Immigration Reform Bill Passes Judiciary, On to Full Senate


Sen. Mazie Hirono from Hawaii, the lone immigrant in the Senate, said the proposed immigration bill sacrifices family reunification to expand employment-based visa programs. Women, who are dramatically underrepresented in technical fields, will be disfavored by the bill, said Hirono.

By Sunita Sohrabji, India west

United States: On a vote of 13 to 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee May 21 approved a far-reaching comprehensive immigration reform bill, which critics say favors a business agenda at the expense of family re-unification.

The committee spent three weeks marking up the original proposal, created by a bi-partisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight.” The novel proposal creates a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents; increasing the availability of employment-based programs and reforming them to better serve a broader range of American companies, and tightening border security and employer verification programs.

The bill has garnered the backing of the nation’s top business leaders, for provisions which would increase the cap on H-1B visas for skilled temporary workers from abroad, and expanding the number of temporary visas allocated to foreign students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In April, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, along with Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, venture capitalist John Doerr and other prominent Silicon Valley leaders unveiled, an online campaign aimed at supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Zuckerberg outlined the business community’s priorities for reform, including a clear path to citizenship; education reform to press for higher standards in schools along with a greater focus on math and sciences; and increased investment for scientific research.

“In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are the talented people we educate and attract to our country,” wrote Zuckerberg. “A knowledge economy can scale further, create better jobs and provide a higher quality of living for everyone in our nation.”, which aims to raise about $50 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, also lists more than 20 major supporters on its Web site, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt of Google, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Cisco’s Indian American CTO Padmasree Warrior.

Another initiative, the March for Innovation, organized in part by Somesh Dash of Institutional Venture Partners, aims to create a grassroots base of millions of people across the country to support the Senate immigration bill.


But the bill also eliminates the F3 and F4 visa categories, which currently allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their sisters and brothers and married sons and daughters to the U.S.

Sen. Maizie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii who is the sole immigrant in the Senate, said she applauded the Senate Judiciary for modifying the 800-page bill, which had 135 amendments for consideration when it reached the committee. But Hirono was critical of the bill’s proposal to eliminate the F3 and F4 visa categories.

“This immigration reform bill does much to improve family immigration, but I fear that the bill contains some fundamental changes to our immigration system that move us away from the principle of family unification,” said Hirono, adding: “I will continue working to strengthen the provisions in the bill that impact families.”

Hirono proposed 10 amendments to the bill, which include making undocumented children eligible for federal student aid and strengthening protections for victims of child trafficking. She also proposed an amendment that would have allowed some U.S. citizens to bring over siblings, but the amendment failed to pass the Judiciary Committee, on a vote of seven to 11.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judiciary committee refused to accept Sen. Hirono’s amendment, which would have provided limited relief for families experiencing extreme hardships,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC. “We thank Sen. Hirono and the six members who stood with the millions of families awaiting meaningful family reunification. We look forward to working with the Senate on a solution that addresses all families,” she said.

Former Obama administration official Ro Khanna said he, too, was disappointed with the measure’s attempt to thwart family reunification.

“I am very disappointed that family reunification visas and the extension of equal rights to same sex bi-national couples were not included. Family reunification is a long standing policy of the United States and the removal of sibling visas and reduction of adult married children visas is an unnecessary hit to hardworking families,” the Indian American said, additionally reprimanding the committee for excluding the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people from the measure.

However, Khanna, who is campaigning for a congressional seat from District 17 in California which represents a large portion of the Silicon Valley, lauded the committee for expanding immigration programs which would attract and retain highly-skilled workers from abroad.

“Increasing advanced STEM graduate visas to meet current demand will encourage the next generation of innovators and producers to locate their businesses here in America. Likewise, raising the cap on H-1B visas for high-tech jobs keeps our economy dynamic and has a multiplier effect on the creation of good paying middle-class jobs in the Bay Area,” he said.