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Immigration Reform Bill Heads to Senate Floor

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 5 Tuesday evening to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill out of committee. The bill is expected to head to the Senate floor in early June. Weeks of heated debate are expected to take place before a vote by the full Senate.

The Judiciary Committee considered more than 300 amendments to the bill, defeating dozens of amendments that would have made the pathway to legalization more difficult. But efforts to gut one of the core issues important to immigration rights activists, but a detailed, and some would say arduous 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country with out legal status was left intact.

One of the most controversial amendments would have given gay and lesbian couples equal treatment under immigration law. Sen. Patrick Leahy withheld that amendment “with a heavy heart” on Tuesday, after Democrats and Republicans voiced concern that it could “kill the bill.”

EQCA’s Executive Director John O’Connor said his group is “appalled” by the Senate’s action.

“California is home to more LGBT binational couples — 7,100 — than any other state in the nation and today those couples and their families were abandoned. There’s nothing more important to us than family and equality and today by not allowing a vote, the Committee failed both.”

Among the amendments that passed are: a deal struck between Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on visas for high-skilled workers to address the concerns of tech companies; an amendment to keep families together; and several amendments to strengthen border enforcement.

One of these is a pilot project that would track immigrants leaving the U.S. A week after Senators rejected an amendment that would have required a biometric system for non-U.S. citizens, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approved a narrower amendment sponsored by Sen. Hatch that would require non-citizens to submit fingerprints when they leave the country. The pilot project would be launched at the 10 busiest U.S. airports within two years of the bill’s passage.

After six years, the system would be expanded to 30 airports. Non-citizens are already required to submit fingerprints when entering the country.