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LIVE BLOG: Senate Judiciary Committee Reviews Guest-Worker Provisions in Gang of Eight's Bill


After dealing with most of Title I ("triggers" and border security) last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee continues its markup of the Gang of Eight's amnesty bill, S.744, today. Today's markup will mostly focus on Title IV of the Gang's bill, dealing with the guest-worker provisions. Several of the issues to watch for today include changes to the existing H-1B high-skilled worker visas and worker protections outlined in the Gang's bill.

For a recap of last week's markup, see our news story and live blog.


4:07 pm -- The amendment failed 9-to-9 (the Committee Chairman breaks the tie). 

3:58 pm -- Sen. Grassley is offering amendment #56. This amendment would reverse the bill's provision that allows the DHS secretary to waive interivews of low-risk H-1B visa applicants. 

3:56 pm -- The amendment failed 2-to-15 again with only Sens. Grassley and Sessions voting in favor. 

3:50 pm -- Sen. Grassley is offering amendment #62. This amendment would strike all instances of "intending immigrants" in connection with H-1B visas. Intending immigrants, as defined by the bill, are H-1B visa holders that plan on becoming legal permanent residents. Intending immigrants would be exempt from the H-1B visa cap.

3:49 pm -- The amendment failed 2-to-15. The only two Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee who supported requiring companies wanting to hire foreign workers demonstrate that they made a good-faith effort to hire an American worker are Sens. Grassley and Sessions. 

3:36 pm -- Sen. Feinstein is defending the amendment and questioning Sen. Schumer's position. Sen. Schumer says that companies don't want provisions in the bill that can be interpretted in different ways, and he asks how do you prove "good-faith." Apparently, Sen. Schumer isn't aware that the entire Gang of Eight bill is loaded with ambiguous language that can be interpretted in different ways. All you have to do is listen to his definition of the bill and his fellow Gang member's, Sen. Marco Rubio.

3:34 pm -- Sen. Schumer is opposing Grassley's amendment. He says it brings in more government regulation where no additional regulation is needed. Schumer says the Gang has reached a "delicate balance" on high-skilled visas. He said the companies say they should be able to hire whomever they want, but labor groups are concerned about wages and worker protections. Sen. Schumer is essentially saying that anything that disrupts the high-skilled worker agreements that are in the bill will sink the overall effort. 

3:30 pm -- Sen. Grassley is offering amendment #60. This amendment requires companies to make a good-faith effort to hire American workers before applying for an H-1B visa. Sen. Grassley says that most tech companies say they are making good-faith efforts to hire American workers. Grassley says if that's really true than they shouldn't have an issue with the amendment. Sen. Grassley refers to the testimony of Prof. Ron Hira a few weeks ago that Sen. Sessions referred to earlier.

3:29 pm -- The amendment failed 4-to-14. 

3:17 pm -- Sen. Durbin is speaking out against the Cruz amendment. He says the increases in H-1B visas proposed by Cruz are too high and he says removing some of the requirements for businesses would make it suceptible to fraud.

Sen. Sessions has called out Sen. Durbin's supposed concern for American students in the STEM field by pointing out that the Gang's bill would issue a green card to any foreign student who graduates with an advanced degree in a STEM field from a U.S. college or university if they have a job offer. 

3:12 pm -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is offering amendment #5. This amendment would increase the number of H-1B visas issued from 110,000-180,000 in the bill to 325,000 per year. While Sen. Cruz remains strong on opposing amnesty and supporting tougher border security and interior enforcement, he is truly showcasing himself today as a proponent of massive increases in legal immigration levels. The amendment also removes several of the requirements firms would need to fulfill before applying for an H-1B visa.

3:11 pm -- The amendment fails 2-to-15 with only Sens. Grassley and Sessions voting in favor. 

3:05 pm -- Sen. Sessions is speaking out about the increases in H-1B visas that the Gang's bill calls for. The annual cap of H-1Bs would increase from 65,000 to 110,000 per year and could go as high as 180,000. He supports the Grassley amendment and is discussing several news articles that report on the myth that there's a high-skilled worker shortage in the country. Many of these articles are highlighted in Jeremy's recent blog.

2:50 pm -- The committee returned from recess and is continuing its consideration of Grassley's amendment #67. The amendment would require the government to audit at least 1% of all businesses that hire H-1B and L visa holders. H-1B visas are issued to high-skilled foreign workers, allowing them to work in the United States for a 3-year period. L visas are issued to foreign workers of companies that have locations in both the United States and another country. 

12:25 pm -- The committee goes into recess until 2:45 pm without finishing consideration for Grassley's amendment. 

12:20 pm -- Sen. Grassley offers amendment #67. This amendment would require regular audits of employers that use H-1B and L visas.

Sen. Leahy offers his support for Sen. Grassley's amendment, but Sen. Schumer opposes the amendment. He says it goes too far by auditing companies that aren't doing anything wrong.  

12:07 pm -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offers amendment #9. This amendment would increase the fees companies pay when applying for one of the new STEM green cards on behalf of a foreign worker. The increase in fees would go towards promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields with young Americans, especially minority Americans. The amendment is cosponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Coons.

Sen. Schumer offers an addition to the Hatch amendment. The addition is accepted by Hatch, and Schumer offers his support for the amendment. 

Sen. Sessions reminds the committee of Prof. Ron Hira's testimony last month before the committee in which he said that programs like the H-1B visa program don't compliment American workers, they compete against or replace American workers. 

10:59 am -- Sen. Grassley introduces amendment #58. This amendment would require more specific information to be posted on job boards when employers are looking for U.S. workers before they can apply for an H-1B visa. This provision is part of the Grassley-Durbin H-1B visa reform bill. The posted information must include: 1) process for applying for the position, 2) title, description, and location of the position, and 3) the name, city, and, zip code of the employer. Currently, the bill only requires the employer to post the position description, the wages, and education level needed.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) offers his support for the amendment. The amendment is passed by a voice vote.

10:45 am -- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asks questions about Title IV. He's specifically asking for the rationale behind several special interest provisions within the bill and the specific group that requested the provision, including: guest-workers for the entertainment industry, guest-workers for cruise ship companies, non-immigrant visas for Irish nationals, and finally increases in H-1B visas. 

11:45am -- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) offers amendment #6 that strengthens the methods by which employees can file complaints against H-1B employers. The amendment passed through a voice vote.

11:40am -- The Committee completes its review of Title I and moves to Title IV. 

11:00am -- Sen. Sessions offers amendment #1 that would limit future levels of legal immigration. Sen. Sessions says that analysis by both his office and the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress estimate future flows of legal immigration to increase from 1 million per year to at least 1.5 million per year under the Gang of Eight's bill. The Sessions amendment would completely redifine all legal immigration categories in the bill. 

Sen. Sessions says that high-levels of legal immigration is a civil rights issue creating unnecessary competition for vulnerable Americans and depressing U.S. wages. 

Sen. Graham says he wishes the numbers in the bill were even higher! He says the reason why we have illegal immigration is because we don't bring in enough foreign workers. He agrees that illegal immigration supresses wages, but he thinks that a large legal system with wage protections will prevent that from happening. The problem with that argument is that it gives preference to new foreign workers over unemployed Americans.

Sen. Graham says the population of the United States is declining. According to the U.S. Census, the population of the United States grew by 30 million people from 2000 to 2010. 

The amendment fails 1-to-17. This can only mean that almost everyone on the committee believes the number of legal immigrants needs to be increased from its current level of 1.1 million per year. This also indicates that most members of the committee are out of touch with the American people on the issue. Most polls find that while Americans support legal immigration, at least a purality think legal immigration levels should be reduced. 

11:00 am -- Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) offers amendments 1, 2, and 3. They are substitue amendments that would replace the entire bill with Sen. Cornyn's border security bill, Sen. Grassley's mandatory E-Verify bill, and Sen. Hatch's I-Squared high-skilled visa bill, respectively. Sen. Lee withdraws the amendments but says his reason for introducing them is to place in the record his position on immigration, which is for Congress to move forward on issues that both parties agree on rather than risking those provisions with an unpopular amnesty. 

10:32 am -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has offered amendment #4 that would require the completion of a biometric exit-entry system at all borders before amnesty can be given to illegal aliens. The Gang of Eight's bill only requires an electronic entry-exit system at sea and air ports ignoring 106 land ports where the vast majority of border crossings occur. A biometric exit-entry system was mandated by Congress in 1996 through the passing of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, but DHS has yet to complete the system.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) opposes the amendment because he thinks the U.S. will be unable to compete the system and illegal aliens would never receive amnesty. Sen. Schumer also opposes the amendment because of cost concerns.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) supports Sen. Sessions amendment, referring to the biometric ticketing system that's used at Walt Disney World in Florida. (I wrote a blog about this system last year.) 

Sen. Feinstein says we need a biometric system and says she's been pushing for it for 15 years. But she is concerned about the costs and the likelihood that it would actually be  completed. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he and Sen. Schumer both wanted a biometric exit-entry system, but found that it costs too much. He also says he wants to improve Social Security cards to include biometric data, but he doesn't think the U.S. is ready to implement a system, so he opposes the Sessions amendment. What Graham doesn't understand is that the country has the ability to implement a biometric entry-exit system, but it doesn't have the political will. What Sessions is doing is attempting to force the country to complete the system before amnesty is given because otherwise the system will never be completed - until the next amnesty.

The amendment fails 6-to-12 by partyline vote with Senators Graham and Flake voting with the Democrats. Sen. Feinstein, while voting NO, says after the vote, she'd like to see the issue brought back up during the full Senate debate of the bill

10:30 am -- The committee is completing a few unresolved amendments from Title I of the bill that covers the "triggers" for amnesty and border security. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced her amendment #11 that addresses the amount of land Border Patrol is allowed to work in near the Southwest border. The bill allows Border Patrol to operation within 100 miles of the border, but Sen. Feinstein is concerned about the use of unmanned aerial drones over the heavily populated areas of Southern California. The amendment initially reduced the Border Patrol's territory from 100 miles of the border to 25 miles, but she amended her amendment to only apply to California's border sectors -- San Diego and El Centro. Border Patrol would be allowed to patrol within 3 miles of the border in those two sectors. The amendment passed by a voice vote.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) reintroduced his amendment #2. This amendment prevented ICE from releasing deported illegal aliens into areas deemed as dangerous areas. Even Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed concern with this amendment last Thursday. Sen. Coons modified his amendment to prevent ICE from releasing deprted illegal aliens during night time. The amendment passed by voice vote.

Sen. Schumer then introduced his amendment #1 that just corrected some spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in the bill. The amendment passed by voice vote. 

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