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Senate Passes Immigration Bill

On May 25, the Senate passed, 62-36, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611). The House approved its version (H.R. 4437) on December 16 (see The Source,12/21/05).

The Senate bill would increase border technological surveillance capabilities; hire and train additional border patrol agents; penalize individuals who fraudulently obtain, or attempt to obtain, a visa; and penalize workers who overstay the time allocated in their visa. The measure also would create a guest worker program, provide temporary visas for students pursuing an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering, and remove the limit on the number of nurses who could immigrate. The House version focused on border security and enforcement, and would not include a guest worker program.

A number of amendments were considered during the two weeks of debate. Specific to women and families, an amendment by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and James DeMint (R-SC) was approved, by voice vote, on May 24, that would establish an Office of Intercountry Adoptions at the State Department and would grant automatic citizenship for adopted children born outside the United States.

Sen. Landrieu stated, “Parents go through a lot, some of them, to build their families through adoption, and some parents want to expand their families through adoption, and at great expense to themselves…Our children are adopted from this country. But I know hundreds and thousands of people who have children adopted from other countries…We need to pass this bill to make sure that when children come into this country they come in as citizens–just as American citizens give birth to a child overseas, they become automatic citizens. They don’t need the extra step of a visa.”

Sen. DeMint further explained, “The ICARE [Intercountry Adoption Reform Act] amendment takes two important steps to break down the roadblocks these children face on their journey to find a permanent family…it affirms that foreign adopted children of American citizens should be treated in many respects like we treat children born abroad to an American citizen. Under existing law, these children are treated as immigrants, having to apply for, and be granted, immigrant visas to enter the U.S. — a process that we all know to be cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive…Second, this amendment streamlines the existing foreign adoption functions of the Federal Government. Rather than having to navigate through three Federal agencies: the Departments of State, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security–adoptive parents would instead have to deal with only one: a consolidated office of intercountry adoptions located within the State Department. I believe this is an essential step to cut through the layers of red tape that currently bind adoptive parents trying to give the gift of a family to a child from overseas.”

On May 25, an amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) was approved, 51-47, that would limit the total number of immigrants, including spouses and children, granted employment-based permanent resident status to 650,000 each fiscal year. The bill had imposed a limit of 450,000, but did not include spouses and children.

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