Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), right, and… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
Oh, how much things have changed in just a few months. Last May, Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on any aspect of immigration reform. But on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a far-reaching immigration bill, clearing the way for a debate in the full Senate.
Is the vote a surprise? Not really, after all the so-called Gang of Eight senators has worked hard to put the comprehensive plan together. Still, the vote is definitely noteworthy given the committee spent the better part of a week wading through about 300 amendments, including some that were clearly aimed at sinking the legislation.
The enforcement-only crowd fought hard for tougher provisions and they got $4.5 billion in border enforcement in the bill. And they won a few key battles -- in total, more than 40 Republican-sponsored amendments were approved by the committee. Fortunately, the craziest or most noxious provisions, including one by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that sought to eliminate the path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are illegally in the country, were voted down. At the same time, Democrats conceded some ground. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) withdrew a proposal that would have allowed gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to petition for their spouses abroad.
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That’s OK, however, because in the end what emerged from the weeklong debate is a sound bill that will put undocumented immigrants who are here working in an underground economy on the path to citizenship, a measure that will replace an outdated dysfunctional visa system with one that will help the U.S. remain competitive in a global economy, and will give so-called dreamers a chance to become full-fledged members of a country they have long called home without fear of deportation.
There are still many opportunities for the anti-reform crowd to derail this bill as it moves to the full floor. Opponents may attempt a filibuster, or reintroduce amendments that were withdrawn in committee because those provisions lacked enough votes, but could garner the necessary support on the Senate floor. And of course there is no telling what may happen in the House of Representatives, which is poised to hold its first hearing on the bill Wednesday.
Still, I think there is reason for hope. I believe Tuesday's vote means not only that the bill is a step closer to reality, not failure, but also that Congress is willing to recognize the opportunity before it. I think lawmakers will choose to adopt smart, thoughtful laws that looks toward the future needs of this country, and not give in to nativist fear or restrictionists who seek to defeat this landmark legislation.
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