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LIVE BLOG: Senate Judiciary Committee Markup of S.744


The Senate Judiciary Committee's markup of the Gang of Eight's comprehensive amnesty bill, S.744. Over the next several weeks, the Committee will consider 300 amendments.

Watch the hearing streaming live here.

View the 300 amendments that have been submitted here.


5:05 pm -- Cornyn pulled his amendment. The committee wrapped up its work for the day and continue the markup next Tuesday. 

4:50 pm -- Cornyn amendment #2 is offered. The amendment would add 5,000 agents to Customs and Border Protection with a goal of reducing wait times at border crossings.

4:43 pm -- Sessions amendment #11 is offered. This amendment would replace the border sercuirty measurement in the bill with the standard that was established by the 2006 Secure Fence Act. The amendment was defeated 6-to-12 with Graham and Flake voting NO.

4:38 pm -- The amendment is passed by voice vote. 

4:30 pm -- Feinstein amendment #2 is offered. The amendment would increase the number federal district judges in Southwest border districts. Grassley added his whistleblower amendment to the Feinstein amendment.

4:29 pm -- The amendment is defeated 6-to-12 with Graham and Flake voting NO. 

4:15 pm -- Cruz says his Republican colleagues won't support a toothless bill. 

4:13 pm -- Cruz speaks up to support the amendment and says, as he predicted in the morning, the committee has voted down every single amendment that attempted to increase security at the border. He calls the Gang of Eight's border security provisions a "fig leaf" for the American people. He says the American people want to see Congress take securing the border seriously.

4:08 pm -- Schumer opposes the amendment because it costs too much, attaches the triggers to measurable enforcement, and sets the border security measure at an unreachable bar. 

Cornyn says his trigger is better because his works and the Gang's doesn't, which is pretty much the point. The Gang of Eight doesn't want a real trigger. They only want to give the appearance of a real "trigger" so they can fool the American people into giving amnesty.

3:57 pm -- Cornyn amendment #1 is offered. This is a massive amendment that replaces much of the bill's first section. The amendment boosts the border security requirements and requires the border be secured, E-Verify mandated for all employers, and the exit/entry system complete for all air and sea ports before legalization can take place.

3:56 pm -- The amendment is defeated 6-to-12. 

3:43 pm -- Sessions amendment #9 is offered. The amendment requires the completion of 700-miles of double-layerd fencing as required by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The amendment ties the completion of the fence to the legalization of 11 million illegal aliens. It requires the fence to be completed before legalization can begin. 

3:40 pm -- Leahy/Cornrn amendment #4 is offered and approved by voice vote. This amendment completely redifines the Southern Border Fencing Strategy "trigger" that's in the bill.  

3:32 pm -- Feinstein amendment #10 is offered and passed with unanimous consent. 

3:30 pm -- The amendment passes 10-to-8. 

3:25 pm -- Sessions opposes the amendment because he's concerned sanctuary cities will take advantage of SCAAP. 

3:23 pm -- Feinstein withdraws amendment #11 and offers amendment #1. This amendment authorizes DHS to reimburse states for pre-detention expenses when illegal aliens are incarcerated. Under the current SCAAP program, states are reimbursed for the actual incarceration, but not the pre-detention phase. 

3:19 pm -- Cornyn has issues with the amendment because a lot of the illegal activity in Texas occurs further away from the border than it does in California. 

3:16 pm -- Feinstein amendment #11 is offered. The original version of the amendment redefined the Southern border region from 100 miles, which is in the bill, to 25 miles. The modified amendment only applies to the use of drones. Feinstein's concern is the use of drones over Orange County California.  

3:10 pm -- The amendment passed 10-to-8. 

3:08 pm -- Hirono agreed to strike the 2 hour requirement from the amendment. 

3:00 pm -- Hirono amendment #23 is offered. This amendment would require border patrol agents to ask detained illegal border crossers about other family members and make an effort to keep the family together. Grassley notes that he's cosponsored a similar measure offered by Franken, but has concerns. Feinstein also expressed concern because the amendment requires border agents to make the determination in 2 hours and she says that's not possible. Whitehouse also expresses the same concern.

 2:59 pm -- The amendment failed 5-to-13.

2:53 pm -- Schumer opposes the amendment. He says the Gang's bill takes a "smart" approach to border enforcement leading one to believe that he thinks that Cruz's amendment is dumb. Leahy and now Schumer are piling on the provisions in the amendment that require the tripling and quadrupling of resources on the border.

2:52 pm -- Sessions offers support for the amendment. Flake opposes the amendment because he thinks it dramatically delays the time it'll take until illegal aliens can legalize since it also impacts the "triggers". Flake says that we can't move forward with a biometric exit-entry at all ports of entry because it would cost too much. Flake has made the case that amensty is more important than border security and interior enforcement.

2:45 pm -- Cruz amendment #1 is offered. This is a massive amendment that would replace the entire border security section in the Gang of Eight's bill and replace it with his version. 

Cruz's amendment provides massive increases in Border Patrol staffing and resources, requires all fencing as required under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 be completed, completes a biometric exit/entry system at all ports, and provides real goals for compliance. 

2:43 pm -- The amendment is passed by voice vote. 

2:42 pm -- Sessions objects to the amendment, not so much because of the principle itself, but because it gives the Attorney General authority to deny the reimbursement of funds if "there is reason to believe" that unlawful contact was made. 

2:34 pm -- Blumenthal amendment #10 is offered. This amendment would prevent the reimbursement of funds to a state for the pre-trial detention of an illegal alien if the Attorney General finds that the law enforcement agent made an unlawful contact with the illegal alien.

The purpose of this amendment is most likely to serve as a warning shot to states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Mississippi that have passed illegal immigration enforcement laws. 

2:00 pm -- Coons amendment #2 is offered, but withdrawn. The amendment would have prevented deporting illegal aliens to dangerous areas, but Schumer pointed out that all of Mexico could be designated as a dangerous area. Coons agreed to work with Sen. Flake on the issue. 

1:59 pm -- The amendment is defeated 7-to-11. 

1:55 pm -- Sessions #37 has been offered. This amendment would remove a section of the bill that requires DHS to create policies governing the use of force by DHS personnel. The section calls for reporting of all cases where force was used and discpline for agents that violated the policy. 

1:52 pm -- The amendment is passed by voice vote. 

1:46 pm -- The committee is back from lunch and they're starting with Feinstein #9 amendment. The amendment allows for reimbursement to state, county, tribal, and municipalities for any costs they incur as a result of increased border security. 

12:30 pm -- The committee is in recess until 1:30 pm. 

12:30 pm -- Grassley amendment #24 is offered and quickly approved by voice vote. The amendment requires accountability for all grants that will be issued under the bill.

12:27 pm -- Grassley amendment #1 is offered and quickly approved by voice vote. The amendment removes all references to "high-risk", so all border provisions will apply to all nine Southern border sectors.

This amendment strengthens the bill by requiring that DHS attempt to achieve a 90% apprehension rate along the entire Southern border. The bill, as written, only requires the 90% apprehension rate in "high-risk" sectors, which under current data, would only include 3 of 9 border sectors. It's important to point out here, however, that the bill does not require DHS to achieve a 90% apprehension rate. All it does it states the rate as a goal. If the goal is not reached, then the bill calls for a bipartisan Border Commisssion to be formed that will review DHS's actions and provide suggestions. 

12:25 pm -- The amendment is defeated 6-to-12.  

12:21 pm -- Graham opposes the amendment because he says Congress won't approve it. Congress doesn't have to determine whether or not the border is secured; it only would have to approve DHS's plan to secure the border.

12:16 pm -- Lee #4 amendment is introduced. The amendment requires Congress to approve the Southern Border Security Strategy plans before the "trigger" is satisfied. Under the bill's current state, DHS simply has to submit the plans.

12:15 pm -- The amendment is passed 14-to-4. 

12:11 pm -- Schumer says the cost of the bill will be offset by the fees passed to new immigrants. Sessions asks how can you know how much you'll raise if you can't even tell Americans how many new immigrants will be coming in. 

12:06 pm -- Schumer amendment #2 to increase the bill's trust fund from $6.4 billion to $8.3 billion and increases the startup fund from $1 million to $1 billion. 

12:05 pm -- The amendment is defeated 6-to-12. All Democrats vote NO. Most Republicans vote YES - Graham and Flake vote NO.

11:59 am -- Feinstein says she'll oppose the amendment because she has faith that the government will secure the border. She wasn't elected to Congress until 1992, so unlike Grassley, she hasn't learned the lessons of 1986. 

11:51 am -- Graham opposes the amendment. He basically acknowledges that the amendment will kill the Gang of Eight's bill.

11:49 am -- Durbin opposes the amendment. He says Pew Hispanic Center has pointed out that there is a net-zero migration from Mexico, but that study only counts Mexicans. It doesn't count foreign citizens from other countries. Also, if Durbin really believes that all net-migration is zero, then why not support the amendment? It would only delay the amensty 6 months, which the bill already does.

11:42 am -- Sessions supports the amendment. He says this is just like 1986 all over again. The bill grants amensty with promises of future enforcement. He says the American people have lost the trust of government and wants the border secured first, and then the amnesty. 

11:35 am -- Schumer opposes the amendment.

He argues that the way it's written, it would make it impossible for the border to ever be secured, preventing illegal aliens from ever being legalized. The amendment strikes the word "substantially" from the bill when referring to border security and replaces it with "fully." Schumer is concerned that "fully" securing the border is impossible, but what he's missing is that the amendment keeps in place the 90% apprehension rate and still leaves the final determination to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, so, like much of the bill, the administration can decide at any time whether or not the border is "fully" secured or not. 

11:26 am -- Cornyn offers support for Grassley's amendment. 

11:26 am -- Flake opposes the Grassley amendment because he thinks delaying the process of bringing illegal aliens "out of the shadows" is dangerous. 

11:23 am -- Feinstein says Grassley's amendment is unnecessary because so much progress has already been made along the border, and it's already secure.

If she's right, then there should be no reason to oppose the amendment. It wouldn't delay the amnesty since illegal aliens already have to wait 6 months while DHS submits and commences its border strategies. All the Grassley amendment does is requires DHS to demonstrate that the border is actually secure for 6 months before illegal aliens are legalized.

11:13 am -- Grassley brings first "trigger" amendment up. Amendment #4 that requires DHS to have effective control of the border for at least 6 months and to apply the Southern Border Strategies to ALL border sectors not just "high-risk" sectors before illegal aliens can receive legal status. Grassley points to a number of public opinion polls that show strong support for "securing the border before legalization." 

Grassley points out that his amendment doesn't change the "measurement" provisions in the bill. DHS would still be required to reach a 90% apprehension rate. But he does point out that the bill only covers "high-risk" border sectors, which are defined as sectors with 30,000 or more apprehensions, and that the bill ignores the Northern border. Only 3 of the 9 Southern border sectors are currenlty "high-risk" as defined by the bill.

11:12 am -- Committee passes several amendments with unanimous consent. 

11:06 am -- Sessions says Schumer still has not given an estimate of the total number of people that will come into the country in the first decade. He refers to Harvard Prof. George Borjas' study that says wages for American workers will continue to go down if the U.S. admits more than 1 million legal immigrants per year.

10:57 am -- Chairman Leahy is calling for unanimous support of several amendments from both parties, including prohibiting border crossing fees, requiring financial oversight of the bill's expenditures, and other provisions.

10:56 am -- ROLL CALL VOTE ON SCHUMER'S SUBSTITUTE AMENDMENT -- 14 Yeas, 4 Nos (4 Nos -- Grassley, Sessions, Cruz, and Cornyn)

10:44 am -- Sessions asks Schumer to compare the bill's impact over the first decade to the current situation. Schumer says it's true that most illegal aliens will get a green card. He acknowledges that the bill clears the backlogs (4.3 million in the family-sponsored and 4.4 million employment-based). He argues, that if Sessions' claim is true that 20 million more people (in addition to the 11 million illegal aliens) will come in the bill's first decade, that those people would come anyway; it's just whether they come legally or illegally. Schumer says you shouldn't count the 11 million illegal aliens because they're already competing with Americans for jobs, and they lower the wages because they work off the books.

Basically, Schumer doesn't deny that 30-million-plus new green cards will be issued in the bill's first decade. But he contends that the people would come anyway - legally or illegally - with or without the bill. 

At the very end of the exchange, Sessions asked Schumer if he disputes that the fact that we would legalize 30 million immigrants over the next 10 years. Schumer says, "Yes, I do." 

10:42 am -- Grassley asks Feinstein for clarification on the W card visa (proposed guest-worker program for Agriculture). Grassley says the substitute amendment allows workers that live outside the country to apply for the Ag amnesty. Feinstein says she's not aware of the provision, and that is not here intent. This is the major issue with a comprehensive approach - even the drafters/negotiators of the bill don't know what's in it.

10:38 am -- Grassley tells Schumer that he doesn't believe the bill gives Congress enough authority to provide oversight of the money spent by the bill and gives too much discretion to the admnistration. Schumer concedes and says he knows Grassley has offered an amendment to fix this aspect, and he's agreed to accept the amendment. 

10:34 am -- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduces the Gang of Eight's substitute amendment that replaces the initial 844-page bill with the 863-page version. Sen. Schumer asks for unanimous consent. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he'd like several questions answered before consent is given.

10:31 am -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she wants to ensure that nothing in the bill transfers costs onto local jurisdictions. She's particularly concerned about state reimbursements for incarcerated illegal aliens. She's also offered an amendment that shrinks the area that border patrol can operate from 100 miles of the border to 25 miles of the border. 

10:26 am -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says the bill needs to ensure that American workers get the first shot at jobs, but then follows that with we need more foreign workers. He says the security provisions in the bill (with all their weaknesses) will stop illegal immigration. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial this morning saying the protections for American workers are too tough. A few of the amendments offered, particularly by Republicans, weaken some of the worker protections that the bill has.

10:21 am -- Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) says the world is watching how Congress handles the immigration issue. Blumenthal has offered an amendment that would move the presence requirement in the amnesty for illegal aliens from December 31, 2011 to April 17, 2013, the date the Gang of Eight bill was introduced.

10:20 am -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as a member of the Gang of Eight, he commends Chairman Leahy for holding an open markup and hopes the process will improve the bill. 

10:17 am -- Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) says he'll support minority amendments if he thinks they'll improve the bill. Will he hold true to that statement? Of course, that all depends on how he defines "improve the bill." 

10:13 am -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says he wants the Committee to look at whether amendments will improve or weaken the bill rather than just look at what political party is offering the amendment.  

10:11 am -- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says we need to have a comprehensive approach because there are so many pieces that need fixing. 

10:08 am -- Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) says sweeping legislation doesn't solve the issue at hand and it's why we're in the place we're in today. Pushes for an incremental approach. Sen. Lee has offered several substitute amendments that would replace the Gang of Eight's bill with smaller, more targeted bills. 

10:03 am -- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) says the American people need assurance that the border will be secured. "We need to get this right and not just get this done." 

10:00 am -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) says we have unlimited visas available for professional athletes, we should also have an unlimited number of visas available for tech workers.  

9:55 am -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) submits new letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement saying that Gang of Eight's bill will endanger public safety. Read the letter here.


CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA

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