Senate passes comprehensive immigration reform legislation

Jul 5, 2013

By a 68 to 32 vote on June 27, the full U.S. Senate passed their comprehensive Immigration and Border Security bill, S. 744, but Republicans seem to be in no hurry to move the bill out of the House.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said the problem with the legislation centers around allowing illegals to earn full standing U.S. citizenship.

“A special pathway to citizenship where people who are here unlawfully get something that people who have worked for decades to immigrate lawfully do not have,” was creating the roadblock, he said.

Some, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, believe this perspective could be the demise of the Republican Party in the 2016 elections.

President Obama won reelection in 2012 with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian-American voters, according to the polls.

“We wouldn’t even be where we are right now had it not been that 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama, voted Democratic in the last election,” Pelosi said. “That caused an epiphany in the Senate, that’s for sure. So, all of a sudden now, we have already passed comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. That’s a big victory.”

Despite the stall of the legislation in the House, agriculture supporters remain hopeful.

“Border security and immigration have been one of our top priorities as set by our members in 2013. I am pleased to see that the Senate has continued the conversation on this important issue that affects all Americans, but especially rural Americans and our members who live and ranch along our borders. This action by the Senate is a step in the right direction and we look forward to engaging with members of the House in ensuring the priorities of cattlemen and women are met in final legislation,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Scott George.

“A strong year-round workforce is paramount to the success of the cattle industry. Cattlemen depend on a legal and stable workforce year-round. We recognize that the first step in ensuring the success of our workforce is securing and maintaining our borders. The conversations taking place on the Hill right now are keeping these issues front and center and we truly appreciate those efforts,” he continued.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) commended the Senate for addressing this important issue.

“America’s farmers and ranchers depend on the workers who show up every day to tend crops and raise livestock. The Senatepassed bill will help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor. It also provides increased surveillance of highrisk areas along our borders.

One of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. With less time and resources wasted locking up lettuce harvesters, the focus can shift to where it properly belongs—keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country,” said Bob Stallman, president, AFBF.

“The passing of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is the first step in reforming our broken immigration system and ensuring agriculture has access to a stable and legal workforce. We look forward to working with members in the House of Representative to pass responsible immigration reform legislation that includes an earned adjustment for experienced undocumented agricultural workers and a new, flexible guestworker program. It is critical that both chambers pass legislation that can be reconciled in conference and signed into law,” Stallman continued.

While the bill does allow for eventual citizenship, it is not an open door policy.

According to Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), the bill would allow individuals who are unlawfully present in the U.S. to obtain temporary legal status once they pass a criminal background check, pay a fine and make restitution for any back taxes they owe. If they successfully maintain a clean record and hold a job, they could apply for a green card in 10 years (five years for agriculture workers) and U.S. citizenship three years later. The bill would also revamp the legal immigration system to increase the number of temporary work visas for foreigners who work in agriculture. Visas for foreigners trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics would also be increased, and a new class of visa for lower-skilled jobs in construction, retail, hospitality and insurance would be created.

TCFA also gives credit to the legislation on the border patrol plan. “To ensure that the new immigration system created by the bill is enforceable, the bill provides $30 billion to double the size of the Border Patrol to nearly 40,000 agents, authorizes an additional $8 billion to be spent on drones, helicopters, airplanes and surveillance technology to better monitor the border with Mexico and requires the construction of 700 miles of border fences. The bill would also expand the federal E-Verify program nationwide, requiring all U.S. business owners to use it to check the immigration status of all new hires within four years, and require fingerprinting all foreigners departing U.S. airports to better track who has left the country and who has stayed past the expiration of their visas,” TCFA said in a newsletter. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor