DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - August 03, 2006)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I send an amendment to the desk on behalf of myself, Senator Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Reid of Nevada, Senator Leahy, and Senator Levin.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that further reading of the amendment be dispensed with.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The amendment is as follows
AMENDMENT NO. 4875
(Purpose: To increase by $200,000,000 the amount appropriated or otherwise made available by title IX for the purpose of supplying needed humanitarian assistance to the innocent Lebanese and Israeli civilians who have been affected by the hostilities between Hezbollah and the Government of Israel)
On page 238, after line 24, add the following:
Sec. 9012. (a) The amount appropriated or otherwise made available by this title is hereby increased by $200,000,000.
(b) Of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available by this title, as increased by subsection (a), $200,000,000 may be made available for humanitarian assistance, including food, water, cooking fuel, shelter, medicine, and other assistance, for the innocent Lebanese and Israeli civilians who have been affected by the hostilities between Hezbollah and the Government of Israel.
(c) The amount made available under subsection (a) is designated as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 402 of S. Con. Res. 83 (109th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2007, as made applicable in the Senate by section 7035 of Public Law 109-234.
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to offer an amendment to provide $200 million for humanitarian assistance to the innocent Lebanese and Israeli citizens who have been caught in the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. The last 3 weeks have brought horrific bloodshed on both sides of the Israeli and Lebanese border. The Secretary of State has pledged $30 million in humanitarian aid. That is a good first step, but considering the extent of the humanitarian suffering in both Lebanon and Israel, it certainly is not enough.
On July 25, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, declared a humanitarian emergency in Lebanon, and since that time the situation for innocent people has worsened. The violence affects mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children and whole communities on both sides who need our assistance. Many innocent Americans from both sides of the Israeli-Lebanon border have fled back to Michigan and to other places in the country to escape the violence.
Thousands of people from Michigan, including buses of schoolchildren who went to Israel for a trip and thousands of people who went to Lebanon for summer vacation, for weddings, for funerals, for the ability to visit grandpa and grandma to have them see the new grandchildren, and family members who are sharing with each other during the summer, as we all do, found themselves caught in a situation that was certainly unexpected when Hezbollah attacked Israel. Many citizens have been able to escape the violence, but unfortunately some have been too poor to relocate or frankly don't want to leave their homes. Too many innocent people, families with elderly relatives, small children, have had a horrific front row seat to this conflict.
The Lebanese Government estimates there are 841 dead as of today, 3,243 injured, and over 700,000 Lebanese civilians--one-quarter of the population of the country--have been displaced internally or to other countries. The stories of innocent citizens have weighed heavily on me, and I believe we must do something to help them. I know my colleagues feel that way as well.
In Israel, it is the same. There are 51 dead, and more than 300 civilians have been wounded by rocket attacks. More than 500,000 Israeli citizens are spending a significant amount of time in bomb shelters, their children terrified, with families trying to console each other in constant fear, terrorized by Hezbollah rockets.
I believe, and I hope my colleagues will agree, that the U.S. Government must assert its leadership at this critical point in time. It must assert its leadership to stop the violence as soon as possible. We must also make it clear that we will step forward as a country to provide humanitarian aid at this critical time. So many people from these two countries have friends and relatives here in America who are desperately concerned about what is happening, who are asking us in America to step up and to help.
Time is really of the essence. This is a critical time to both send the dollars and send a message that we in America, with big hearts, are willing to reach out and make a difference in terms of humanitarian aid that is needed at this critical time. I hope my colleagues will join with me in supporting this amendment.
Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator from Michigan yield for a question?
Ms. STABENOW. I will be happy to.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I say through the Chair, I commend the Senator from Michigan. I know she has a substantial Lebanese population in her State. We have a substantial Lebanese population as well. They are fine people, good people, who have made a success here in America, proud of their heritage in Lebanon. They are following every day, every minute the news that is coming back that reminds us of the suffering that is taking place both in Israel and in Lebanon.
I am glad the Senator from Michigan has addressed this issue. I would like to ask the Senator this. I have prepared a bill, with Senator Sununu and Senator Feingold as cosponsors, which addresses another aspect of this issue. There are many Lebanese who are currently visiting in the United States or studying in the United States here legally on visas, whose visas may expire at any time--tomorrow or in the next week or month. Many of them are concerned about being forced to return to a war zone, being asked to return to a place that may be dangerous.
We know we evacuated American citizens out of Lebanon for fear for their own safety and warned the others not to stay. We know many other countries did the same.
I ask the Senator from Michigan, in addition to her excellent amendment relative to humanitarian assistance for those both in Lebanon and Israel, does she feel this temporary protected status which we would offer on a temporary basis should be expedited as well so these visitors will have a chance, if they want, to stay in the United States in a safe place until the hostilities have ended?
Ms. STABENOW. I thank my friend and our leader from Illinois, and I commend him for this legislation. In fact, I am proud to lend my name to the legislation. I hope we move urgently to let people know that they will not be required to go home to a place where we have been evacuating thousands and thousands of people, sending ships in to evacuate Americans.
I must say, we have had over 25,000 people from Michigan alone. We have seen over 13,000 come back. Those who are still there are desperately concerned about their family members, not being able to hear from them. Often there is no phone, no computer. So the idea of sending people here back into that violence makes absolutely no sense.
I commend the Senator. I hope part of what we would do before we leave is to make it clear that we would not ask those innocent people to return to a war zone.
Mr. DURBIN. If the Senator will further yield for a question through the Chair, I am sure the Senator is aware that we have done this before. When people are visiting in the United States and hostilities break out in their homeland, we have offered them a chance to stay here on a temporary basis.
I might add, there are safeguards built into this process. If there is anyone about whom we have a question as to whether or not they are safe to remain in the United States, they will not receive this temporary status. That goes without saying. We want to make certain that the people who remain here are truly those innocent travelers--students, members of families--who are concerned about whether returning home could endanger them or people who are here.
I ask the Senator from Michigan, if we are in a predicament where a family is here visiting their relatives in Chicago or Detroit and they have small children and they are from one of the parts of southern Lebanon that has been under fire, does it not stand to reason that we as a compassionate people would say to them: You can wait. Stay with your family. We are not going to force you to leave. We have done this in the past, and I hope the Senator from Michigan believes, as I do, that it is reasonable to do it under these circumstances.
Ms. STABENOW. I say to my friend from Illinois, I could not agree more. When you talk about people who come to visit, I think about the group of families and children I
met with on Saturday who actually came home from Lebanon--escaped, essentially--but were talking about their family members who are here. Bint Jbeil--that is the town in southern Lebanon where they identified a Hezbollah stronghold--is also a place that 15,000 people in Michigan call their hometown. People have come to visit in the summer, to do the things that we all do: to go to the family wedding, to visit grandpa and grandma; as older citizens, coming to visit the grandchildren. There are all kinds of families who come back and forth all the time. That we would have people that are here be forced to go back to a war zone is really unthinkable.
I commend again our distinguished Senator from Illinois for his leadership, focusing on this issue which is so critical. I hope we would in fact bring that bill before the Senate for a vote or seek unanimous consent before we leave. It is absolutely critical.
I hope, again, we are going to make it clear that for those, whether they are in Lebanon or Israel, who have found themselves without any prior warning to be in a situation where they are innocently caught in the violence that has occurred, we, as Americans, need to do what we know how to do, which is to reach out and to help and be a part of a worldwide humanitarian effort. We need to address those issues--whether it is food, clothing, shelter, crucial issues to so many people, tens of thousands of people, probably hundreds of thousands, who find themselves in a situation where they are looking around for someone to help them.
America needs to be an important leader in lending our support. I am hopeful this amendment of $200 million will be included as an emergency spending category in this legislation.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to be added as a cosponsor to the pending amendment by the Senator from Michigan.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Ms. STABENOW. I am happy to yield.
Mr. DURBIN. I would like to finish the comments I made about this temporary protected status so the record is clear for colleagues who are following this important debate--and particularly our Lebanese-American friends who are watching this, I am sure, with great interest, because of the efforts of the Senator from Michigan--I would like to put in the RECORD at this point that in 1990, Congress enacted the Temporary Protected Status Statute. It grants that for 1 year nationals from El Salvador who were residing in the United States the right to stay. That was done of course because of hostilities.
After that, the Attorney General, administratively, in consultation with the State Department, granted this as well to residents from the following countries: Kuwait, Rwanda, Lebanon--this was during the period from 1991 to March of 1993--Kosovo, the provinces of Serbia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and Angola and Sierra Leon.
I might also say to the Senator from Michigan, what we are hoping to add, as a separate bill that might pass independently or be part of this bill, is consistent with what we are currently doing. We have offered this temporary relief from deportation or temporary protected status to those who are from the countries of Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan.
The reason I raise these issues is I want all my colleagues to know what we are suggesting is entirely consistent with the values of previous administrations of both political parties. It is an act of compassion and humanitarianism which I think reflects well on the United States, as does the amendment by the Senator from Michigan.
This may not be in the form of a question--it might not qualify for ``Jeopardy''--but I say to her: I commend her for her humanitarian assistance, and I hope she will join us in helping to pass the other amendment as a separate issue.
Mr. KENNEDY. Will the Senator yield?
Ms. STABENOW. Yes.
Mr. KENNEDY. I want to join, as the ranking member of the Immigration and Refugee Committee, in support of what the Senator from Illinois has stated. The idea of temporary status has been longstanding. We have extended it in circumstances which do not even compare to the conditions that we have seen now in Lebanon. So I have joined being a cosponsor of that amendment.
It can be done administratively, as the Senator from Illinois and others have pointed out. We certainly welcome that. If you look back in the history of that, you will find that legislation in a number of instances was introduced and then the administration moved, and moved rapidly, when it was brought to their attention. That certainly ought to be done now in the most expeditious way.
Second, I welcome the opportunity to join the Senator on the humanitarian aid and assistance. We had an opportunity to talk to the representatives of the NGOs on several different occasions over the period of these past days, as well as with the representatives of the Israeli Government. There is a process now to try to extend humanitarian aid and assistance--both from the point of view of the Israeli Government but also in support of U.N. agencies and nongovernmental agencies.
There are supplies that are in the area that need to get through. I think that needs focus and attention and support by all of the interested parties. But what we are basically talking about with the Defense appropriations is hopefully there will be a meaningful cease-fire that will take place. What the Senator from Michigan is talking about now is to reflect the concern for Lebanon and what has happened to that country, reflecting the fact that we here ought to extend humanitarian aid and assistance.
I commend her. I think this makes a great deal of sense. I hope the amendment will be accepted.
Ms. STABENOW. Reclaiming my time, Mr. President, and I thank my colleague from Massachusetts very much, let me also just say when it comes to the temporary protected status, the legislation the Senator from Illinois has spoken about, I would add one more occasion recently in which we moved in this direction.
On another piece of legislation, Senator Levin and I offered an amendment that was accepted by this Senate to address the concerns of those from Iraq who are in the Chaldean community, who are Christians in Iraq, who are truly the true minority religious community in Iraq, and concerns that those who are here, who are Chaldeans, do not have to be returned now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power because they in fact continue to find themselves in a situation of religious persecution.
So we have passed that in another bill, supported by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, which continues the whole premise of making sure that while those who are here on a temporary legal status would not be required to return if, in fact, their lives are in jeopardy; if we are putting them back into a danger zone.
I wholeheartedly agree and appreciate what the Senator from Illinois has done.
I once again ask colleagues--I see my friend from New Hampshire on the floor so I will bring this to a close. I am hopeful that we will come together and that we could unanimously move forward in this effort to provide humanitarian assistance to those in Lebanon and in Israel who are innocent citizens, caught in the middle of the violence that has occurred.
Many, many people have suffered. I hope we will send a strong message that we will stand with those who are working very hard to bring humanitarian assistance.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, will the Senator yield for a question?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The point of order is sustained, and the amendment falls
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I ask the Senator from Alaska if he would join us in working through those accounts to make sure that the dollars are, in fact, available. We understand that an amount has been identified of possibly $300 million needed, at least by the State Department. It is my understanding about $100 million has been pledged by other countries, leaving a $200 million gap.
I ask the chairman if he would work with myself and others who care deeply about this to identify specific funds to be able to go toward this desperately needed humanitarian effort.
Mr. STEVENS. I would be happy to author along with the Senator a sense-of-the-Senate resolution that the administration should proceed as rapidly as possible to use the funds which are in existence now and, if they are not sufficient, to submit a request for those funds.
I am not against the funds, but I believe that bill is coming along. The Appropriations Committee is coming along. It has a substantial amount of money in it this year. I don't see the need to add it to this bill.
If this amendment were agreed to, it would mean that we would have to confer with even another committee when we get back in September in order to satisfy the necessity to get a conference report to the President in time.
I reluctantly raised this point of order.