CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

National News

May 21, 2013

Senate panel approves immigration bill

WASHINGTON —

Far-reaching legislation to grant a chance at citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a solid bipartisan vote Tuesday night after supporters somberly sidestepped a controversy over the rights of gay spouses.

The 13-5 vote cleared the way for an epic showdown on the Senate floor on the measure, which is one of President Barack Obama's top domestic priorities yet also gives the Republican Party a chance to recast itself as more appealing to minorities.

The committee's action sparked rejoicing from immigration activists who crowded into a Senate committee room to witness the proceedings. "Yes, we can!" they shouted as they clapped rhythmically to show their pleasure.

In addition to creating a pathway to citizenship for 11.5 million immigrants, the legislation creates a new program for low-skilled foreign labor and would permit highly skilled workers into the country at far higher levels than is currently the case.

At the same time, it requires the government to take costly new steps to guard against future illegal immigration.

There was suspense to the end of the committee's deliberations, when Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who serves as chairman, sparked a debate over his proposal to give same-sex and heterosexual spouses equal rights under immigration law.

"I don't want to be the senator who asks people to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," he said, adding he wanted to hear from others on the committee.

In response, he heard a chorus of pleas from the bill's supporters, seconding private appeals from the White House, not to force a vote that they warned would lead to the bill's demise.

"I believe in my heart of hearts that what you're doing is the right and just thing," said one of them, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "But I believe this is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill."

In the hours leading to a final vote, the panel also agreed to a last-minute compromise covering an increase in the visa program for high-tech workers, a deal that brought Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah over to the ranks of supporters.

Under the compromise, the number of highly skilled workers admitted to the country would rise from 65,000 annually to 110,000, with the possibility of a further rise to 180,000, depending in part on unemployment levels.

Firms where foreign labor accounts for at least 15 percent of the skilled work force would be subjected to tighter conditions than companies less dependent on H-IB visa holders.

The compromise was negotiated by Hatch, whose state is home to a growing high tech industry, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It is designed to balance the interests of industry, which relies increasingly on skilled foreign labor, and organized labor, which represents American workers.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka attacked the deal sharply as "anti-worker," although he also made clear organized labor would continue to support the overall legislation.

Robert Hoffman, senior vice president for government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, welcomed the deal. "We obviously want to keep moving the bill forward and building support for the legislation, and this agreement allows us to do so," he said.

The issue of same-sex spouses hovered in the background from the start, and as the committee neared the end of its work, officials said Leahy had been informed that both the White House and Senate Democrats hoped he would not risk the destruction of months of painstaking work by putting the issue to a vote.

"There have been 300 amendments. Why shouldn't we have one more?" he told reporters at one point, hours before called the committee into session for a final time to debate the legislation.

A few hours later, Republicans and Democrats both answered his question bluntly.

"This would fracture the coalition. I could not support the bill," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was a member of the bipartisan so-called Gang of Eight that drafted the core elements of the bill.

Republicans and Democrats alike also noted that the Supreme Court may soon issue a ruling that renders the controversy moot.

Despite the concern that bipartisan support for the legislation was fragile, there was no doubting the command over committee proceedings that backers held.

In a final reminder, an attempt by Sen. Ted Cruz., R-Texas, to delete the pathway to citizenship failed on a 13-5 vote.

In defeat, he and others said they, too, wanted to overhaul immigration law, but not the way that drafters of the legislation had done.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, recalled that he had voted to give "amnesty" to those in the country illegally in 1986, the last time Congress took a major look at immigration. He said that bill, like the current one, promised to crack down on illegal immigration, but said it had failed to do so.

The centerpiece provision of the legislation allows an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally to obtain "registered provisional immigrant status" six months after enactment if certain conditions are also met.

Applicants must have arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence, must not have a felony conviction of more than two misdemeanors on their record, and pay a $500 fine.

The registered provisional immigrant status lasts six years and is renewable for another $500. After a decade, though, individuals could seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are up to date on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine and meet other conditions.

Individuals brought to the country as youths would be able to apply for green cards in five years.

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms

    Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo