5 interesting aspects of the amendments to the Senate immigration bill as of 5/17/13

Since the markup of the Senate Gang of 8 immigration bill began, and as amendments flew, it's been a challenge keeping up with what amendment did what.  Thanks to Dylan Mathews at the Washington Post and Niels  Lesniewski at Roll Call, we have two summaries of 48 amendments thus far.  The Senate Judiciary committee will reconvene 10am May 20 to add more amendments.  The goal is to have the marked up bill go to the printers over Memorial Day weekend and have the full bill hit the floor of the Senate in early June. 

Here are my picks for some of the intriguing highlights thus far:

1)  Irish Affirmative Action.  The Irish continue to benefit from their friends in the Senate, Schumer and Durbin in particular, who defeated an effort by Grassley to sunset a provision that would give the Irish favorable treatment.  There isn't much there, there except for the continuing porkbarrel politics of that particular group that is well connected in the Senate, as I have argued in an article about the Diversity Visa Lottery that was designed to benefit the Irish.

2) Safeguard Measures to E-Verity.  E-Verify is an employment verification system first recommended by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform on which I served as a Program Analyst in the mid-1990s.  It requires no physical ID card but only your Social Security number.  It works in similar fashion to major credit card systems in which retailers call in to Visa/MasterCard and get verification before a charge goes through. 

The system's strength is that it negates the need for the presentation of a physical and possible fraudulent document.  The weaknesses are that it may not be able to detect fraud if someone presents a valid (stolen) Social Security number. The bigger problem is errors in the system.  If your SS# is improperly classified as "not legally allowed to work" it would cause huge bureaucratic headaches to undue the error, a problem that could affect tens of thousands of citizens and Green Card holders if the E-Verify is implemented nationally.

Three amendments help on this front.  One would notify you if your SS# has been run through the E-Verify system.  Another would track how many people are denied approval each week. A third would assess the error rate of the E-Verify system.

3.  STEM funding.  An amendment would double the cost of a Labor Certification, a process for getting a foreigner a Green Card through employment.  Those additional fees would go into a fund that would be used to help train minority students, women and economically disadvantaged students in STEM fields. 

This amendment makes my stomaching of an expanded H-1B program a tad more palatable.  For many years, American programmers have charged the H-1B is a temporary work visa program that allows tech companies to bring in more docile foreign programmers who will work longer hours for lower pay and fewer benefits.  The charge also is that the H-1B provides a pool of foreign tech workers and absolves U.S. education institutions from providing better training to Americans in STEM fields.

4.  Mahalo, Senator Hirono. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), first term senator from Hawaii, my home state, has proved remarkably adept at passing amendments, several that directly benefit the Aloha State.  She's successfully added 6 amendments.  One would allow residents of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands to receive Medicaid since they are eligible to work in the U.S. for unlimited amounts of time.

Another amendment would allow residents of Hong Kong to come to the U.S. for tourism without a visa if they plan to stay 90 days or less.  Finally, a third would allow Hawaii based fishing crew rotations to occur in Hawaii rather than at Christmas island.

5.  The Dog that Did Not Bark in the Night?  There were no amendments  yet to try to rescue the chopped Family Fourth Preference that would have preserved category that would allow U.S. citizens to petition their brothers and sisters from overseas, although Sen. Hirono has an amendment that is coming up this week. Advocacy groups may have conceded that huge provision in favor of gaining legalization for the 11 million.  There was a much larger fight on this front in the 1990s, the last time the Family Fourth preference was on the chopping block.  Since then, politics have shifted and immigrant advocacy groups realize what an uphill battle this immigration bill will be in the current political environment.