Politics
immigration rally. Photo: AFP Getty Images/Saul Loeb  immigration rally. Photo: AFP Getty Images/Saul Loeb   

Democrats defeat GOP immigration-reform amendments

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The Democrat-led group in the Senate now pushing the draft immigration bill defeated numerous GOP amendments on May 20 that would have improved current enforcement measures, curbed financial aid to illegal immigrants and excluded many criminals from the proposed amnesty.

The Democratic-led group also rolled back a 1986 law that requires border agents to track the arrival and departure of all visitors at international airports, seaports and land borders. The law was included in the broader 1986 amnesty, but was never implemented.

The rollback was set in an amendment offered by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. His amendment mandated fingerprint-checks only at the nation’s 30 busiest airports by 2019.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions decried the rollback, saying, “It’s a retreat from current law, a weakening of current law.”

The various amendments were voted up or down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is preparing to send the bill to the Senate for a floor vote in June.

The bill is backed by President Barack Obama, who recently predicted that its passage would be a “historic achievement.”

To make his case against the fingerprint rollback, Sessions showed a report that has been held secret by the Department of Homeland Security. The report detailed a successful test of a fingerprint system in 2009.

The test system detected 300 people who had overstayed their visas or were on threat lists, Sessions said. “How many foreign nationals have we missed in the past four years because DHS failed to implement a 17-year-old congressional mandate?” he said.

The cost-saving and enforcement measures proposed by Sessions and his allies were defeated in party-line votes by 10 Democrats on the committee.

In most votes during the mark-up sessions, the Democratic bloc has been aided by two GOP Senators on the committee, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake.

Both are part of the eight-man group that drafted the bill, which is led by New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, who also sits on the judiciary committee.

Hatch’s amendment passed 13 to 5 because the Democrats were joined by Hatch, Graham and Flake.

The Democrats also defeated a measure by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley that would have barred members of street gangs from the proposed amnesty.

Additionally, Democrats defeated a Sessions amendment that would have given enforcement agencies some of the federal money given to so-called “sanctuary cities” to try to exclude enforcement agencies.

However, both Flake and Graham have seen their home-state poll numbers drop in recent weeks.