Hong Kong Given Special Visa Access in Immigration Bill

Reid procedural ploy will prevent Senate from removing language despite city’s protection of NSA leaker

TV screen in Hong Kong shows the news of Edward Snowden / AP
• June 24, 2013 4:45 pm


As the White House criticized the Chinese government for allowing fugitive National Security Agency leaker Ed Snowden to leave Hong Kong on Monday, the Senate plans to take up legislation that would grant special visa privileges to residents of the Chinese city.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) authored that provision, which grants Hong Kong residents access to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP expedites business and leisure visas for citizens of participating nations.

Hirono did not return requests for comment on whether her views on the measure have changed in light of news that the Chinese government allowed Snowden to leave Hong Kong in defiance of requests by U.S. officials to keep him in the city.

"This was a deliberate choice by the [Chinese] government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.

The Senate may not be able to remove the language in light of Monday’s Snowden revelations despite that diplomatic wedge between China and the United States because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has prevented any additional amendments.

Reid used a procedural maneuver called "filling the amendment tree," which permits votes only on a limited number of amendments, to prevent additional changes to the legislation.

After the Senate considers an amendment to add border security previsions to the bill—it is expected to vote on a cloture motion at 5:30 p.m.—no other amendments can be offered.

At least 350 amendments have been proposed, according to the Hill, but the Senate may only vote on nine of them.

"Unfortunately, Democrats appear to have shut down the amendment process," one Senate Republican leadership aide told the Washington Free Beacon.

Republican senators are fuming at the move. Fourteen wrote a letter to Reid on Monday saying that the decision to fill the tree undercut pledges of procedural cooperation on immigration legislation.

"After repeated promises of a full and open amendment process on the floor, we have had nine roll call votes on amendments to the Gang of Eight’s 1,076-page immigration bill. Nine. And there is the prospect of a full shut-down of amendment votes after today," the senators wrote.

Reid’s maneuver "is deeply, deeply disturbing," they added, and "is effectively shutting down the American people's ability to be heard on this issue through their elected representatives."

The Republican aide said that while changes could be made to the bill through unanimous consent (UC), even small changes to the bill will likely encounter resistance, making a UC effort near impossible.