The Senate Floor Dance Is Set to Begin


Immigration reform is on tap to start up on the Senate floor next week, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with buy-in from many Senate Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  I don’t mean buy-in as in committed to supporting the bill, since that is not the case.  I mean that they agree with many Democrats who want to see the bill come to the floor for debate and discussion, so they’re not going to block the bill from reaching the floor and being discussed.

Now, if Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from the “Gang of Eight” is to be believed, this dance on the floor has to be a pretty fast number in order to wrap up work by the July 4th recess.  This bill is currently well over 800 pages long and contains the biggest revamp of our immigration system in more than a generation.  The deliberative Senate process is going to mean that there will be hours, days, and weeks of discussion and amendments and votes and commentating.

The next few weeks are absolutely vital if we as AILA members want to see reform happen.  Is S. 744 perfect?  No, I think we’d all agree on that.  But what it represents is something strong and important that can help millions, those millions that we see in our practices each day.  This bill will benefit children, parents, workers, and employers.  Will it benefit ALL children, parents, workers, and employers?  No.  But it will bring us a huge step closer to an immigration system that actually works and is designed to meet workforce needs in this century.

Will this bill pass?  Well, we are pretty much assured that the bill as currently drafted isn’t the final bill that may come out of the full Senate.  While the Senate Judiciary Committee required members to file all amendments by a certain date/time and then the Committee Chair made them all publicly available online, we don’t expect a similar set up for the full Senate.  Amendments and debate will be divided between the parties and, beyond each amendment, we probably will have a raft of second-degree amendments (legislative shorthand for “amending the amendment”).

Who is leading this dance?  You’ve heard of “dance with the one that brung ya’?” right?  In this case that is the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that drafted the bill and the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee who voted for the bill.  Everyone is watching those Senators, particularly Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), for cues as to the bill’s potential success or failure.

This is an issue that touches each state in our nation in a myriad of ways, and each Senator will have his or her ideas about how to improve the bill.  AILA of course will be highlighting the good amendments, the bad amendments, and the downright terrifying amendments that may come up, and will be calling on members to help lift support for good ones and call their Senators to explain why others are just a bad idea.

Adding to all of this fun, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be in San Francisco at the AILA Annual Conference when this dance party starts to wrap up on the Senate floor.  At some point, Senator Reid will invoke cloture and then at least 60 Senators must vote yes to proceed to a vote on the legislation itself.  The vote on the bill will require a simple majority vote to pass.

This is a big deal.  And yet, it’s only one more step in the dance.  We still have the House Judiciary Committee and the House’s “Gang of Eight,” or “Magnificent Seven” now with Rep. Labrador’s exit, working on bills. If the House passes something that can be conferenced with the Senate bill, we would still have to see what might come out of any Conference Committee between the two chambers, and we’d still have to see if the end result is a bill that the President would sign.

I’m hopeful that this time, with momentum and public sentiment pushing it forward, we will end up with a solid bill at the end of this process, one that works for our country and for the immigrants who are such an important part of our society, our culture, and our economy.


by Laura Lichter