And the committee agreed to allow 10,500 new visas for African and Caribbean nations to partially make up for the elimination under the bill of a different visa program relied on by African nations. The Congressional Black Caucus had protested elimination of that program.
On the high-tech visas, lawmakers voted down several Grassley amendments that would have added more requirements for employers trying to bring high-tech workers to the U.S., as well as one by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to increase the visa supply.
The legislation's authors said the amendments could have jeopardized support for the overall bill by striking at one of the fragile compromises at its core.
But the high-tech language in the bill, which would allow employers to bring many more workers to the U.S. while adding restrictions aimed at protecting U.S. workers, remained in question Tuesday because of amendments still pending from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Hatch's amendments would make the language more favorable for high-tech companies, but he said he'd hold off on offering them in hopes of reaching a compromise first.
The committee also voted down a GOP amendment that would have required biometric screening — such as fingerprinting — to track people entering and exiting the country before anyone here illegally could get permanent residency. Supporters of the bill said it would be unrealistically expensive and their bill took a more realistic route by calling for photo IDs that could be electronically read.
Border security was also the hot topic at the White House, where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske met with representatives from 10 law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The White House said Napolitano made the case that overhauling U.S. immigration laws will help secure the border by freeing up officers to spend more time on national security threats.