It would be too strong to say that Sen. Mazie Hirono held her nose and voted for the historic immigration bill that passed the Senate this afternoon.

She did note in a statement after the vote that it would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. However, during the weeks of debate over the bill, she got a taste of partisan politics and wrangling that left her calling it a compromise.

She didn’t get a key amendment she had been pushing for, when it was caught in last-minute partisan fighting. Legislative leaders were unable to agree on which of hundreds of amendments offered by both parties should come to the floor for a vote. Eventually, they decided not to bring any of them for a vote — including Hirono’s.

Hirono did not characterize her feelings as such after the vote, but the failure to bring up the amendment over family immigration was likely a disappointment. She had fought aspects of the bill that would eventually mean siblings and adult married children of U.S. residents would no longer be able to immigrate based solely on family ties. Instead, family relationships will be one of several factors, including education and employment history, in determining who would be able to immigrate into the country legally.

Having been unable to undo the so-called merit-based immigration system in the Judiciary Committee, she offered a last gasp amendment as a compromise designed to fix what she considered the worst aspects of the proposal.

Hirono argued that women in some foreign countries do not have access to education and employment. Relying on those factors in determining who would be able to immigrate would mean doubly discriminating against them, Hirono argued.

Her amendment would have allowed a certain number of people in traditionally-female fields like nursing or home health care to immigrate each year.

Additionally, Hirono was unhappy with another amendment that was approved earlier this week before the last-minute bottleneck. Speaking about the provision to increase spending on border security, she said,  “I am deeply concerned with the huge spending increase in this… measure, but I too understand that it is likely a necessary political step in order to pass immigration reform.”

The Senate bill did include a number of provisions Hirono had worked into the measure in committee. Among them, making it easier for the relatives of Filipino World War II veterans to immigrate, and making so-called DREAMers who were brought into the country illegally as children to be eligible for college financial aid.

Ultimately, Hirono said after she and Sen. Brian Schatz voted for the measure, “This bill is not perfect, but it’s a true compromise developed through a transparent and open process.”


Kery Murakami