Immigration Reform Passes Senate, Faces Tough Challenge From House Republicans

Michael Teague |

In a 68-32 vote on Thursday, the United States Senate approved a bill that would introduce the most significant changes to the nation’s immigration system in over a quarter of a century.

The contentious immigration reform bill that emerged from months of wrangling within and around a bi-partisan so-called “gang of eight” Senators would provide a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented persons currently estimated to be living in the United States, while drastically increasing security measures on the Southern border as well as in the nation’s maritime and air-ports.

14 Senate Republicans joined all of their Democrat colleagues in the vote, but S. 744, also known as The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act faces significant challenges in the House of Representatives, where partisan sectarianism seems to be more or less the rule. This was demonstrated most succinctly by House majority leader John Boehner, who reacted to the news by saying that “The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes.”

S. 744 creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to December 31, 2011 by allowing them to register for provisional legal status after paying fines, fees, and passing a background check. Immigrants would then be able to apply for Permanent Resident status after a period of 10 years.

The bill also makes it vastly easier for companies to employ skilled workers, and has the support of a number of Silicon Valley tech firms for this reason. It also navigated a series of negotiations between business and labor organizations in order to make changes to the guest-worker program, making it easier for unskilled laborers to remain in the country legally.

In order to garner the support of Republicans, the bill also includes extensive changes to border security, effectively doubling the amount of border patrol agents to 40,000, and adding 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.’s troubled border with Mexico. Additionally, all employers would be required to use an E-Verify system that checks a given worker’s immigration status.

But while House Republicans have been unequivocally defiant about the bill, the Senate’s vote will put them under a great deal of pressure to do something about reforming the immigration system, particularly since S. 744 was the product of months of wrangling to lock down a series of compromises that has managed to get many people on just about any side of the issue willing hold their noses in order to move forward.

It remains to be seen if or how the potentially massive investment opportunities presented by the bill will come to bear on House Republicans. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently assembled a lobby comprised of Silicon Valley tech companies who are pushing heavily for reform, and many industries with jobs most American citizens typically do not do have been eager for access to legal, cheap labor from unskilled workers.

And this is to say nothing about the potential economic boon to states, businesses and entire industries that could result from the building of 700 miles of border fencing and the addition of 20,000 border patrol agents.

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