March 30, 2006
Exciting News From Capitol Hill: Overview of the Bill Passed
Out of the Senate Judiciary Committee 3/27/2006
GT commends and applauds Chairman Specter and the Senate Judiciary
Committee members for passing a bill out of committee on March 27,
2006. The legislative process ran its course and Chairman Specter
remained committed to producing a bipartisan bill out of committee.
It is our hope that Senator Frist will respect this process and
the product passed out of the Judiciary Committee. Although the
bill is not concrete and amendments can be made on the Senate floor,
there was a great deal of progress made and the Committee product
is a strong starting point for further debate on the Senate floor.
Temporary Guest Worker Program
Senator Kennedy offered an amendment that created a temporary
work visa for temporary workers. This program was part of the
McCain/Kennedy legislation and allows for a 3 year visa with
the option to renew the work visa for an additional 3 years.
The temporary worker program allows for the worker to obtain
a green card, and eventually provides a path to citizenship.
Regarding the cap, Senator Kyl offered an amendment (6465)
that would ensure that if unemployment were high in a particular
category of job, in a particular metropolitan statistical area
(one in which unemployment exceeded 11 %) the granting of visas
to temporary workers would be precluded. This amendment passed
on voice vote.
Senator Kyl offered an amendment (6466) that was to have
been applied to the Mark and now would apply to the substituted
Kennedy/McCain temporary worker program. The amendment would
require that if the temporary worker self-petitions for permanent
status after 4 years, as permitted under the McCain/Kennedy
language, s/he must go home and wait in line with people already
in the pipeline. Senator Kennedy opposed the amendment stating
that sending them back would unduly disrupt their lives and
their jobs. The Kyl amendment failed on a roll call vote of
Agricultural Guest Worker Program
Senator Feinstein offered an amendment (6493) that creates
a guest worker program for agricultural jobs (“AgJobs”). Senator
Craig, the primary sponsor of AgJobs, was present during mark-up.
Amendment 6493 is a pilot program allowing undocumented immigrants
to adjust status if they meet prescribed requirements, including
previous employment for a specific amount of time, proof of
payment of taxes, paying a fine, etc. The motivation behind
this amendment is to create a legalized workforce for this industry.
The program has a cap of 1.5 million over a 5 year period. Under
this program, spouses and children can get work permits and
they are permitted to travel. This would sunset at the end of
a five year period.
The Undocumented and Earned Adjustment
There were also other significant bipartisan efforts. Chairman
Specter discussed the unrealistic notion that the U.S. will
seek, detain and deport the 11 million undocumented immigration
currently in the U.S. In this spirit, a reasonable provision
providing for earned adjustment was accepted which would allows
for illegal aliens out of status to come forward, pay a fine,
go through security and background checks, prove knowledge of
English and work for 6 years and then get in the back of the
line before being able to adjust status. Though this amendment
was offered by Senator Graham, it very much resembles the McCain/Kennedy
In reaction to these developments, Senator Cornyn released
a statement noting that though he remains committed to comprehensive
reform, he “cannot vote to support this compromise, or any compromise,
until I’ve had time to adequately study the proposed text, and
until I’m satisfied that the compromise does not offer amnesty
to those who have broken our immigration laws at the expense
of those who are following our laws. In this area, it is important
to know what the text says and what it does not say so that
we know definitively how the chairman proposes we treat those
who have broken the law.”
Other Notable Highlights
Senator Durbin offered an amendment that would protect churches
and individuals that assist undocumented immigrants in obtaining
food, shelter and medical treatment from becoming felons. Criminalization
of the undocumented was retained in the legislation but only
on a going forward basis following enactment of the legislation.
The retroactive provisions of the Chairman’s Mark were removed.
Additionally, undocumented individuals in the U.S. would be
treated as misdemeanants and not felons (as was done in the
Title III, the employment of unauthorized workers was not
reported out of committee and will be debated on the floor.
Title III, which specifically deals with employment eligibility
and verification systems, is currently being considered in the
Senate Finance Committee and, as noted by Senator Grassley,
the Finance Committee did not finish negotiations. The Judiciary
Committee therefore could not take up this title.
The Judiciary Committee also did not deal with Title VII,
regarding Judicial Reform because there is a great deal of controversy
regarding the provision in the Chairman’s Mark.