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Activists Intensify Efforts as Senate Debates Immigration Reform

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With the lives of over 11 million undocumented immigrants at stake, the only thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree upon is the fact that a decision on the future livelihood of these people needs to be made right away. They have vowed to block any measure that leaves their fate in doubt indefinitely. In the first immigration-related vote in either chamber of Congress this year, the Republican-controlled House voted on Thursday, June 6, 2013, to resume deportations of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children.  The measure, added to a routine spending bill, passed in a party-line vote of 224-201, sending a signal of Republicans' intention to block implementation of President Barack Obama's 2012 election-year order to stop deportations of those undocumented.  Democrats, as expected, reacted with boos, and the White House expressed its concern stating that “the House-passed measure would affect Dreamers who are productive members of society who were brought here as young children, grew up in our communities, and became American in every way but on paper.’’ This move, a clear illustration of challenges to come, has pushed Democrats, DREAMers and supporters of the DREAM Act to start intensifying their campaign.

 

On Tuesday, June 11, 2013, President Obama delivered a speech in defense of the immigration bill, insisting that in order “to truly deal with this issue Congress needs to act. And that moment is now." The same day, the Senate immigration reform bill passed its first procedural hurdle on the floor in an 82-15 vote, with only Republicans voting to block the bill from moving forward. The vote decided whether to proceed to an amend-and-debate period during which lawmakers can continue to mold the final legislative product.  Having passed the hurdle, proponents buried a road block that opponents regularly use to delay or even kill legislation and opened the doors to a long anticipated debate that may extend through June. Those opposed to the bill quickly offered amendments to change or possibly kill the measure if adopted. Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa introduced a plan requiring the Obama administration to certify “effective control over the entire southern border” for a six month period before any of the 11 million undocumented residents begin applying for legal status. He insisted that border security be a first priority and legalization be made second.  Other Republican senators are pushing similar proposals.

 

The Gang of Eight bill would authorize billions of dollars in new spending for enhanced border security and create new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers, in addition to providing a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Even after passing its first hurdle, it’s clear that the bill will have to face many changes in order to receive the Republican support necessary to become law. The Gang of Eight– four Republicans joined with four Democrats in writing the Senate bill– is still working on just how much to adjust the legislation in order to gain needed support, especially with regard to border control. Republican Senator Rand Paul, voted in favor of debates on Tuesday, and stated on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, that “measure needs tougher provisions on border security in order to have a chance in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives." Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who voted against proceeding with debate on Tuesday, also wants the bill to adopt a stronger border security component. Republican Senator John Cornyn unveiled his much-anticipated amendment to the Senate bill. Cornyn’s amendment provides more of a challenge before an undocumented resident can begin the path to citizenship.  Cornyn’s amendment would require that nine years and six months after immigration reform becomes law, the HHS secretary must submit a report to the president and Congress that, "under penalty of perjury," states that "full situational awareness” and “operational control” of the southern border has been achieved; that the mandatory employment verification system is operational; and that a biometric entry and exit data system has been implemented at all designated airports and seaports. If DHS cannot attest that these conditions have been met, undocumented immigrants cannot get green cards or embark on the path to citizenship.” If this amendment is made to the bill, ten years from now, if those metrics, even if close, are not met, 11 million would still remain undocumented.

 

As debates continue, those in support of immigration reform call to halt deportations. Eight House Democrats called for the president to suspend deportations until a decision on the bill is made because it does not provide a right to return for those who have been deported. Republican Senator Luis Gutierrez stated that "we need to stop the deportations so that people can benefit from the Senate bill."  President Obama has already stated previously that he cannot suspend deportations, despite calls from lawmakers and advocates, so the only thing certain right now is that those undocumented are, again, at risk of being separated from their families, as is the case for these three DREAMers who will only be able to reunite with their mothers if the current immigration bill that grants travel authorization passes:

 

Here is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), member of the "Group/Gang of Eight", speaking about the Immigration Bill as debate begins on the Senate floor, June 12: