May 22, 2013— -- The immigration reform bill in the Senate barreled through the process of adding amendments with the major outline of the plan still untouched.
But there were some relatively small-scale adjustments to the legislation that could make a big difference for people struggling with the immigration system.
See Also: Immigration Reform Heads to Senate Floor
Of course, all of these are contingent on the reform bill passing, and it will certainly change shape before that happens.
But here are some of the changes worth noting:
1. Undocumented Young People
The original immigration reform bill in the Senate would give DREAMers an expedited path to citizenship. But several amendments added to it were also geared toward undocumented young people.
One adopted measure allows DREAMers who qualify for Obama-administration deportation relief to serve in the military, and then apply for citizenship, the same option available to legal immigrants who serve in the armed forces. That was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Another change, from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), makes federal financial aid for college available to DREAMers. Pell grants aren't included.
2. Protecting Families in the Immigration System
Families can be torn apart by deportation. A mother could get picked up by immigration on her way to work, and her family might have no idea what happened.
Several amendments try to make this process less traumatic for children. The standout measure came from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed unanimously on the committee.
Under this change, immigration agents would need to ask a detainee whether they were parents or guardians of a child. If so, the agent should determine if deporting that person could cause problems for their children, and take that into consideration. Parents would also be able to make a phone call to arrange for child care and would receive information about free legal services.
3. Making Deportations a Little Less Dangerous
As part of a strategy to keep people from repeatedly trying to cross into the U.S. illegally, immigration officials sometimes deport people to a different spot than the area where they were apprehended.
The result means a person can get dropped off hundreds of miles away from where they were before, with little or no connections or resources. Depending on the situation, it could be dangerous.
An amendment by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) would make things slightly better for detainees. They can still be deported to random places, but the amendment would stop nighttime deportations, adding a bit more safety for the people being removed.
4. Limited the Use of Solitary Confinement
When a person is held by federal immigration officials, they're being held on a civil charge, not a criminal one. That puts the use of solitary confinement in question, even when it seems genuinely necessary. And it doesn't always seem necessary.
An amendment to the immigration bill would limit the use of solitary confinement, and prohibit using it to protect a person based on their sexual orientation or gender.
A person could not be involuntarily placed in solitary for more than 15 days unless the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deems the risk of a person leaving solitary outweighs the potential harm that it could bring on.