Reform Rundown: the American Congress and Immigration

Back in May, I wrote “The Quick and Dirty of the American Immigration Bill,” which summarized  the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744).  Since then, S.744 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with about a third of the 301 proposed amendments attached to it.  These amendments made positive changes to S.744 including making the pathway to citizenship “more efficient and practical” and improving due process within the bill, but they also increased border security measures and definitions (e.g., Grassley 1) and interior enforcement (e.g., Cornyn 4) (America’s Voice).

Once S.744 hit the floor of the senate, even more amendments were drafted and incorporated into the bill.  Generally speaking, the amendments incorporated into S.744 have drifted the bill away from the center towards the right with heavier border security and enforcement. The culmination of this is illustrated in the Corker-Hoeven amendment.  CNN reported that this amendment would

…require 20,000 more border agents, completing 700 miles of fence along the boundary with Mexico, and deploying $3.2 billion in technology upgrades similar to equipment used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The amount of money thrown at fencing, border patrol agents, and technology requirements is so extravagant that Senator Leahy (D – VT) described it on the Senate floor as “…a Christmas wish list for Halliburton.”  This amendment will be voted on today (Monday, June 24, 2013).  Phillip Wolgin, Senior Immigration Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress said of this amendment:

None of the advocacy groups seem thrilled about the Corker-Hoeven amendment – both restrictionist and pro-immigrant groups have expressed displeasure with it.  Over the weekend, both sides of the debate both off and on the Hill frantically worked through the almost 1,100 page amendment that was filed Friday, June 21st as a replacement bill .  That is less than three days to understand complex immigration legislation prior to the vote later today.

The spending within the Corker-Hoeven amendment on the border will decrease the positive fiscal impact of the bill.  The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) “score” is an estimate of “what the net fiscal impact of a bill would be, considering both the costs and the benefits associated with its implementation” (IPC).  Broadly speaking, a positive CBO score is great for the likelihood of the bill passing.  S.744’s CBO score, released last week, was positive, throughly debunking any claims that S.744 would bankrupt the country.  Prior to Corker-Hoeven, S.744 would save the American people $175 billion in the first ten years and $965 billion in the second ten years (the second ten years is not usually scored, it was done so at the insistence of conservatives like Senator Sessions of Alabama).  Unfortunately, this positive CBO score “seemed to give the Senators license to spend on the border with wild abandon” (Immigration Impact).

Instead of decreasing the American deficit, the savings described in the CBO score go directly towards amplifying the fortification at the Southern border of the United States to a degree we cannot even begin to imagine, although Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights has painted a grim picture of the implication of the Corker-Hoeven amendment.  In a Washington Post interview, Garcia said:

We’re going to have one of the most militarized borders in the world…In South Korea, they have 40,000 personnel deployed at the border, and we’re either going to be ahead of, or right behind, that. But the difference is that we don’t have a war between nations. This is unreasonable.

Are we now at war with Mexico and Central America, that we would require $3.2 billion in technology upgrades and a militarization zone on par with South Korea?  Or, with Afghanistan and Iraq hopefully winding down, do the federal contracter firms that sprung up after 9/11 need another source of income?  The Corker-Hoeven amendment would still allow for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently present in the United States, which is why Leahy endorsed it on the Senate floor Friday.  And, unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with Wolgin that the vote for the Corker-Hoeven amendment will be a vote for the bill itself.  Without Corker-Hoeven, those 11 million undocumented will continue to face the day-to-day uncertainties that comes with their status.  The DREAMers, American kids in all but documentation, will continue to struggle to build a life in the only country they’ve ever known.  But is the price too high?

Even if the post-Corker-Hoeven version of S.744 passes the Senate (it is possible that we will know as early as Thursday the fate of S.744), there’s still the House to contend with.  The House, which is generally more influenced by the far-right than the Senate, prefers a piece-meal approach to immigration reform instead of the comprehensive package that the Senate is putting together.  The “gang of 7” bill expected from the House is not publicly available, though Rep. Pelosi described it at Netroots Nation this weekend as “a good compromise.”  However, one of the piece-meal approaches, the SAFE Act, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week.  The SAFE Act focuses on interior enforcement and would incorporate much of the problematic aspects of S.B. 1070 into federal law.  In particular, the federal government would cede back to the state and local communities a degree of immigration control – all communities, including those with a documented history of racial profiling.  Debates in the House Judiciary Committee included a [withdrawn] amendment from Steve King (R-IA) that would have incorporated H.R. 140, the “Birthright Citizenship Act” into the House’s immigration efforts.  H.R. 140, and King’s amendment, would prevent children of undocumented citizens born on American soil from obtaining U.S. citizenship (regardless of what the 14th Amendment says).

King, the same Congressman who introduced the English Language Unity Act of 2013 that I wrote about in March, is not representative of the mainstream Republican party (or their concerns for the Hispanic vote).  However, he is representative of what S.744 faces if or when it reaches the House.  Jon Oliver on the Daily Show recently painted a good picture of the challenges facing immigration reform, which you can watch below.

Keep an eye on the Hill (or twitter) today and Thursday, which will be important turning points for comprehensive immigration reform.  S.744 has a long, long, way to go before it becomes law and the 11 million undocumented who call America home can finally come out of the shadows.

Read More

Bill Summary & Status S.744
The Quick and Dirty of the American Immigration Bill
Guide to CIR 2013
Resources on the Bill
Procedural Path of the Senate Immigration Bill
Senate Immigration Deal To Go For Vote Monday

The writing and views in this post are exclusively that of the author.  This post is not affiliated with or endorsed by any organization.



  1. […] also “Reform Rundown:  The American Congress and Immigration” for our […]


  2. […] An important aspect of S.744 – indeed, the bulk of Title II of the senate bill– is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented.  Legalization without a pathway to citizenship creates an underclass of American residents, something that polls consistently show Americans reject.  These same polls show a majority support for providing a way for undocumented individuals to become American citizens (Immigration Policy Center, 2013).  The ball for immigration reform has been in the House’s court most of the summer.  It is exceedingly unlikely that the House will address S.744 directly.  If immigration reform moves forward in the House, it will pass a handful of bills addressing aspects of immigration reform and these will go to conference with S.744.  Which means that anything that comes out of Congress this year will look very different from the S.744 we have previously summarized. […]


  3. […] refused to issue birth certificates to their U.S.-born children. Republican lawmakers continue to introduce (and reintroduce) the Birthright Citizenship Act in Congress, in an attempt to restrict citizenship […]


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