The Senate Judiciary Committee approved immigration legislation Monday that could clear the way for millions of undocumented workers to seek U.S. citizenship without having to leave the country first. The Judiciary panel’s 12-6 vote has cleared the way for the full Senate to begin debate on Tuesday on the heated immigration issue. Over the past few days hundreds of thousands, including high school students, have taken to the streets in protest of the House Bill on immigration reform, H.R. 4437, with the largest demonstration seen here in Los Angeles over the weekend.
The Judiciary Committee’s 12-6 vote signaled an unusual break from party lines, with “a majority of the panel’s Republicans opposed to the measure even though their party controls the Senate.”
At several critical points in the debate, Judiciary committee Democrats were united while Republicans were splintered. GOP Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike DeWine of Ohio, who is seeking re-election this fall, all sided with Democrats.
That gave Democrats a majority that allowed them to shape the bill to their liking.
Earlier Monday, as more than a thousand immigration rights activists rallied outside the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would protect church and charitable groups, as well as individuals, from criminal prosecution for providing food, shelter, medical care and counseling to undocumented immigrants.
“Charitable organizations, like individuals, should be able to provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants without fearing prosecution,” Durbin said.
Senator Ted Kennedy said in reference to the million people across the country who have rallied in support his version of the guest worker plan which passed in the vote, “The country has spoken, and today the Senate listened. No issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans more than immigration. This measure will strengthen our national security by protecting our borders more effectively. It reflects our values as a nation of immigrants deciding who can earn the privilege of American citizenship. And it’s about our progress as immigrants contribute to our economic growth. I am proud of my colleagues for coming together in a bipartisan way to address this great challenge.”
Kennedy’s guest worker measure creates a new temporary visa to allow foreign workers to enter the US. The visa is valid for 3 years, and can be renewed one time for a total of 6 years. It contains strong labor protections for all workers, visas for family members, a path to permanent residence and citizenship and a flexible market-based cap, beginning at 400,000.
Under the McCain-Kennedy plan for the 12 million undocumented workers already in the United States, they can apply for temporary status for six years, must demonstrate past work history, pay a 2 thousand dollar fine, undergo rigorous background and security checks, learn English and American civics, make good on back taxes, and satisfy additional criteria. Then if they wait until everyone already waiting their turn is processed through system they can apply for a green card. It is not amnesty, as opponents of the measure contend, rather it would give immigrants an incentive to come forward and an opportunity to earn legal status.
The McCain-Kennedy bill, which was introduced last May, is the only bipartisan reform measure and has earned broad and diverse support because of its common sense plan to strengthen border protection and enforcement while reflecting our best values as a nation — of fairness, equal opportunity, and respect for the law. It has the strong backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with other business groups, labor unions such as SEIU, religious leaders and Hispanic advocacy groups. The bill’s co-sponsors include Senators Graham, Brownback, Lieberman, Salazar, Obama and Martinez.
A summary of the Kennedy Temporary Worker Amendment #6375 is available here.
The debate comes during an election year which is causing Republican Senators “to juggle the demand from voters for tighter borders to keep out terrorists and businesses who look to the tide of immigrants to help fill jobs.” The heated battle needs to pass the Senate and go back to the House for final approval where it could face strong opposition in the wake of House’s harsher legislation that “consists of provisions to toughen enforcement against violators of immigration laws.” The public pressure could sway some in the House to pass the more reasonable version being proposed by the Senate.