What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Immigration Law Reform : S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Cornyn of Texas that would expand the list of crimes that can prevent illegal aliens from receiving applying for legal immigration/On agreeing to the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 187)
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S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Cornyn of Texas that would expand the list of crimes that can prevent illegal aliens from receiving applying for legal immigration/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 187     Jun 06, 2007
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This vote was on an amendment by John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would prevent illegal immigrants from applying to legitimize their residency if they were a member of a terrorist organization, a known gang member, a sex offender, someone who smuggled aliens with firearms and those who have been convicted of felony drunk driving offenses.  The amendment was offered to a measure that would overhaul America’s immigration system.

“While we might be willing to consider those who have entered our country without a visa, who are by definition guilty of a misdemeanor, or those who have come in legally and who have overstayed, who are guilty of a status violation under our immigration laws—while we might be willing to consider them for a path to legalization and citizenship under some conditions, we should not allow a path to legalization and citizenship for those who have openly defied our courts, the lawful orders of our courts, and who have shown themselves as having no regard for the rule of law,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn’s amendment also would deny immigration benefits to those who have repeatedly violated court ordered deportations. This goes to the heart of the debate over whether or not the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in America should be given a chance at citizenship (often called “amnesty”), or deported for being scofflaws.  This question has engendered significant partisan strife and has not been easy to negotiate, particularly since it would mean breaking up some families.  (Many illegal immigrants have lived in the U.S. for decades and have given birth to children who by law are considered American citizens; in many cases, the parents would have to be deported, but their children would not.)  Though these questions sometimes split down regional rather than partisan lines, Democrats generally favor some sort of partial amnesty.  Republicans generally oppose any such attempts, believing that amnesty essentially rewards immigrants that have flouted U.S. immigration laws, even as others have patiently waited their turn at legal citizenship.  

Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the main sponsors of the underlying immigration overhaul, opposed Cornyn’s amendment because he said it would make “vast numbers” of families ineligible for the programs established in the bill.

“It would keep them in the shadows, where employers abuse and underpay them. That hurts the immigrants, but it hurts American workers, too, by depressing wages.  The Cornyn amendment does this by classifying an array of common garden variety immigration offenses as crimes that would make them ineligible for the program. For example, the Cornyn amendment says that if you come here, have been ordered out of the country by immigration authorities, but if you fail to leave or you come back, you are ineligible,” Kennedy said. “Cornyn says: If you have used false identification, you may be found inadmissible and may be deported. But in our broken system, the people who have wanted to work have been forced to use the false identification.”
Kennedy offered his own amendment as an alternative to Cornyn’s; it was voted on later.  Kennedy’s alternative would crack down on gang members and other violent offenders, but would not penalize those who have repeatedly violated court-ordered deportation.  “As a practical matter, Senator Cornyn does not want us to distinguish between murder and illegal entry; but that is not practical, nor does it reflect our criminal justice system.”

The Senate rejected Cornyn’s amendment by a vote of 46-51.  Democrats, including the Senate’s most progressive members, largely opposed the amendment, though nine supported it.  Republicans largely supported the amendment, though 10 opposed it.  Thus, the bill went forward without language that would have expanded the list of crimes that could prevent illegal aliens from receiving immigration benefits.  This list includes violating court-ordered deportations.  (Kennedy’s amendment was adopted just prior.)
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