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Senate Immigration Bill Update
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Senate Immigration Bill Update

June 12, 2007

Contact: 
hope chu, Communications Manager 
hchu@ocanational.org 

Stephanie Kao, Program Manager 
skao@ocanational.org 
202 223 5500 


The Senate compromise bill on immigration reform was pulled from the floor last night, after Senators were unable to bring the bill to a final vote. More details in the Washington Post article below.

Three amendments supported by OCA which would make the bill more friendly to family immigration (see second article) were defeated in the past two days.

The House is expected to continue debate on their immigration reform bill, and the Senate may resume debate later this month.

OCA National would like to thank all of you for your support in contacting your legislators! We urge you to thank Senators who voted in favor of the Menendez-Hagel, Clinton-Hagel-Menendez, and Obama-Menendez amendments. Please also call Senators who opposed the amendments to express your concern about their vote.

You can view the Senate voting record here: http://www.ocanational.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=233&Itemid=247 

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Article link

June 8, 2007
Immigration Overhaul Bill Stalls in Senate 
Bipartisan Compromise Collapses; Reid Says Measure May Return

By Jonathan Weisman 
Washington Post Staff Writer

A tenuous compromise to overhaul the nation's immigration laws collapsed last night when senators from both parties refused to cut off debate and move to a final vote, handing the unlikely alliance of Democratic leaders and President Bush a setback on a major domestic priority.

The defeat came after months of painstaking negotiations and weeks of debate as a 45 to 50 procedural vote fell well short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) then pulled the bill from the floor, while holding out hope that the Senate could resurrect the measure within weeks.

"There's no reason to be upset. I think that we have to look toward passing this bill," Reid said after 9 p.m., even as he catalogued a long list of futile efforts at compromise. "It's something that needs to be done."

But he was quick to place responsibility for the defeat on Bush, who had made passage of the measure a top legislative goal. "The headlines are going to be, 'The President Fails Again,' " Reid said. "It's his bill."

With Bush out of the country this week, he left the lobbying on the bill to key aides, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez. They watched from Vice President Cheney's ceremonial office just off the Senate chamber last night as the bill stalled.

Thirty-seven Democrats, seven Republicans and independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) voted to break the filibuster. Thirty-eight Republicans, 11 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernard Sanders (Vt.) voted against it. Maryland's two Democratic senators voted yes. Virginia's Republican senator, John W. Warner, and its Democratic senator, James Webb, voted no.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that the issue is far from dead and that administration officials are taking heart from the fact that both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated they would bring the matter back up for consideration.

"The process has demonstrated that there is a strong bipartisan majority in the United States Senate that wants to see bipartisan, comprehensive reform," Stanzel said. "We will continue to work with members of the United States Senate to address concerns and ensure that we secure our borders, strengthen the interior enforcement, enact a temporary-worker program and address the millions of undocumented workers that are already here in this country."

Legislative advocates also declared the battle not over. "Hope is a powerful thing, and it will not be deterred," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the deal's chief Democratic negotiator. "The issue will not go away, and we will not give up the fight."

But Democratic leaders were quietly pessimistic. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said Bush could count on 175 to 180 Democrats to support a similar comprehensive immigration bill in the House, leaving the White House to deliver at least 40 Republicans in a body that has been far more polarized.

"If Bush could not get the votes in the Senate, what was he going to do in the House?" Emanuel asked.

The Senate measure would have coupled tighter border security and a crackdown on the hiring of illegal immigrants with generous new avenues for such immigrants to stay and work legally. But the bipartisan compromise suffered a fatal blow just after midnight yesterday when the Senate voted to end a new guest-worker program after five years.

That measure was backed by most Democrats, who, along with their trade union allies, have been concerned that a guest-worker program would depress wages and displace Americans from jobs. But four conservative Republicans who had opposed the amendment two weeks ago were pivotal, changing their positions to secure its passage by a single vote -- a move they knew would jeopardize a bill that they had turned firmly against.

"I've been trying to kill it since the beginning," said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

"My preference is to stop it and start again," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who also switched his vote.

Democratic and Republican negotiators scrambled for the rest of the day to salvage the legislation, drafting lists of amendments to consider that would satisfy conservative opponents of the deal and trying to find a way to undo the guest-worker vote. But each time Reid presented an offer, DeMint and his allies rebuffed it. Their intransigence angered leaders from both parties.

"I've about had it," declared Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "I will not be a part of a protracted filibuster. We are not going to let this bill die by endless amendments."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a last-ditch offer to try to persuade GOP conservatives to reduce their expansive list of amendments if Reid put off the vote to end debate, but Reid declined.

McConnell, Lott and even Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the bill's chief GOP architect, voted to sustain the filibuster -- a measure of Republicans' frustration with what they saw as heavy-handed Democratic efforts to deprive them of a chance for votes on the floor.

Most of the GOP negotiators, including presidential hopeful John McCain (Ariz.), stuck with the deal and sided with the Democrats.

"The Democrats were wrong" to cut off debate so quickly, said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), another negotiator, "but Republicans were wronger."

In the end, the passions that swept the country, especially among conservatives, after the deal was unveiled last month proved too hard to resist. DeMint said calls to his office were running 99 to 1 against the bill, especially from vociferous opponents of the legalization of immigrants who came here illegally.

"Our neighborhoods across our country have spoken loud and clear, and the United States Senate heard their concerns. This bill is dead," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.), a strong opponent of Bush's approach.

Democrats and their allies were never enamored with the deal, either, and the bill had grown more conservative before its defeat. The Senate adopted GOP amendments that would have forced illegal immigrants to disclose information on their legalization applications that originally was to be kept confidential.

Newly legalized workers would not have been eligible for the earned income-tax credit, and they could not have received Social Security benefits they had earned while working illegally. Under one amendment, English could have become the national language, nullifying most rights to government documents in other tongues.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult to support this bill," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a staunch advocate of expanding immigrant rights, shortly before the final tally.

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report. 

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Article link

June 7, 2007

Legal immigrants say plan slams door on kin 
Many Asians see bias in switch from family visa chain to a point system

By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News 
dsolis@dallasnews.com

Gil Lasaca jokes that he's the Filipino version of Social Security for his parents, sending some of his earnings back home to the Philippines once a month. One day, the 31-year-old Dallas occupational therapist hopes to send for them, too.

But the U.S. Senate's proposal to modify a four-decades-old immigration policy of family reunification may change his plans.

The controversial Senate measure, which would provide a path to legalization for most of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants, curtails the ability of immigrants to petition for family members.

The change would have a deep impact on the nation's Asian immigrant communities – recipients of the highest number of legal permanent resident visas – and in the Dallas area, where 72 percent of Asians are foreign-born. It would eliminate the immigration categories previously reserved for siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens.

"It is a passionate and personal issue for most Asian Americans," said Mr. Lasaca, a legal permanent resident who works at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. "Any bill that separates you instead of unites you with your family is frustrating. I would like my family to live and work here and be part of the American dream."

The bill's authors moved instead toward a point system that gives more weight to job skills, English proficiency, education and other attributes in awarding the coveted "green card." The Senate on Wednesday was voting on a slew of amendments to the massive proposal to overhaul the nation's immigration system, including four that take aim at the system for bringing in legal immigrants.

"One reason Asians become citizens as fast as they can is so they can petition for relatives," said Karen K. Narasaki, the executive director of the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C. The changes in the Senate proposal, Ms. Narasaki said, "totally turn legal immigration on its head."

And, Ms. Narasaki added, "The people who didn't bring in their family illegally are being disadvantaged."

Asians made up a little more than one-third of the immigrants who received legal permanent residency in fiscal year 2006.

Those from North and Central America and the Caribbean made up slightly less than a third of the immigrants and the second-largest regional bloc for legal migration. Mexico had the leading share of migration by country, followed by China, the Philippines and India.

"I really think this is an attack on the future flow of Latino and Asian migration," said Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of California at Davis. "We would not be talking about this if most of the flow was European. I am 100 percent sure of that."

What's proposed

In addition to curtailing the ability of U.S. citizens to bring in their adult children and siblings, the Senate proposal places a cap on the number of visas available for U.S. citizens to bring in their parents. An estimated 90,000 visas, per year, will be cut to 40,000, the Asian American Justice Center said. A Senate amendment is pending to restore the cap to 90,000 for parents.

The Senate proposal also invalidates family-based visa applications submitted after May 2005, affecting an estimated 833,000 pending applications. A Senate amendment is pending to address the "cut-off" date and move it to Jan. 1, 2007. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a bid by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to change the deadline.

"The real agenda of the anti-immigrant group was never to end illegal immigration," Ms. Narasaki said. "This bill goes after legal immigration, as well."

In an interview with PBS on Tuesday, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., explained why family migration was curtailed in the massive Senate compromise he crafted with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other key leaders.

"Number one, we wanted to end the chain migration," Mr. Kyl said. "That's not your spouse and minor children. That's like a sibling or another relative who then brings in their relatives, and then they bring in their relatives. And we didn't want the people who are here illegally today to become citizens and then be able to chain-migrate the rest of their family."

At the Federation for American Immigration Reform, spokesman Ira Mehlman said curtailing chain migration and moving the immigration system to a merit-based process has long been one of his organization's goals.

"Ending chain migration is critical to establishing an immigration policy that serves the needs of the country," Mr. Mehlman said.

As for arguments that the Senate proposal will break up families, Mr. Mehlman is equally direct: "It was the decision by someone to get up and leave that broke up the family. It was not a government decision. Life is about choices."

Chain of immigration

Emelita de la Rosa, 63, a Dallas accountant, made such a choice.

She came to the U.S. in 1970 – just five years after Congress overhauled the immigration system and replaced quotas based on race and national origin with the current family reunification system. Ms. de la Rosa acknowledged her good timing.

The Filipino immigrant has since petitioned for her adult brother, an engineer; her adult sister, a businesswoman; and her mother. Her mother, in turn, petitioned for her sister. Another brother, a psychiatrist, emigrated to the U.S. on his own.

Her husband, also a Filipino immigrant, petitioned for his mother, who then petitioned for her children, two sons and two daughters who were all professionals. The de la Rosas are now U.S. citizens.

As an Asian immigrant, Ms. de la Rosa said the Senate proposal gives her pause.

"I wouldn't have a problem, if they pass a law that would apply to everyone, Asians, Europeans, Mexicans," Ms. de la Rosa said.

But the Senate proposal seems to be "limiting some immigrants from other countries," she said. "They would prefer the white, the European. What makes America great is it's the melting pot of the good of other nations."

Mr. Lasaca said he was shocked when he learned of the changes to the system of legal migration.

Many Filipinos are now in the medical field, as doctors, nurses, and, like Mr. Lasaca, as occupational therapists, he notes.

"Coming from a country where there are limited opportunities, getting a medial course serves as your ticket to get out of poverty," he said.

Back in the Philippines, Mr. Lasaca said that he grew up "idealizing America," and he wants to extend its opportunities to his family, he said.

THE IMMIGRATION POINTS SYSTEM

Under a provision in the Senate measure, future immigrants would be awarded points based on skills and attributes they would bring to the United States, including:
  • Ability to speak English.
  • Education, including added points for training in science, math and technology.
  • A job offer in a high-demand field.
  • Work experience in the U.S.
  • Employer endorsement.
  • Family ties to the U.S.
And it would end chain migration by:
  • Capping visas for parents of U.S. citizens.
  • Eliminating green cards for the siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens.
  • Creating a new Parents Visitor visa to ensure that parents would be allowed to visit their children regularly and for extended periods of time.
  • Granting 50,000 green cards per year through random chance.
  • Rebalancing green cards used to clear the family backlog in eight years and applying the new merit system.
SOURCE: The White House

"America is not just a nation; it is an idea," he said. "It is an idea that you come from anywhere and start anew and reinvent yourself and become successful. I still believe in that." 
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