TEXAS, May 22, 2013 — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a sweeping immigration reform bill on Tuesday, setting millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to legal residency and possible citizenship. But an amendment that would have allowed U.S. citizens the right to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards was withdrawn.
After five days of debate and wading through dozens of amendments, three Republicans joined the committee’s ten Democrats and approved the comprehensive legislation, which emerged from the committee with most of its core provisions still in place, by a vote of 13 to 5.
However, in a last moment, but unsurprising development, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), faced with the possibility of the bill failing in committee, withdrew his proposed amendment to provide U.S. citizens the right to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards.
Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said they wanted to support Leahy’s amendment, but that they would not because Republican members of the bipartisan group said they would drop support if the provision were added to the legislation.
Faced with eroding support, Leahy, “with a heavy heart,” ultimately withdrew the amendment. “I’m committed to ending that discrimination,” he said.
In response, Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a national non-profit gay rights organization, said in a statement, “Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for not defending LGBT families against the scapegoating of their Republican colleagues.”
President Obama, admitting that neither he nor the committee members “got everything they wanted,” praised the committee’s efforts.
“In the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line,” he said. “I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”
Highlights of the bill include new visa programs for high-tech and low-skilled workers and new investments in strengthening border control. A compromise amendment also lifts the requirement that companies first offer tech jobs to Americans for all firms except those that depend on foreigners for more than 15 percent of their workforce.
The bill is now headed to the full Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged fellow Republicans on Tuesday not to block the bill from a floor vote.
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