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Immigration News Flash

May 26, 2006

Senate Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

What a roller coaster ride 2006 Debate about comprehensive immigration reform has been. We sank low in December 2005, when the House passed a strict enforcement only bill (H.R. 4437) that did not include provisions for a guest worker program nor did it address the issues of 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and residing in the U.S. However, in a rare instance of true bi-partisan collaboration, the Senate moved forward with balancing enforcement and border security with the economics and realities of the undocumented, but critical, workforce. Specifically under the leadership of Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) and Minority Leader Reid (D-NV) the full senate spent the past few months proposing, debating and revising legislation. Finally, late yesterday, May 25th, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) 62 yeas (23Rs/39Ds) and 36 Nays (32Rs/4Ds). Senators Salazar D-CO) and Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) did not cast votes. The breakdown of the votes on S.2611 was 42% Senate Republicans voted for the bill and 58% voted against S. 2611. For the Democrats 87% voted for the bill and 14% against.

For the last 7 years, Laura Foote Reiff, shareholder at GT and co-chair of the Essential Workers Immigration Coalition has been working with her coalition, which consists of various service industry associations and trade unions, to urge and influence Congress to act and pass a piece of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Laura was instrumental in the drafting, negotiating and ultimate passage of this bill. She was one of the key resources for Senate staffers on the technicalities and substance the bill and will continue to play a leadership role when the House and Senate go to conference.

The legislation is a bipartisan compromise that includes a much needed guest worker program, a pathway to earned permanent resident status for qualifying undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S., increased border and national security measures and a new employment verification and eligibility system. Though there were several amendments offered to the bill, the piece of legislation largely survived and remained intact.

The two Chambers of Congress will now prepare to go to conference where the Senate bill, S. 2611 and the House bill, H.R. 4437 will hopefully be reconciled. In the coming weeks the Senate and House will name their respective conferees who will meet to work out the final agreement. The conference will prove to be challenging as the House bill is an enforcement only piece of legislation and the Senate bill is a comprehensive package. Though the exact timing for conference is not known, Hill staff has told GT that the conference should begin shortly and it will be well underway during the summer. The Senate begins Memorial Day recess on Friday, May 26, and will return to session on Monday, June 5. We will continue to update our readers as soon as we learn more about named conferees and the timetable for Conference.