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HIH Blog
  1. Don’t forget the 36,000

    Posted on Friday, June 28th, 2013

    To say it’s been a busy week in politics doesn’t quite do justice to the last five days. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation 68 to 32, the Supreme Court issued three major decisions, and a Texas State Senator helped block an anti-abortion bill through an inspiring 11-hour filibuster. And while these advances (or in the case of the Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, a massive step backward) seem unrelated, the legal, socio-economic and political implications of these policies are very much linked.

    Take, for example, immigration reform and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—both federal issues. Before being struck down on Wednesday, Section 3 of DOMA limited marriage recognition on a federal level to opposite-sex couples. That meant that the estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples could not obtain any federal marriage benefit—such as qualifying for lawful permanent residence in the U.S. (also known as a green card)—even through lawful marriage. As of this week, that’s history.

    Because of Wednesday’s ruling, same-sex couples’ green card applications will now receive the same consideration as their heterosexual counterparts. It doesn’t matter where the couple lives when they apply, or where they got married. As long as the marriage was legally entered into (whether in the 13 U.S. states where gay marriage is legal, or another country), it will be deemed equally valid by immigration services. (The legal classifications of civil unions and domestic partnership are less clear.)

    The irony here is that the issue of same-sex benefits as they apply to immigrant couples threatened to break apart the bipartisan alliance held by the Gang of Eight—effectively dooming the bill. Remember that Republican Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Lindsay Graham (SC) said they were ready to walk if Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) same-sex amendment was adopted by the Judiciary Committee. Under pressure from his fellow Democrats in the Gang of Eight, Leahy sidestepped the certain conflict, choosing instead not to bring up the amendment for a vote at all.

    While Leahy enraged the LGBT community and its allies, it looks like he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision made Leahy and the Democrats’ political calculus look brilliant. They made the tough choices to save the immigration bill, and somehow still got the same-sex benefits.

    We shouldn’t be surprised: the Gang of Eight has shown exceptional political maneuvering through this entire process—from painstakingly negotiating the finer details of the bill, to Sen. Rubio successfully courting skeptical Republicans on border security—resulting in the legislation’s passage with every Senate Democrat and 14 Republican’s votes. To both the Gang of Eight and the Supreme Court (on the DOMA decision), I must say, “a job very well done.”

    Richard André is a policy associate at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

  2. Comprehensive Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

    Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013

    The Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 13-5 on Tuesday. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) joined the Committee’s Democrats and “Gang of Eight” Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in voting in favor of the bill. The committee voted on 200 of the 300 amendments submitted for the bill’s mark-up. Several amendments seen as “poison pills” were rejected with the support of some Republican senators, while Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) voluntarily withdrew his amendment to allow LGBT couples equal protection.

    Supporters of the bill hope it will survive on the floor and pass with at least 70 votes.

    Read more analysis.

  3. Senate Bill Moves to Floor

    Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2013

    The U.S. Senate voted to open debate on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 in an 85-15 vote on Tuesday. With the majority of Republicans joining their Democrat colleagues, the vote on the bill—which has expanded to 1,076 pages since it emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee—came just hours after President Obama called for the passage of a “common-sense bipartisan bill.”

    While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has advocated for a final vote by the end of the month, the bill still faces considerable opposition. Last night, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was the only Republican that is not part of the “Gang of Eight,” who sided with Democrats to table Senator Charles Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment to alter the security “trigger” measures in the bill. By a vote of 57-43, the Senate rejected the amendment that would have required the Department of Homeland Security to certify that it had “maintained effective control” of the entire southern border for 6 months before beginning the process for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country. If passed, it is believed the amendment would have fractured the “Gang of Eight” alliance along party lines.

    As the gang works to create stricter border security measures that will appeal to both sides of the aisle, the House’s own bipartisan group has yet to release their own comprehensive bill. The House Judiciary committee, led by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), has opted to move ahead with their piecemeal approach instead. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has expressed his desire to pass an immigration bill before August. It remains to be seen whether the House will pass a comprehensive bill or several smaller bills before the congressional recess.

    Leani García works in the Policy Department at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

  4. Cost of Comprehensive Reform Contested

    Posted on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

    The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC, released a highly-contested study on Monday which estimates the cost of legalizing the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. at $6.3 trillion over the next five decades. The report was disputed by both Democrats and Republicans who believe that the authors underestimate the role that legalized immigrant workers would have in boosting economic growth.

    Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate “Gang of Eight” and one of the key conservative supporters of comprehensive immigration reform questioned the legitimacy of the report. “I have a lot of respect for Heritage, but I don’t believe their report is a legitimate one,” the junior senator told Juan Carlos Lopez during an interview on CNN en Español. While the report has received support from Republicans such as Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), unlike in 2007, there has been considerable backlash from conservatives in the country. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy group, both based Washington, DC, criticized the report for lacking “dynamic scoring”—which would take into account both the potential costs and benefits of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

    The Heritage report has also been criticized for ignoring the social mobility that newly-legalized immigrants would achieve over time. It is still unclear whether these criticisms will minimize the impact the report will have on conservatives opposed to the pathway to citizenship.

    Leani García works in the Policy Department at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

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