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US/ Immigration Reform Clears A Hurdle

Comprehensive Immigration Reform cleared its first major legislative hurdle as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to send the bill to the full Senate. By MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS

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To be clear, nothing passes in Congress by such a lopsided vote anymore. 13-5 is a real bipartisan achievement. These days in Washington, you could not get a 13-5 vote in committee if you proposed that the sun rises in the east. All manner of praise goes out to the eight senators who negotiated the compromise legislation that passed the committee yesterday. They have not only achieved an important policy objective, they have helped remind the Senate how it once functioned and how it can function again.

As predicted in these pages many months ago, one of the last issues on the table yesterday was an amendment to extend family unification provisions to same-sex couples. On the merits, I have no objection to this idea per se, but there are two central reasons why it should not be included. First, as a matter of politics, it has long been obvious that including same sex couples would become a poison pill and key Republican senators would abandon their support. Second, even if you support federal recognition of same sex marriage, this was not the vehicle to achieve it.

It fell to two stalwart liberals, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, both members of the Gang of 8 that negotiated the compromise measure in the first place, to state that while they personally supported including same sex couples, they knew that doing so would kill the bill and therefore stood firm in opposition to it. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, withdrew the proposal. This was not easy for any of the three men to do. They are among the strongest supporters of gay rights on Capitol Hill and no one can seriously question their commitment to the LGBT community. But, they did the right thing and shame on anyone, pundit or advocate, who chastises them for what they did.

It will take the Congressional Budget Office about two weeks to “score” the bill and run the math. A full debate in the Senate could begin at anytime after that. There will still be hurdles to overcome. Sen. Orrin Hatch achieved a partial relaxation of restrictions on the ability of high-tech companies to hire foreign engineers, but indicated he will push for an even greater relaxation in the full Senate debate. You can expect other groups to try and amend the bill. The USCCB has indicated it would like to see the waiting time for full citizenship lowered from the current 13 years to less than 10 years. But, while I would like to see a faster path to citizenship too, I recognize that this bill can only pass if it garners the votes of people who really do not think there should be any path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. The key is to pass something that brings people out of the shadows. Everything else is gravy.