The initial immigration bill hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee was only the first step in what has been–and promises to continue be–a long, arduous process to push reform through Congress.
The seven-plus hour hearing was only the start of what is expected to be many more contentious mark-ups to get the legislation, which would allow for a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally.
On the first day of mark-ups, the committee shot down 32 of the proposed 300 amendments, but did pass 21 less-controversial measures. The first hearing was just a glimpse into the two opposing sides and the debates already bubbling up.
Here are five quick takeaways from Thursday’s hearing and what to watch for in the coming weeks:
1. Border security measures are the sticking point. The most significant blow to the bill’s opponents may have been the defeat of an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose addition would have delayed the application process for immigrants who arrived here illegally until the Department of Homeland Security could show improved control of the U.S. southern border for six months. Other amendments voted down include one requiring 700 miles of double-layered fencing. How effective the bill does address immediate border control is one of the key flashpoints that isn’t going away anytime soon.
2. The ‘Gang’ doesn’t budge. Members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who crafted the legislation served as the firewall on the committee, with the two GOP members Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., often crossing party lines to side with Senate Democrats. According to NBC, the most stringent measures opposed included “a massive influx of boots on the ground at the nation’s southern border to delays to the program that would make undocumented immigrants eligible for a probationary legal status.”
3. Give a little, get a little? Still, the bipartisan group’s strategy does seem to entail ceding a bit to their loudest critics, and they did accept eight Republican amendments. Yes, these were less controversial measures, as Politico points out, including one requiring “effective control” of the Southwest border and not just high-risk parts of the country line. But while the gang will argue they are trying to reach even further across the aisle, that likely won’t placate some of the bill’s loudest opponents.
4. Cruz control. Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has emerged as one of the leading opposition voices on the committee–especially notable since he represents one of the most crucial border states in the immigration fight. Cruz’s amendment to triple border control agents and increase drones, helicopters and other resources present at the border, was defeated.
At one point, Cruz complained about border security amendments being dashed, callig the current bill “merely a fig leaf on border security.” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fired back, saying the junior senator was simply going to be opposed to any path to citizenship. “Let’s not keep bringing up this false issue that we do nothing on border security. Our bill is as tough as nails,” said Schumer.
5. We’re not even close to being done. The 844-page bill still faces many hurdles before it gets to the Senate floor and even to the House where it has even more difficult odds. Tuesday’s next markup is expected to center on the most controversial, but most central part of the bill: a path to citizenship.
But keep an eye on another hot-button amendment–whether gay American citizens can sponsor foreign partners for green cards. This is one where the Gang of Eight is split, and if it passes, it could raise even more opposing cries from the GOP.