoke cloture on debate for the entire bill. If the motion to invoke cloture passes, then debate will come to a close soon, and the Senate may begin the final vote on the bill as early as Thursday evening.

What You Can Do In These Final Hours

Visit HIAS’ (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) action alert for additional information on the latest updates in the Senate.

Phoning your Senators, especially those who are not in favor of the bill, is one of the most effective ways to advocate for fair and commonsense immigration reform.