Senate Passes Immigration Reform

By Roy Maurer June 27, 2013

The U.S. Senate on June 27, 2013, advanced the most significant overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in decades. The measure passed by a vote of 68-32. All Democrats present voted “Aye,” along with 14 Republicans, some of whom were convinced to vote for the measure after a recent compromise on border security was worked out.

The Senate visitors’ gallery broke out into cries of “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!” when the vote tally was announced.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) would allow the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants to begin a 13-year path to citizenship almost immediately with a provisional legal status.

In a critical amendment brokered to attract Republican support, the bill calls for the government to spend billions to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol to nearly 40,000 agents and finish building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill would expand the federal E-Verify electronic employment verification program nationwide, requiring employers with more than 5,000 employees to use E-Verify within two years of enactment, followed by employers with more than 500 workers within three years of enactment. All employers would be required to use the system within four years after regulations are issued.

S. 744 would substantially increase the number of temporary work visas for highly skilled foreign nationals trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Visas for agricultural workers would also be increased, and a new class of visa would be created to bring in people to work jobs in construction, retail and hospitality.

The overhaul would clear up the decades-long green card backlogs and transform the nation’s long-standing preference for family-based immigration to more preference being given to workers.

“Though it’s not a perfect bill, in my opinion, there are some surprisingly good provisions, such as a new entrepreneur visa and retiree visa, as well as the provisions for a path to legalization for the undocumented and reducing the green card backlog,” said Tahmina Watson, owner of Seattle-based Watson Immigration Law. “Looking forward, I expect there to be a tough battle in the House but I’m hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform will ultimately pass and be signed into law by the end of the year,” she told SHRM Online.

The Business Roundtable, representing CEOs of leading U.S. companies, praised the passage of the bill and urged the House to pass similar legislation.

Greg Brown, Chairman & CEO of Motorola Solutions, Inc. and the Chair of Business Roundtable’s Select Committee on Immigration, said, “It’s time for the members of the House of Representatives to show similar leadership as they craft their own version of immigration reform. An immigration system that works will secure our border, eliminate the magnet of illegal employment, find a workable solution for those who are living here without a legal status and welcome legal immigrant workers to contribute to our economy, especially by attracting the best and brightest from around the world.”

Prospects in the House

Republican House members have already said the Senate bill is dead on arrival.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dashed optimism on any hope that the House would vote on the Senate plan, and insisted that the House will take up legislation supported by a majority of the Republican conference.

“I issued a statement that I thought was pretty clear, but apparently some haven’t gotten the message: The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” he said before the Senate voted. “We’re going to do our own bill.”

Boehner has delegated Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Judiciary Committee chairman, as the pace-setter for the House’s efforts on immigration. Goodlatte has said he prefers a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. The committee has already approved bills strengthening enforcement of immigration laws, mandating a national electronic employment verification program and setting up a new farm guest worker program.

SHRM, ACIP to Continue Advocacy

While the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) welcomed bipartisan passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the organizations have pledged to continue advocating for a fully electronic and integrated employment verification system that can accurately guard against identity theft and a Trusted Employer program for greater processing efficiency.

“While it is encouraging to see bipartisan progress being made to reform the U.S. immigration system, there are areas of the employment verification system that need to be improved,” said Michael Aitken, SHRM vice president of Government Affairs. “We will continue to press for an employment verification system that can provide certainty to an employer that they are hiring a legal worker,” he said.

ACIP Executive Director Lynn Shotwell remarked that the green card provisions in S. 744 were necessary to stay globally competitive, and that she will continue to work with lawmakers “to ensure that before a bill goes to the President’s desk, all high-skilled provisions provide for U.S. growth and that a Trusted Employer program is created.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

Related Articles:

Immigration Reform Passes Senate Committee, SHRM Online Global HR, May 2013

Senate Panel Rejects Expedited E-Verify Rollout,SHRM Online Global HR, May 2013

Senate Bill Revamps Employment-Based Green Card System,SHRM Online Global HR, May 2013

House Proposes Piecemeal Immigration Approach,SHRM Online Global HR, May 2013

Senate Bill Mandates E-Verify for All Employers, SHRM Online Global HR, April 2013

ACIP, SHRM Release Solutions for Employment-based Immigration, SHRM Online Global HR, March 2013

Mandatory E-Verify Central to Immigration Reform, SHRM Online Global HR, March 2013

Senate Republicans Stress Enforcement Before Comprehensive Immigration Reform, SHRM Online Global HR, February 2013

Senate Bill Calls for Market-Based H-1B Cap, SHRM Online Global HR, February 2013

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