Key US Senate panel passes landmark immigration reform bill

The bill passed through the key Senate committee only after lawmakers reached a deal on H-1B visa expansion plan.

Updated: May 22, 2013, 11:43 AM IST

Washington: The landmark immigration bill, which offers a path to citizenship for more than 11 million - including over 260,000 Indians - undocumented immigrants and increasing H-1B visas today passed its first legislative test.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on the fifth day of its deliberations that included 300 amendments to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill - Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act - passed it by 13-5 votes.

The bill passed through the key Senate committee only after lawmakers reached a deal on H-1B visa expansion plan. The bill (No 744) now goes to the Senate for approval - which is expected to witness another round of negotiations and tough bargaining. It needs 60 votes to pass the 100-seat Senate.

Welcoming the passage of the legislation, US President Barack Obama said that it is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform he has proposed and meets the challenge of fixing the broken immigration system.

Obama urged the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at earliest possible opportunity.

He remained hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.

"None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I, but in the end we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line," he said in a statement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held five markup sessions to consider the bipartisan legislation.

"The dysfunction in our current immigration system affects all of us and it is long past time for reform. I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action," Chairman Patrick Leahy said.

"We need an immigration system that lives up to American values and helps write the next great chapter in American history by reinvigorating our economy and enriching our communities," he said.

"This bipartisan legislation establishes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. It addresses the lengthy backlogs in our current immigration system - backlogs that have kept families apart sometimes for decades," said Leahy, who shepherded the complicated bill through the marathon markup session.

"It grants a faster track to the 'dreamers' brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, and to agricultural workers who are an essential part of our communities and work so hard to provide our nation's food supply," Leahy said.

"It makes important changes to the visas used by dairy farmers and the tourism industry and by immigrant investors who are making investments in our communities. It addresses the needs of our law enforcement community, which requires the help of immigrants who witness crime or are victims of domestic violence," he said.

"It improves the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers so that the United States will remain the beacon of hope in the world," the top Senator said.

Senator John McCain termed it as a significant first step. "There will be more tests to come, but this accomplishment makes me guardedly optimistic for the success of the legislation," he added.

"Now is the time to act on this issue and get it solved, because we can't leave it the way it is. The status quo is just as bad, and so we've got to figure that out. And so certainly, I think as we move forward now on to the floor of the Senate, in order for this thing to pass," Senator Marco Rubio said.

"One thing is to have a bill, another thing is to have a law, a law that can pass the House and the Senate. There will have to be changes made to this bill, and particularly because people are saying the following to us," he added.

Senator John Cornyn said the bill passed makes some positive improvements to an immigration system desperately in need of reform.

"Unfortunately, the bill falls woefully short in other crucial areas," he said.

"I am deeply concerned about this and other flaws in the current proposal. I want the system to work for everyone, and I am hopeful that common sense will eventually lead to common ground," he added.

Benjamin Johnson, executive director of American Immigration Council, said the many amendments added during the mark-up will strengthen the bill in the areas of high-skilled immigration, protections for vulnerable groups and due process.

"However, other amendments, like those attempting to deny citizenship, may have been driven more by rhetoric than reality," it said, adding that the overall bill coming out of committee now gives the Senate an important and rare opportunity to complete the task they have been working on for years-passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.