Priority Senate Judiciary Committee Amendments
On May 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee began considering amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). Ongoing hearings to “mark up” the legislation are expected to last through May 24. LIRS evaluated the approximately 300 filed amendments and identified the following priority amendments related to our five Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:
Provide an earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
S. 744 creates “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status to put undocumented immigrants on an earned path to citizenship. This roadmap to citizenship is a critical component of immigration reform and the following amendments would make the process more fair and accessible:
- Feinstein 14: Allows migrants who were in the United States prior to the date of enactment to be eligible for RPI status, an improvement over the December 31, 2011 cut-off date included in S. 744.
- Hirono 14: Permits migrants who receive RPI status to petition for their spouse or children abroad to join them in the United States. These relatives would receive RPI status.
However, the following amendment would place additional restrictions on the process:
- Grassley 7: Prevents RPIs from being considered “lawfully present” in the United States, increases the fines required to access the pathway to citizenship, increases English language requirements, and shortens the potential RPI application time.
- Grassley 11: Excludes from the pathway to citizenship any migrants who have been deported, ordered deported, or facing deportation charges.
Ensure the just and humane enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, specifically by reducing the use of immigration detention and expanding the use of community support programs for immigrants who do not need to be detained.
S. 744 would expand the use of alternatives to detention and improve due process in our immigration enforcement system. Positive amendments that seek to build on these advances include:
- Blumenthal 2: Limits use of solitary confinement, improves conditions of solitary confinement, and ensures children and certain migrants with mental illness are not held in solitary confinement.
- Franken 7: Protects children by allowing communication with parents apprehended for immigration purposes and expanding trainings for immigration agents on parental rights.
However, the following amendments would roll back many of the protections included in S. 744:
- Grassley 41: Eliminates the expansion of legal orientation programming for all migrants in detention.
- Grassley 51: Eliminates expanded use of alternatives to detention, individualized assessments of custody, and periodic reviews of custody decisions.
- Grassley 53: Eliminates protections against indefinite detention.
Protect families from separation and ensure an adequate supply of visas for families seeking to reunite.
While S. 744 would unite some families by processing backlogged family-based visa applications, the legislation would also revoke the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for a visa for their siblings or adult married children over the age of 31. Some amendments seek to mitigate the harm caused by this change, including:
- Hirono 6: Restores the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for older adult married children and siblings to join them in the United States.
However, the following amendments would further curtail opportunities for migrant families to be together:
- Grassley 21: Prevents immigration judges from using discretion to forego deportations that would cause hardship to spouses, parents, and children who are lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
- Sessions 48: Eliminates points granted in the new merit-based system to siblings of U.S. citizens.
- Cruz 4: Overhauls the legal immigration system by slashing the number of family-based visas available and eliminates unused visa roll-over.
Provide adequate resources and protections to ensure the successful integration of refugees, asylees, survivors of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable migrants.
S. 744 includes several improvements for particularly vulnerable migrant populations, including the elimination of the filing deadline for asylum claims and mandating counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration court. The following amendments would expand protections for these populations:
- Hirono 22: Expands protections and screenings for unaccompanied children and minors in immigration detention.
- Blumenthal 1: Permits children under the age of 18, or “little DREAMers”, to be considered for the expedited DREAM pathway to citizenship instead of the longer 13-year wait.
However, the following amendments seek to roll back important protections in S. 744:
- Grassley 27: Maintains the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers and revokes the ability of asylum officers to grant asylum.
- Grassley 40: Eliminates mandatory appointed counsel at government expense for unaccompanied children, individuals with serious mental disabilities, and particularly vulnerable individuals.
- Grassley 25: Eliminates a permanent process for the President to designate certain vulnerable migrants, such as persecuted religious minorities, to be resettled as refugees in the United States.
Ensure the protections of U.S. citizen and migrant workers.
Although S. 744 mandates national use of an electronic employment verification system, such as E-Verify, the bill includes measures designed to protect U.S. citizens and others who are erroneously flagged by the system through a “non-confirmation.” The bill also improves protections for workers who are subject to workplace abuses or discrimination. The following amendments seek to improve these protections:
- Franken 6: Allows employees who missed the window of time to appeal a non-confirmation due to good cause to continue the appeal process.
- Blumenthal 17: Provides whistleblower protections to guest-workers, who are highly vulnerable to abuse with few protections from retaliation by exploitative employers.
- Blumenthal 18: Mandates that employers who are required to maintain employment records, including dates and hours of work and wages, provide those records to employees upon request.
However, other amendments would reduce protections for workers:
Grassley 31: Requires a weekly report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a list of non-confirmations, possibly leading to deportation proceedings based on a system rife with errors.