Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Immigration Bill Clears Committee and the Search for Votes Continues

After hundreds of amendments, the immigration reform bill has made its way out of committee. The biggest stumbling block was an amendment Senator Leahy wanted to offer that would have provided U.S. citizens with a right to file petitions for permanent residency on behalf of their same sex partners. For a number of Republicans, this amendment would have been a poison pill, so Senator Leahy agreed to refrain from proposing it.

Anyone interested in immigration reform should see this as a smart decision by Leahy. Immigration and gay marriage are both contentious issues. Mixing the two together only serves to severely lower the chances that any immigration reform package will pass. And the truth is, in the not-too-distant future, U.S. citizens will have the right to petition on behalf of a foreign national of the same sex. The speed with which the tide has turned in the United States on the issue of gay marriage has been staggering. On the whole, younger generations in the United States simply don't oppose gay rights with the vigor seen in a sizable percentage of older generations. So it's simply a matter of time before immigration law is amended to reflect this reality.

So now that the bill is out of committee, it is up to the Senate leadership to muster the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. It's not yet clear that they have the votes, which is where the balancing act begins. It all comes down to being able to amend the bill in a manner that will appease Senators who have not agreed to vote for the bill while making sure that such amendments do not lead any Senators to pull their support.

Many of the same stumbling blocks discussed in a previous post may still surface in the floor debate. But there is one previously mentioned stumbling block that does not seem as dangerous anymore: the cost of immigration reform. The Heritage Foundation released a study that suggested an astronomical implementation cost. But the faulty methodology of the study and racial conclusions reached by one of the co-authors in previous works led the study to, as the Washington Post explained, "land[] with a thud." And the grumblings were not limited to Democrats. Republicans, as well, were left scratching their heads.

Another line of attack conservative groups are using against the immigration bill is to compare its complexity to Obamacare (and claim that both bills are "bloated"). In a way, this line of attack is accurate. Health care is complicated. Immigration reform is complicated. Thus, the bills that address these issues respectively are complicated. But the accuracy of this line of attack is not a reason, in and of itself, to kill the bill. If it were, then the U.S. would only confront simple issues.

And aside from the bill being complicated, the implementation of the bill (assuming it passes) will be especially bumpy. In 1996, President Clinton passed an amendment to immigration law that actually sought to limit the rights of certain immigrants and make it harder for them to fight deportation in court. The initial reaction of many government immigration attorneys was that their jobs might be in jeopardy. To the contrary, however, immigration litigation increased over the next decade. So imagine the volume of litigation after a comprehensive immigration reform bill gets enacted. It would certainly be the golden age for the immigration attorney.


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