As previously reported, a bipartisan group of eight Senators (Gang of Eight) introduced the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” (S.744) in April 2013. The bill would allow legalization for the estimated 11 million persons in the U.S. without authorization and would make major changes to legal employment-based immigration laws. On May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of S.744, and the bill will now move to consideration by the full Senate in June 2013.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held five days of markup over a two-week period. Dozens of amendments were considered, some aimed at gutting the bill and disrupting the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive compromise. The Gang of Eight members on the Committee were able to fend off major changes, so the Gang of Eight compromise made it through committee largely intact.
The most significant amendments moved the bill in a more conservative direction by tightening up border security and making changes to the H-1B visa provisions that are favorable to H-1B employers. A requirement in the original bill that all employers recruit for U.S. workers prior to filing an H-1B petition was limited to employers with more than 15 percent of their workforce on work visas. The formula to determine the annual increase in the H-1B quota was changed to allow H-1B visa numbers to increase more quickly up to the new 180,000 cap. The final committee vote was 13-5 in favor of passage. Ten Democrats and three Republicans voted in favor.
The bill will now undergo review by the Congressional Budget Office which will score the projected economic impact of the bill. Full Senate debate could begin in early June. The Gang of Eight hopes to get 70 votes in the Senate to provide momentum for immigration reform as the focus shifts to the House of Representatives.
Even with the slight shift of the bill to the right through the amendment process, the House is unlikely to pass S.744 in its current form. The House is expected to consider its own immigration legislation. A few immigration bills have been introduced addressing specific aspects of immigration reform. The House has its own Gang of Eight which has been working on a comprehensive bipartisan bill. Some reports have indicated that the House group has reached an agreement on its comprehensive package, but no bill has been introduced yet.
Supporters of immigration reform see a political opportunity during 2013 to pass legislation which has failed in prior attempts. They hope that legislation could pass both houses and conference committee and be on the President’s desk for signature by the fall. Many commentators believe this effort for immigration reform has more chance for success than any in prior years, but caution that there are still major challenges ahead and ultimate success is not certain.