Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent the day yesterday considering how to reform the non-immigrant work visa system, which will play an important role in fixing our immigration system. The committee resumed its markup of the immigration bill, S. 744, in a spirited day-long session that ended with Senators from both parties reaffirming their commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform. Title IV, the section of the bill under consideration yesterday, provides legal mechanisms for foreign workers to enter the country for employment purposes. Senators in the committee were successful in adopting some amendments intended to strengthen the bill and rejecting those that would undermine it.
One of the more notable amendments was offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Her amendment, which was adopted, would allow spouses of non-immigrant visa holders who are victims of domestic violence to have a pathway to independence and self-sufficiency.
Early on, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) offered an amendment that would have required Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect and use additional biometric entry and exit data at all ports of entry before individuals with Registered Provisional Immigrant status could adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident status. It received fair consideration, including an empathetic ear from Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who, like many of her Democratic colleagues, is committed to eliminating the visa overstays that have contributed to the population of undocumented immigrants. Ultimately, Sen. Sessions’ amendment was defeated due to cost concerns. Two Republicans joined in opposition. Adding these entry and exit requirements to the bill, which already contains strong provisions to modernize the entry and exit visa system, would have cost taxpayers more than $6 billion.
Sessions also offered an amendment that would have restricted all legal immigration. In a sure sign that senators aim to get this bill through, the amendment was roundly defeated 17-1.Only Sessions voted for his amendment.
The committee unanimously adopted an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would require DHS to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents with up-to-date student visa status information. This would help border agents prevent students with expired student visas from entering the country. In total, five of the minority amendments considered in yesterday’s markup were adopted—these in addition to the many more that were agreed to last week.
Though they may disagree on many of the components of the bill, it is promising that both Republicans and Democratic senators on the committee are nonetheless engaged in a truly bipartisan deliberative process.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a small number of Republicans in the House. Indeed, as debate continued on the Senate side, a small group of House Republicans held a press conference to disparage the Senate bipartisan negotiations.
As we have stated, this is the year for immigration reform that will truly fix our broken immigration system. Americans, and those waiting to become American, deserve a comprehensive solution and a wholehearted effort from Congress.
Watch the markup below.