Senate OKs immigration reform; but hurdles remain

Updated: 2013-06-28 12:39

By Joseph Boris in Washington (China Daily)

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The US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday in favor of major changes to America's immigration system, including the hope of citizenship to millions but also stepped-up security for the southern border with Mexico and new limits on family-based visas.

The 68-32 vote on the legislation, including 14 Republicans in favor, clears the way for action in the House of Representatives, which is widely expected to draft a bill from scratch and where political divisions make prospects for passage uncertain.

For the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, a key goal of preserving immigration rules designed to keep families intact took a hit in the Senate bill. In fact, it eliminates the F4 visa category, which allows siblings who are US citizens or legal permanent residents to sponsor their brothers' and sisters' immigration, and caps at 31 the age at which married sons or daughters are eligible for F3 visa sponsorship by a US parent.

Activists in the AAPI community also criticized the Senate bill's merit-based points system for giving preference to highly educated immigrants at the expense of lower-skilled workers, many of them women. But most have expressed support for the bill nonetheless, saying the need to fix a "broken" US immigration system is too great to reject this historic legislation.

"We continue to be concerned about the impact the bill will have on immigrant families, if enacted," said Mee Moua, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group. "The decision to severely limit the family-based immigration system is a dramatic shift away from our long-held American values."

A key member in the House debate, which could begin next week, is Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. It's currently working to draft parts of what may become a comprehensive bill for the full chamber to consider. Chu, the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, has pushed for immigration legislation that protects and expands family-sponsored immigration.

"Today is a landmark moment in the fight to fulfill America's promise as a nation of immigrants," Chu said in a statement. "More than two-thirds of the Senate, from all reaches of the country and both ends of the political spectrum, answered the call for immigration reform that the American people made loud and clear in last year's election. In doing so, they also leveled a challenge for the House to follow suit."

She blasted Republicans in the House for an immigration strategy to "slow-walk and cherry-pick" potential legislation. The party's conservative members are demanding upgrades to border security as a prerequisite for any expansion of immigration, but even with such provisions, their support - and passage of a bill that President Barack Obama would sign into law - isn't guaranteed.

"On the same day that the Senate passed their compromise bill, the House marked up an ideological bill that completely disregarded the needs of minority and immigrant communities laid out by the Congressional Tri-Caucus," Chu said, referring to a bloc involving CAPAC and the black and Hispanic caucuses in the lower chamber.

"I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join us in good faith to solve our immigration problems. The time for immigration reform is undoubtedly now, and the time for the political games to end has long passed," she said.

Differences between the newly passed Senate bill and whatever may emerge from the House would have to be reconciled through what's known in Congress as a conference committee, involving members from each chamber, before reaching the president's desk.

(China Daily USA 06/28/2013 page10)