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Senators press forward on immigration bill

May 20, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro
  • Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) debate immigration reform.
Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

WASHINGTON – Senators are pushing forward on changes to a sweeping immigration overhaul, preparing to vote the bill out of the Judiciary Committee before Congress adjourns for the Memorial Day recess.

The bill largely has withstood the assaults of those who oppose it, including a union of federal immigration application officers, which announced their opposition Monday.

Senators have dispatched more than 100 amendments, turning back those that would derail the bipartisan compromise engineered by a group of eight senators and accepting others to potentially pick up broader support.

Convening for a fourth hearing Monday, the committee met for another day-long session, as rows of immigrants-rights activists and business representatives filled the Senate hearing room.

U.S. immigration law: Decades of debate

One area of continued concern has been how to keep track of those immigrants who overstay their visas – a problem at the center of the illegal immigration debate.

Many senators have said they would like to see an exit visa system that relies on biometric controls, such as fingerprints, to screen immigrants as they leave the country. But efforts to immediately mandate such a system have been rejected as too cumbersome and, airlines argued, costly.

On Monday, the senators approved a compromise: A biometric exit visa system would be required at 10 of the nation’s 30 busiest international airports to screen visa holders before they board outbound flights. The system would need to be running within two years of the immigration bill becoming law and online for the rest of the airports within six years.

Opponents, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), pushed for a mandatory system at more airports.

Supporters, though, called it a good first step.

PHOTOS: The debate over immigration reform

“I don’t look at this, Sen. Sessions, as a fig leaf; I look at it as a start,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as she voted for the measure.

Sessions has led Republican opposition to the 844-page bill, and offered an amendment that would block the earned-income tax credit for those immigrants who apply for legal status. It was rejected.

The bill involves political and policy trade-offs that would beef up border security, launch a new guest-worker program and require employers to verify the legal status of all workers. In exchange, the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas would be offered a 13-year path to citizenship, after they pay fines, taxes and learn English.

Democrats have a majority on the 18-member Judiciary Committee and are expected to approve the bill with the help of two Republicans who were part of the bipartisan effort that drafted the legislation. A vote could come as soon as Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated the full Senate would take up the bill once Congress returns from its break, in early June.

DOCUMENT: 2013 immigration reform bill

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