“This is a tiny change and would be utilized only in the most sympathetic cases,” she said. She noted that as drafted, the legislation eliminated an existing preference for siblings eager to follow family members to the United States, a category that historically has tended to benefit immigrants from Asian nations.

“I understand that my amendment is in conflict with the agreement that the Gang of Eight reached on this bill,” she said, adding, “If they were not part of the Gang of Eight, I believe they would support this limited amendment.”

In the debate that followed, two nongang Democrats on the committee, Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Chris Coons of Deleware, said they would support Hirono.

But Graham said an issue of overriding importance to him had been the bill’s establishment of a new system for legal immigration. “What I’m trying to do is have a family component within a merit-based immigration system, not turn immigration into chain migration family-based immigration…. And I will continue to insist on that for my participation,” he added.

Schumer and Durbin quickly closed ranks, saying they would oppose Hirono’s proposal reluctantly.