Immigration Reform: Where we Stand
PHOTO: Immigration reform rally

The loud kerfuffle over the heavy-handed IRS and post-Benghazi spin has had one positive effect: immigration reform is quietly moving ahead under the cable noise and political posturing of dysfunctional Washington.

Both houses of Congress are now expected to have bills ready to debate by the fall session. The bipartisan Senate "gang of 8" appears to be holding together and its broad outline of border security, pathway to citizenship, guest worker, employment verification and legal immigration future flow moves through committee largely intact.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has completed its third day of hearings of the sweeping immigration bill and so far the original architecture of the bill has held strong.

The four "gang of 8" members on the committee, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), have stuck together for the most part to maintain the integrity of their original bill.

Border security and E-verify amendments to the bill have been completed, as well as most of the amendments addressing non-immigrant visas.

There have been some changes, however. Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-Iowa) amendment which calls for border security strategies to apply to all nine border sectors, not just the "high risk" ones identified in the original bill, passed.

Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) also passed a bill on border security that restricts drones' ability to fly more than three miles from the border in San Diego and El Centro sectors, a smaller section compared to the 100 miles counted as "border" in the original bill.

"Their (drones) ability to see from great distances and for real time precision is extraordinary," she said. "My view is it is moving so quickly… don't want them looking in windows of people's homes or backyards."

The E-verify system, a program that makes all employers enforce immigration laws by confirming the employee status, stayed largely intact. An amendment by Grassley failed that would have enforced the system within 18 months of the bill's passage, instead of the four years outlined in originally.

"We all want E-Verify to work as quickly as possible. The problem is, it would be virtually impossible to have it work in 18 months," Schumer said. "The system is going to have to add in 5 million employers because, as we all know, it is not mandatory right now…Right now it can handle about 180,000 registrations a year, so you can imagine the burden of 5 million."

While visas are not quite complete, a few amendments addressed Tuesday and Thursday helped to close loopholes, like those seen in the Boston bombing, while others worked to protect workers.

An amendment by Grassley which requires student visa information to be shared with Customs and Border Patrol was one of the quickest to pass.

"This will plug the loophole in terms of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing," Schumer said. "Our bill is making things better in terms of vigilance against terrorism."

An amendment introduced by Schumer passed allowing low-skilled workers the ability to leave a job and move to another one through a registry that will be created that will post available positions.

And perhaps the biggest news in the Senate is what has not happened. Amendments many say were designed to kill the bill by placing mandatory security triggers before beginning a pathway to citizenship have not passed.

The biggest culprit say critics is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose amendment that would have dramatically restricted future flow of immigration by limiting "the number of nonimmigrant aliens who may be authorized for employment in the United States" was voted down 17-1.

Sessions argued that restrictions needed to be made to ensure jobs for native born.

Fellow Republican Lindsey Graham countered citing the vast number of baby boomers who will be retiring in the near future and the need for immigrants to fill the void that will be left.

In the House, its own separate "gang of 8" shook hands over hoagie sandwiches Thursday, agreeing in principle to a similar but harsher list of immigration priorities. That agreement is now expected to be put on paper next week and formally introduced after the Memorial Day recess.

It is expected to be farther to the right than the Senate bill, leading to a compromise which many believe could come to a vote in the fall session.

Lightening speed in Congress, but motivated by Democratic Party promises to the Latino community and a desire by the GOP to talk about something, anything else before the mid-term elections.

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