Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007

Floor Speech

By:  Hillary Clinton
Date: June 6, 2007
Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 06, 2007)

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AMENDMENT NO. 1183, AS FURTHER MODIFIED

Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I call up amendment No. 1183, as further modified, and ask unanimous consent for its consideration.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The amendment is pending.

Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the majority leader, Senator Reid, and Senator Dodd be added as cosponsors to the amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I know there are very strongly held and honestly felt disagreements in this Chamber on the legislation before us. Many of these differences are mirrored across our country. The issue of immigration strikes deeply at our values and our concept of America and stirs our emotions. While we may reach different conclusions, we all have to begin at the same place. Our immigration system is in crisis. I have concerns about this underlying bill, but we all do. This is not the bill any of us individually would have written and produced for the Senate's consideration. But I commend the primary sponsors for bringing this to the floor of the Senate so we can debate the issues it raises and try to craft a solution that simultaneously honors our Nation's strong immigrant heritage and respects the rule of law.

As a nation, we place a premium on compassion, respect, and policies that help families. But our immigration laws don't reflect that. In fact, our current laws tear families apart. For lawful permanent residents and their spouses and minor children, this bill not only fails to help them, it actually makes matters worse. It is time to take all the rhetoric about family values and put it into action and show that we mean what we say when we talk about putting families first. That is what my amendment does.

This amendment is a bipartisan amendment offered with Senator Hagel and Senator Menendez. It is our view we must make reuniting families a priority in our immigration system, that we should show compassion for those living apart from their spouses and minor children, that we should reform immigration in a way that honors families and brings them together. Unfortunately, the compromise bill before us fails to help families and children stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire created by our tangled, broken immigration system. Spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents applying for a green card are required to remain overseas while awaiting their new legal status. The problem is there is a huge backlog.

Despite what some have suggested this week, the visa backlog for spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents is significant and substantial. According to the June 2007 State Department visa bulletin, the backlog is currently more than 5 years long. For some, that backlog could stretch even longer. What does that mean? In very human terms it means parents are forced apart from their children. Husbands are separated from their wives. Tax-paying, law-abiding, legal immigrants who are doing the right thing are treated as though their families don't matter at all.

If you are a lawful permanent resident and your spouse and minor children are caught in this long line, your family is not allowed to enter the United States even for a brief visit. You are limited in your ability to leave the United States to visit your spouse and children overseas. Under our current policies, lawful permanent residents are forced to choose between their newly adopted country and living with their spouse or children. Five years may not seem long to some of us. We serve 6 years in the Senate. It seems to go by very fast. But 5 years in the life of a young child or in a marriage is precious time indeed. For a 10-year-old child, it is half their life. It is time that can never be recaptured. Unfortunately, that 5-year timeframe is often much less than what actually happens to these families.

We are proposing that spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents be exempt from the visa caps and that we finally allow these nuclear families who have been separated for far too long to be reunited. This amendment is necessary because the compromise bill does absolutely nothing to bring these families together. In fact, the compromise actually reduces the number of visas for spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents. It does not allocate a single visa to address the existing backlog for these family members.

As I have said many times, we have a national interest in fostering strong families. This amendment is supported by more than 100 faith-based, family, and immigrant advocacy organizations and denominations. I thank all of these organizations that have endorsed and rallied support for the Clinton-Hagel-Menendez amendment. They do an invaluable service in speaking out for people whose voices would otherwise not be heard.

The amendment is not considered a bill killer. It is not considered an amendment everybody has to vote against who has agreed to the compromise, because many of us know these legal permanent residents. Many of us actually work with them. Some of them even contribute to the campaigns of people in this Chamber. These are people who are doing everything they can to play by the rules, except they are divided for years from their spouses and minor children. I hope the Chamber will endorse this act of compassion and common sense.

I yield the floor.

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Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I thank the Senator.

I think it is important to recognize that there are many distinctions between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner living legally in the United States which uphold the value of citizenship, but the right to marry and to live with your family should not be one of them.

Denying legal permanent residents, who are on the pathway to pledging their allegiance to the United States, the right to marry and live together in our country is an obstacle to their becoming the kind of full-fledged citizens we want them to be.

Also, under current law, guest workers, students, and others can be with their spouses and minor children and then adjust to legal permanent resident status with them. Due to the backlogs, only lawful permanent residents are treated differently.

So, Mr. President, I understand that those who worked so hard on coming up with this compromise may not be able to find their way clear to support this at this time, but I do not believe we have a national interest in separating legal permanent residents from their spouses and minor children.

I yield the floor.