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In Saturday’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial board praised an immigration measure drafted by Senator Mazie K. Hirono and adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would stop families from being torn apart at the border:

Some good amendments passed, including one from Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, that requires border agents to ask people they detain about spouses and children, and to consider family unity and safety when holding or repatriating anyone.

You can read the entire Saturday piece below:

May 11, 2013

First Steps to a Better Immigration Bill


After the Senate Judiciary Committee ended its first day of marking up an 867-page immigration bill on Thursday, plunging into the details of what could be the most ambitious overhaul of the system in a quarter-century, one thing was clear: it is a lot better to be deep in the weeds of a complicated bill than trapped in the desert of a stalemate, which is where immigration reform has been since the last big bipartisan bill collapsed in 2007.

Since that failure the country has lined up solidly in favor of comprehensive reform, and members of Congress are pushing forward to fix the immigration system in all the ways it is broken — at the border and in the workplace, in the clogged lines of hopeful immigrants waiting to get in, and for the 11 million living here outside the law, waiting to become Americans. That the Senate bill’s sponsors, four Republicans and four Democrats, have stuck together and gotten it this far is evidence that Washington’s ability to get anything done through bipartisanship and compromise is not entirely dead.

That message has not reached some Republicans on the committee — notably Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas — who spent their time trying to drag the debate back to the border.

Mr. Grassley offered an amendment that would essentially abolish the path to legalization by tying it to border-sealing benchmarks that would be impossible to meet. Mr. Sessions proposed having not one border fence but two, a double-walled barrier across 700 miles of desert. Mr. Cruz went all in, saying he wanted to triple the number of Border Patrol agents and quadruple the cameras, sensors, drones, helicopters and other equipment there.

Mr. Cruz, a Tea Party darling who in a very short Senate career has already developed a reputation for incoherence and reflexive truculence, did not say where a debt-ridden America would get tens of billions of new dollars to dump along the Rio Grande or give any evidence as to why this was necessary. Nor did he impress anyone when he baldly insisted that the committee was rejecting all efforts to enhance border security. In fact, the committee passed amendments to spread security measures across the entire border, not just at certain hot spots; to tighten auditing of border spending; and to add private landowners along both borders to a task force overseeing border security.

What these border-fixated senators — and their counterparts in the House — refuse to accept is that they have already won the argument. Though the 2007 bill died, practically every enforcement goal in it has since been met. The border is already more militarized than ever.

As Senator Charles Schumer of New York astutely noted, in a fairly heated exchange, the Republicans who keep talking about border security are really concerned with something else. What bothers them is the idea of ever legalizing the 11 million people who live on this side, not that side, of the border. They have no plan to deal with them, and no other ideas than to block the bill that would bring them onto the right side the law.

The worst border amendments were defeated on Thursday. Some good amendments passed, including one from Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, that requires border agents to ask people they detain about spouses and children, and to consider family unity and safety when holding or repatriating anyone. Another would withhold reimbursement for expenses incurred by state and local police departments that practice racial profiling.

The markup of the bill resumes Tuesday and may continue for weeks. There are hundreds more amendments, including many important ones that would improve the bill.

The Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, has amendments that would extend family-sponsorship rights to gay and lesbian couples, a serious omission in the current bill. That will be a contentious one, because Republicans have declared that marriage equality is a deal-breaker.

There are some strange amendments, like one from Mike Lee of Utah that would exempt an array of domestic servants, including coachmen, footmen, butlers and valets from laws that prohibit hiring the undocumented. And there are many more poison pills, designed to break apart the coalition and return the system to the failed status quo.

On their first day of wrangling with the bill, most of the senators showed a commitment to fairness and compromise, qualities that could lead the Senate to pass legislation that will help generations of new Americans. Congress needs to keep moving forward, leaving the enforcement-only minority stuck in the desert, perhaps someday to realize that the argument they cling to is well and truly dead.