After clearing the first hurdle in some of the most delicate legislative jockeying in recent memory, advocates of a comprehensive immigration reform bill are already looking to the next stage of the legislation’s progress as it heads toward a high-profile airing in the full Senate.
While some groups aligned with Democrats failed to secure their desired changes to the sweeping Senate legislation as it worked its way through 30 hours of debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, many are looking to the floor debate as a second shot to include their priorities in a final bill.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Immigration activists gather on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday, May 20, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee began working on a landmark immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions.
And Republicans who are supportive of the reform effort, led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are all but certain to support changes to the bill’s border security provisions in the effort to bring more conservatives into the fold.
Mindful of how previous attempts to overhaul the nation's immigration system disintegrated under pressure, however, all sides are proceeding with caution to maintain an underlying framework of compromise that -- so far -- remains unscathed.
“The center has held, so part of the calculation going forward is how to make it through the Senate floor in the same fashion,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration policy for the National Council of La Raza.
Her organization, along with other immigrant advocacy groups, had lobbied for provisions to allow more flexibility for family members of U.S. citizens to become eligible for visas.
One amendment -- considered the most politically palatable of the possible options -- would have restored visa eligibility for the adult children or siblings of citizens if separation would mean “extreme hardship” for the family. But despite an emotional push by sponsor Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, the provision failed by a 7-11 vote in committee.
Mee Moua, the executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, said that the defeat of that amendment was “short-sighted” but that her group is hopeful for a second chance.
“We feel that there’s actually been some space that’s been created for us to continue the conversation,” Moua said. ‘We’re hopeful that the floor process -- with 100 senators -- means there’s still an opportunity for us.”
LGBT activists also suffered a defeat Tuesday night when ally Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy -- acknowledging his colleagues’ fears that it would splinter the bill’s underlying compromise -- pulled an amendment that would have recognized same-sex marriages in immigration law.
But their fight to write the protections into the final bill may depend as much as on the Supreme Court’s calendar as it does on Senate politics.
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The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act at the end of its term in late June or early July. A favorable DOMA decision for gay rights activists would largely resolve what they see as discrimination written into immigration law now.
But that ruling is no guarantee.
“Our position today is if the bill is moving towards the vote and we do not have a Supreme Court ruling in hand -- or we have a bad ruling in hand -- we’d certainly want to look at the options for an amendment on the floor,” said Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality, one of the groups that excoriated Gang of Eight Republicans for labeling the LGBT measure a deal-breaker, leading Leahy to withhold it. “If we don’t have a resolution from the court, the Senate has a responsibility to our families to support a floor amendment."
Unions may also push to change provisions inserted Tuesday to win the support of Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, who secured the relaxation of hiring regulations for high-tech firms seeking temporary skilled workers from abroad. After winning the changes -- which were panned by the AFL-CIO, which worked on the bill’s original compromise language regarding temporary workers -- Hatch announced that he would vote for the bill in committee but that he could still vote against it once it comes to the floor.
There will also be a slate of amendments from the other side of the aisle, both from Republican opponents of the bill attempting to gut its central tenets and from those hoping to woo more conservatives to vote for the final product.
Republicans who support the bill's framework are considering amendments that tighten security provisions in a way that remains compatible with the bill's proposed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. That effort is likely to include amendments that would shift responsibility for border security planning and enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security -- the object of mistrust by many conservatives -- into the hands of Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner says that while good work has been done in the Senate on an immigration plan, the House will not be rushed into approving anything.
Even if the bill passes the Senate with a large bipartisan majority, with activists setting their sights as high as 70 or 75 votes, it faces uncertainty in the Republican-controlled House.
After seeming on the brink of collapse late Thursday, members of a House bipartisan group said they were still on track to introduce their own compromise legislation next month.
And House leaders, led by Speaker John Boehner, wrote Thursday that they will not vote on a Senate-passed measure without input from the lower chamber.
“The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes,” they wrote. “Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation.”
But exactly what that House legislation will look like -- or if it will be palatable to a majority of lawmakers -- remains unclear.
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This story was originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 3:59 AM EDT