It's been a good week for proponents of immigration reform. The sweeping bill that seeks to legalize most of the country's 11 million unauthorized immigrants was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night, after five full days of debate and amendments that did little to significantly change the original compromise.
So, what's next for the bill?
It is likely to be introduced on the Senate floor as early as June 3, and lawmakers will be able to propose more changes to the legislation there. Meanwhile, a secretive bipartisan group in the House also may release a competing immigration bill, though members are divulging few details about what their proposal will look like.
Immigrant advocates are worried the Senate reform bill may face a tougher crowd in the Republican-led House than it has so far in the Senate.
Ben Monterroso of the Service Employees International Union said advocates worry that GOP House members, all already in election mode for 2014,"are going to play to the base."
"I'm not sure that the extremists [in the House] are going to allow this process to go without a fight," Monterroso said.
Overall, the bill moved slightly to the right during its trip through the Senate committee. Republicans on the 18-member Senate Judiciary Committee were able to push through a few modest amendments that beefed up some of the border security provisions of the original bill, as well as loosening restrictions on and increasing the amount of visas for the high-tech industry to hire foreign workers.
Unions were unhappy with the high-tech visas amendment but willing to live with it. "We appreciate the work done by the Gang of Eight, as well as all those senators—both Democrats and Republicans—who engaged in good faith in the arduous job of advancing this bill," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. "We applaud the progress by the Judiciary Committee, but we will still work to make a good bill even better."
Meanwhile, liberal groups expressed disappointment that the bill does not yet include a provision to allow people in same-sex marriages to be able to sponsor their spouses for green cards. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, withdrew the amendment this week after being warned it could disrupt the fragile bipartisan coalition that supports immigration reform.
Though the bill remained largely unchanged in the Senate committee, three main issues have emerged as major potential sticking points that could derail the bill in the coming months:
1. The low-skilled worker compromise
Both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are defending their hard-fought compromise over how many low-skilled workers will be allowed in the country each year under the law. The groups negotiated for nearly a year over this provision, which allows up to 200,000 temporary, noncollege-educated workers into the country each year based on business needs. Any significant changes to this plan could cause one or both of the groups to walk.
"It's very carefully crafted, and it is not subject to change," Tom Snyder, campaign manager for the AFL-CIO's Citizenship Now campaign, said on Wednesday. "We're going to resist any change in that bill."
Some free-market conservatives want the number of visas to be higher to allow businesses easier access to labor, while more protectionist Republicans align with some Democrats in saying the number is too high and could drive down wages for American-born workers. Both business and labor say this compromise is a delicate balance that cannot be disrupted by politicians without serious consequences for the bill.
2. The pathway to citizenship
Key Democrats—including President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid—have insisted from the beginning of the process that any immigration reform bill must include a pathway to citizenship for the nation's unauthorized immigrants.
During the markup, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offered an amendment to change the bill so that the unauthorized immigrants would be legalized but not eligible for citizenship. It failed. Some House conservatives also have expressed support for a similar plan, however, so it's possible the push could be duplicated in the House.
3. The border security trigger
A key dispute among conservatives right now centers around the enforcement and border security provisions of the Senate bill. The bill requires some key benchmarks to be met before any of the nation's unauthorized immigrants are allowed to apply for permanent residency, which leads to citizenship. But immigrants can gain temporary legal status in the meantime, which allows them to work legally. Under the bill, a group of Southwest border leaders, including governors and law enforcement officials, would have to certify that the border is "secure" before the green card process begins. E-verify, which employers will be required to use to check the immigration status of workers, also will have to be in effect.
But some Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, want to move up this timetable so that none of these immigrants can legalize his or her status before these benchmarks are met. That would most likely delay the current 12-year path to citizenship in the bill by several years and alienate liberal support for the bill. Grassley's proposal to change the bill in this way failed in the markup, but it could be introduced again on the Senate floor or be duplicated in the House.
Some Republicans also believe the border should be declared close to impermeable before the legalization process begins.