Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said he won’t support a bipartisan U.S. immigration bill unless lawmakers agree to his changes on taxes immigrants must pay and social benefits they can receive.
Hatch, of Utah, is a critical vote on the Judiciary Committee, in its fourth day of considering amendments to the bill, and in the full Senate. The bipartisan authors of the Senate measure have been courting his vote.
“It won’t be going anywhere without these amendments, because you’re not going to get any Republicans,” Hatch told reporters today in Washington. “These aren’t killer amendments; these are amendments that make the bill palatable not just to Republicans but to Democrats too, some Democrats.”
Among the changes Hatch said must be made to gain his vote are requiring immigrants who seek citizenship to pay additional taxes and to make clear that unauthorized employment can’t count toward eligibility for Social Security benefits.
The Senate bill would open a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. if they meet certain criteria, including paying back taxes and a fine and passing a criminal background check.
Hatch wants to impose a five-year waiting period before people on the path to citizenship can receive subsidies under the 2010 health-care law.
At the same time, Hatch has said he will oppose the legislation unless Democrats agree to a series of amendments favoring technology companies that seek to hire more foreign workers. He has been meeting with Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois, Democratic authors of the immigration bill, to try to reach a compromise.
“We’re working assiduously at it; I hope we can get it done,” Hatch told reporters today. “We’re not there yet.”
“I am working in good faith, they’re working in good faith,” Hatch said. He said he would vote for the bill in the Judiciary Committee if lawmakers reach what he views as an acceptable compromise on the high-tech visa issue.
Unions led by the AFL-CIO labor federation said technology companies are trying to undermine job security and opportunity for U.S. workers.
Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, has said he couldn’t support Hatch’s amendments on high-tech jobs because they would weaken job opportunities for U.S. workers.
The Senate bill would raise the annual H-1B visa limit for high-skilled foreign workers to 135,000 from 85,000 and require companies to recruit U.S. workers before hiring foreign ones. Technology companies say that invites bureaucratic scrutiny by the government and lawsuits from disgruntled U.S. workers.
One of Hatch’s amendments would require employers to show that a U.S. worker wasn’t available only when they initially hire a foreign employee, not with each visa extension. Another would allow people who intend to immigrate to the U.S. to be counted as U.S. workers under certain circumstances.