Immigration Reform Bill Passes Senate, Faces Bleak Future In House

The Senate passed an immigration reform bill today, but it's not going to go anywhere.

Border of US And Mexico

After some two months or more of work and debate, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill today that probably won’t go anywhere in the House of Representatives:

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday approved the most significant overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation with broad bipartisan support, sending the bill to the Republican-controlled House, where there is significant opposition from conservative members and where the fight could extend into 2014.

But given the strong 68-to-32 vote, with 14 Republicans voting in favor, the Democratic leadership and the bipartisan group of eight senators who drafted the original bill seemed determined to savor the moment. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. presided over the vote as senators announced their positions from their desks, in a ceremonial procedure reserved for special occasions.

Leading up to the vote, many in the “Gang of Eight” that drafted the framework of the legislation took to the Senate floor to give impassioned speeches, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who is one of his party’s leading Hispanic voices. When Mr. Rubio finished, the other senators in the bipartisan group surrounded him on the floor, patting him on the back and offering words of encouragement. “Good job,” said one. “I’m proud of you,” said another.

During the vote, Mr. Rubio buttoned his suit jacket as he stood and said “aye.” Later, as Mr. Rubio walked around the Senate floor receiving congratulations, he passed by the pages sitting on the steps just below the podium and called out, “You picked a good day to be here.”

The Senate bill provides a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, as well as tough border security provisions that must be in place before the immigrants can gain legal status.

Though overhauling the nation’s immigration system became a priority for many Republicans after the 2012 presidential election, in which the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was rejected by Hispanic voters, immigration opponents have mounted last-ditch efforts to derail the bill, which they say would offer amnesty without any real enforcement measures.

As the bill heads to the House, Republican elites and their well-financed pro-immigration groups are running up against opposition from the chamber’s most conservative members. Speaker John A. Boehner threw cold water on any hope that the House would vote on the Senate plan, and he insisted that whatever immigration measure his chamber took up would have to be supported by a majority of his Republican conference.

“I issued a statement that I thought was pretty clear, but apparently some haven’t gotten the message: The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” he said Thursday morning. “We’re going to do our own bill.”

The legislation — drafted largely behind closed doors by the bipartisan group — brought together an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business groups and labor unions, farmworkers and growers, and Latino, gay rights, and immigration advocates. Along the way, the legislation was shaped and tweaked by a series of backroom deals and negotiations that, in many ways, seemed to mirror its inception.

Even late Wednesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and an author of the bill, found himself on the phone with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, trying to shore up support. In a 30-minute phone call, according to an aide, Mr. Schumer urged Mr. Christie to help persuade Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Republican of New Jersery — newly appointed by Mr. Christie — to vote for the bill. (Mr. Chiesa was one of 14 Republicans who voted “yes” on Thursday afternoon to end debate).

The first big deal, however, came early on, at the end of March, when the nation’s top labor and business groups reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Disagreements between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, had helped doom a 2007 attempt at a similar overhaul, but the two groups came together to create a program that will expand and shrink based on economic indicators — like the unemployment and job openings figures — and offer a maximum of 200,000 guest visas annually.

The group of senators who wrote the legislation had originally hoped it would receive overwhelming bipartisan support — as many as 70 votes, some senators suggested — to help propel it through the House, and when the bill moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the group took pains to win bipartisan support there, too.

In an effort led by Mr. Schumer, the group wooed Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, addressing his concerns about visas for skilled foreign workers who could fill jobs in the high-tech industry. Ultimately, the panel agreed to provisions by Mr. Hatch that raise the annual minimum number of visas for high-skilled foreign workers and create a market-based mechanism to ensure that companies in the United States can bring in qualified foreign workers for jobs that cannot be filled by Americans.

On the final night of consideration by the panel, in emotional and moving testimony, both Democratic and Republican senators argued against taking up a measure that would have allowed United States citizens to apply for permanent resident status, known as a green card, on behalf of their same-sex partners. Though Democrats supported the measure, Republicans said such a provision would have doomed the overall bill, and the debate largely became moot on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits.

The bill passed through the committee, in a process that stretched over five days and included the consideration of more than 300 amendments, on a strong 13-to-5 bipartisan vote, with Mr. Hatch, as well as Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans and members of the bipartisan group, supporting the bill. (In a recent op-ed article, Mr. Hatch also declared his support for the final legislation).

The bill’s largest, and perhaps most critical, change came in the form of a border security package that promised to substantially bolster security along the nation’s southern border. The proposal, by Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, both Republicans, would devote roughly $40 billion over the next decade to border enforcement measures, including adding 20,000 new Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of fencing along the southern border.

The amendment, which passed Wednesday with broad bipartisan support, helped bring along more than a dozen reluctant Republicans, who were hesitant to support the overall bill without a clear plan to secure the southern border, in order to ward off a future wave of illegal immigration.

“I’m proud to vote for this, and I hope it continues to improve as it moves along, and hopefully we’ll put this issue behind us,” Mr. Corker said.

On some level, it looks as though we’re likely headed for a replay of what happened to immigration reform in 2006, the last time Congress tried to put together a bill to fix problems with our immigration system that everyone seems to acknowledge exist. Back then, when the Republicans still controlled both Houses of Congress, a bill also passed the Senate, in that case by a vote of 62-36, while a different bill passed the House by a vote of 293-182 but reform efforts died because the two chambers were unable to agree to even take the matter to a Conference Committee, at that point the bill died.

It seems quite likely that something very similar to this will happen this time around. Speaker John Boehner has already made it clear that the Senate Bill will not come to the House floor unless it has the support of a majority of the House GOP Caucus. We already know that this isn’t the case, so while House Democrats may try to pull of some parliamentary maneuver to bring they bill to the floor, that effort will fail and the Senate bill can effectively be considered dead on arrival in the House.  Speaker Boehner and other Republicans are saying that the House will be working on its own bill but, so far at least, there’s absolutely no indication of anything substantive coming out of the House or, if it does, that it will come out any time in the near future. Any bill(s) we do so are likely to focus on the conservative’s favorite topic “border security,” while ignoring the real and existing problems with our immigration laws. That may make the GOP base happy, but it’s not going to solve the real problems the nation faces, the fact that there are millions of people living in the shadows because of their immigration status, or the fact that our current laws are the primary reason that people have the incentive to come into this nation illegally rather than trying to comply with a labarynthian process that even the people who are responsible for running it clearly don’t understand.

As I’ve said before, there was much to criticize in the Senate bill, most prominently the mandatory e-verify program, but it was at least a serious attempt to deal with a serious problem. Rather than responding to it with ideas of their own, most on the right responded by attacking people like Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake for daring to work across political aisles to come up with a solution. Instead of coming up with viable alternatives, conservatives are calling Rubio a RINO and people like Sarah Palin are encouraging primary fights against people like Rubio and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte because of their support for the bill. The fact that polls have consistently showed that a majority of the public supports the major components of the Senate bill doesn’t really seem to matter to them.

So, there’s really nothing good for advocates of immigration reform today. Yea, the Senate did something but, in the end, it seems pretty clear to me that we’re headed to a very similar outcome to what happened in 2006. Of course, the GOP has payed  price for that debacle, but they seem not to have learned their lesson.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    My bet is the House will finally cobble together a bill with all border security and no path to citizenship. No Democrats will join the Republicans and nothing will come out of conference. Then its on to threatening a government shutdown in September, and immigration reform gets put off till never.

  2. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    As the bill heads to the House, Republican elites and their well-financed pro-immigration groups are running up against opposition from the chamber’s most conservative members.

    Because the chamber’s most conservative members answer to the base, and the base has nothing to offer America but anger and fear. It’s no way to run a political party, let alone a country.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Let’s see: Illegal immigration is at a 30 year low, deportations of illegal immigrants by this Administration now number in the hundreds of thousands, border enforcement is stronger than it’s ever been. So naturally Republicans are demanding billions of dollars in border enforcement pork, and want no path to citizenship that does not involve fines of thousands of dollars and a wait of more than a decade for anyone interested in changing their status.

    Republicans want nothing but border enforcement and mass deportations.

    Basically, this is a Republican strategy to run out the clock and hope that the 2014 mid-term elections turn the Senate over to the GOP, or that the 2016 elections do that and give them a Republican president.

  4. Woody says:

    The fact that polls have consistently showed that a majority of the public supports the major components of the Senate bill doesn’t really seem to matter to them


    Actually, it does matter to them – their professionally crafted districts do not represent the nation as a whole, and will punish “bipartisan” Republicans from the hard right.

    This is a direct result of the GOP placing Party well above Country – now on each and every issue.

  5. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: it’s a 30 yr low because our economy sucks and the arizona threats for the most part. once the economy get’s back to normal the problem will come with it. the house will probably drop the amnesty stuff in favor of the path to citizenship, which makes sense for the most part. it would be nice to allow successful/educated people in as well, at least they have a chance to pay their way and make the country even better- not that illegals don’t, i know a bunch and most are hard workers just looking for a 2nd chance.

  6. aFloridian says:

    I give Marco Rubio some limited props for this vote. It is downright shameful that the Republican Party in the House is willing to allow this blight on our society to continue. Mass Deportations really do seem to be the only concept in the Republican agenda for immigration. Just isn’t going to happen guys. Do like Rubio and try to reach across the aisle and get SOMETHING done.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    What do the Republicans Elite have to offer to the rank and file Republicans: worse public schools, higher taxes, a one party state, higher housing costs in the good neighborhoods, more sprawl, lower wages, more crime, and a much lower probability of having children and grandchildren..

    Rubio and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate have never been able to put together a coherent argument of why any middle class white Republican would want to comprehensive immigration reform. When Jeb Bush is working his way through the media stating that American citizens are too lazy for blue collar work, too stupid for high tech work, too selfish to have children, and too despicable to find someone to marry, then it would make sense that the base of the Republican Party would be angry. When people who claim to be Republicans want to replace the base of the party with third world immigration, it should make the base of the party angry.

  8. superdestroyer says:


    Anything less than deportation of most illegal aliens means demographic suicide for Republicans, politically, economically, and culturally. When the elite of the country want to replace middle class Americans with third world immigraiton, it should make them angry.

  9. Andre Kenji says:

    @bill: :

    it’s a 30 yr low because our economy sucks and the arizona threats for the most part. once the economy get’s back to normal the problem will come with it.

    No, it won´t. The biggest incentive for immigration was not the US economy; It was the fact that local currencies in Latin America were weaker when compared to the dollar, the cost of living was also lower when compared to the US. People immigrated thinking about sending dollars to home, because they could be converted in a lot of money in local currency.

    The fact that the cost of living is higher and the currencies are stronger in Latin America means that people are not willing to immigrate in that scale, even if the US grows at Chinese rates.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    You have made this claim many times. It would be nice if you could provide some cites so show that it is true. A bad economy and 11 million current illegal aliens, an over supply, are the reasons that fewer people are sneaking into the U.S.

    If one Googles for how many people want to come to the U.S., the number is always north of 100 million.

    The odd thing is how many of those 100 million people Democrats want to allow into the U.S.

  11. Hostile Elite vs Gullible White Cattle says:

    These prostitutes will get paid millions to betray White America. Rubio, MCain, Graham, Corker, all these are prostitutes of hostile elite. this is not left vs right, GOP vs Dems, Socialism vs liberty. This is war against White people.

    Why do hostile globalist elite defend Israel as a Jewish ethnostate with Jewish only immigration, but ravage White majority Europe/North America into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Gulag with non-White colonization?

    The world is 93% non-White, only 7% White. But 3rd world colonizers, Muslims, Sikhs, Hispanics, are aggressively advancing their agenda to annihilate gullible Whites, just as China annihilates Tibet.

    How long will gullible Whites cuckold for murderous anti-White elite, who confiscate our guns, infiltrate/subvert our banks/FBI/CIA, indoctrinate White kids in academia/mass media, plunder White jobs/wages, & butcher White soldiers in bankrupting wars?

    “Native” Americans invaded from East Asia. Yellow & Brown races committed 10-times more genocide, slavery, imperialism than Whites. Since Old-Testament, Whites have been victims of Jewish/Crypto-Jewish, Turkic, Muslim, N.African imperialism, slavery, genocide.

    Gullible Whites should reject subversive ideologies- libertarianism, feminism, liberalism- & reject hostile slanders of racism. Peace to all humanity, but White people must organize to advance their interests, their fertility, their homelands. Spread this message. Reading list: , , ,

  12. Paul Hooson says:

    Most illegal immigration was a direct result of the failure of NAFTA during the Clinton Years, where Mexican farm labor wages fell as a result of American corporate farms dumping cheap wheat and corn on the market, hurting the Mexican agricultural economy price structure. Many of these financial refugees went into food services of some type because it was similar enough to work they understood in Mexico.

  13. Latino_in_Boston says:

    And so it goes.

    If the bill passes, great. If the bill fails it will be absolutely clear that as long as the Tepublicans control anything, no immigration reform will ever pass further cementing Latinos as anti-Republican. Already, there has been huge gains in turnout, and the politicization of a pretty apathetic minority has continued apace, I wonder just how much this will further that process. At that point, you might just have a Dem House and a much more liberal bill than it is now.

  14. woodman says:

    It seems a bit crazy to me that a bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate does not seem to stand a chance of surviving in the House.

    Will reform ever happen or will it be swept under the carpet for a few more years?

  15. stonetools says:


    Here’s a clue: 54 of the 68 votes to pass in the Senate were Democratic. Just 14 of those (out of 46) were republican. IOW, a minority of the Republican minority voted for this bill. This was really more a Democratic bill with Republican input.
    In the House, its going to be completely different. The House is not only majority Republican, but the Republicans are far more conservative. Most pundits think that any House bill is going to completely different, if they can agree on a bill at all.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    Boehner flat out said they will ignore the Senate bill and create their own. Whether than can actually do that is beyond me, and I would put the chances of Boehner’s caucus creating a bill any Dems can support as very, very low.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    This is comedy gold:

    The world is 93% non-White, only 7% White. But 3rd world colonizers, Muslims, Sikhs, Hispanics, are aggressively advancing their agenda to annihilate gullible Whites, just as China annihilates Tibet.

    However, that post has now been made (identically) in multiple threads. Even superdestroyer manages a tiny bit of variety. I always appreciate it when rabid loons open their mouths and display their lunacy, so do keep posting. But try to mix it up. Kthxbye.

  18. Andre Kenji says:


    You have made this claim many times. It would be nice if you could provide some cites so show that it is true. A bad economy and 11 million current illegal aliens, an over supply, are the reasons that fewer people are sneaking into the U.S.

    I live in Latin America, I can read in Spanish, and I read the Spanish Language newspapers. Besides that, since I´m a descendant of Japanese immigrants I known the dekassegui(That´s how people that descendended from Japanese Immigrants and then went to work in Japan are called) phenomen pretty well.

    Here in Brazil the minimum wage increased something like 300%(In dollars) in ten years.

    If one Googles for how many people want to come to the U.S., the number is always north of 100 million.

    1-) Gallup proved to be a terrible pollster during last election.

    2-) These kind of poll are meaningless. I would not emigrate to the US under normal circumstances, I would probably do if someone offered me a 100K a year job. These are people saying to pollsters that they would want to immigrate to the US: they don´t know how hard and how difficult is to effectively do it.

  19. Tyrell says:

    Who speaks these days for the middle class working American who is getting squeezed and ran over by the government, banks, Federal Reserve, gas companies, and courts ? Where is our “reform” bill? Where are our lobbyists?