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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - June 19, 2007)

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mr. Smith, Mr. Biden, Mr. Hagel, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Levin, and Mr. Lieberman):

S. 1651. A bill to assist certain Iraqis who have worked directly with, or are threatened by their association with, the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, because of the war in Iraq, more than 2 million Iraqis have been internally displaced in their own country, and 2 million other Iraqis are in neighboring countries throughout the region, primarily Jordan and Syria.

The humanitarian needs of the refugees and internally displaced Iraqis are immense. If their needs are not quickly and adequately met, these populations could become a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.

Iraqi refugees are also a significant financial burden on countries in the region. As the Iraq Study Group concluded, if the refugee crisis ``is not addressed, Iraq and the region could be further destabilized.''

Many Iraqis who have worked in critical positions in direct support of the U.S. Government in Iraq have been killed or injured in reprisals for their support of our effort. Many more Iraqis associated with the United States have fled their country in fear of being killed or injured.

Clearly, we cannot resettle all of Iraq's refugees in the United States, but we have a fundamental obligation to help the vast number of Iraqis displaced in Iraq and throughout the region by the war and the associated chaos, especially those who have supported America's efforts in Iraq.

In April 2007, Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbray said the United States ``could resettle up to 25,000 Iraqi refugees this year.'' In May 2007, Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky said, ``We are committed to honoring our moral debt to those Iraqis who have provided assistance to the United States military and embassy.'' On June 8, Secretary Rice said ``the people that I'm most worried about in the near term are the people who've worked with us who might be subject to recrimination and reprisal. And we're trying to step up our efforts on their behalf.''

It is essential for the United States to develop a comprehensive and effective approach to meet the rapidly growing needs of Iraq's refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those who are associated with the United States.

The legislation I am introducing today with Senators Smith, Biden, Hagel, Leahy, Levin, and Lieberman seeks to accomplish these goals.

First, the legislation would create a special category of applicants for refugee status in Iraq. Those eligible for this program, a P-2 category for refugees of special humanitarian concern, would be the Iraqis most closely associated with the United States. Iraqis who qualify would be those, 1. who have been employed by or worked directly with the U.S. Government in Iraq; or, 2. who were employed in Iraq by a media or nongovernmental organization based in the United States or by an organization or entity that has received a grant from, or entered into a cooperative agreement or contract with, the U.S. Government; or, 3. who are spouses, children, sons, daughters, siblings and parents of those who worked for or with us; or, 4. who are members of religious or minority communities and have close family members in the U.S.

Those eligible would not have to be referred to our Government by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a U.S. Embassy. All applicants, however, would need to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution. Applicants would be required to go through recently approved extensive security screening.

P-2 visas for these refugees would come out of the overall authorized admissions number for the refugee program, currently established at 70,000. That figure is determined every year by the President in close consultation with the Congress.

In addition to the new P-2 category of refugee applications, the legislation would expand the current U.S. Government program which provides special immigrant visas only to Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters. Those eligible for the expanded special immigrant visa program are Iraqis who have been employed by or worked directly with the United States for 1 year in the aggregate since 2003, and need not have served as a translator or interpreter for the military or Department of State.

Applicants for SIV visas would not need to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution, but they would need to meet security requirements, demonstrate that they provided faithful service to our Government, and provide a recommendation or evaluation. The Secretary of State would be required to provide applicants with protection or immediate removal from Iraq if they are in immediate danger. Five thousand of these visas would be available yearly for 5 years.

Importantly, our legislation requires the Secretary of State to establish a program for processing P-2 refugees and SIV applicants in Iraq and in countries in the region. The Secretary would be required to report to the Congress within 60 days on plans to establish this program. Currently, there is no mechanism for applying for refugee status in Iraq. Those fleeing persecution and seeking refugee status must find their way to Jordan or Syria, locate an official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and then be referred to the U.S. Government by the United Nations. Because of the growing violence and risk for those associated with the United States, we need to find a way to address this problem for Iraqis inside Iraq. Our bill does not eliminate the referral system through the United Nations, or any other existing system, but it does create an essential mechanism for direct applications in country.

To oversee the implementation of this new program, the Secretary of State would be required to establish in the Embassy in Baghdad a Minister

Counselor for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. This senior official would be responsible for overseeing the in-country processing of P-2 refugee and special immigrant visa applicants, and would have authority to refer them directly to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

A parallel position would be created in the American embassies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to oversee the application process of P-2 refugees of special humanitarian concern. SIV applicants would work through regular consular channels in embassies in those countries.

Recognizing that the United States can only resettle a small number of the most vulnerable refugees within our borders, the Secretary of State would be required to consult with other countries about resettlement of refugee populations, develop mechanisms in countries with significant populations of displaced Iraqis to ensure the refugees' well-being and safety, and provide assistance to the countries in doing so.

In addition, the legislation would allow Iraqis denied asylum after March 2003 based on changed conditions to file a new petition with an immigration judge to reopen their cases. Those denied asylum, for example, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power and the United States is committed to building democracy in Iraq should be permitted to make their case again before a judge.

After 90 days, and annually thereafter, the President would be required to submit an unclassified report to Congress with a classified annex if necessary, assessing the financial, security, personnel, considerations and resources necessary to establish the programs required in the act. After 90 days, the Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to submit a report to Congress outlining plans to expedite processing of Iraqi refugees, including a temporary expansion of the Refugee Corps, and plans to enhance existing systems for conducting background and security checks for Iraqis applying through the program.

More than 5 years ago, Arthur Helton, perhaps this country's staunchest advocate for the rights of refugees wrote, ``Refugees matter ..... for a wide variety of reasons ..... Refugees are a product of humanity's worst instincts--the willingness of some persons to oppress others--as well as some of its best instincts--the willingness of many to assist and protect the helpless ..... In personal terms, we care about refugees because of the seed of fear that lurks in all of us that can be stated so simply: it could be me.''

A year later, Arthur Helton gave his life for his beliefs. He was killed in Baghdad in 2003 while meeting with U.N. Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello when a bomb destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Iraq.

But his words resonate today, especially when we consider the very human cost of the war in Iraq, and its tragic effect on the millions of Iraqis, men, women, and children, who have fled their homes and their country to escape the violence of a nation at war with itself.

America has a special obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who now have a bulls-eye on their back because of their association with our Government.

At a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, chilling testimony was presented about the dangers Iraqis face because of their association with America.

One Iraqi, Sami, was a translator for U.S. and Coalition forces and who now lives in the United States. He said, ``I too, have been targeted for my death. My name was listed on the doors of several mosques calling for my death. Supposed friends of mine saw my name on the list and turned on me because
they believed I was traitor ..... In June 2006, I learned that I had been granted special status. As a result, today I live free from the fear of persecution and threats to my life that I faced on a daily basis in Iraq. My hope is that all brave Iraqis who worked and braved so much will have the same chance as I have had to live in freedom.''

Another Iraqi, John, worked as a water service man for U.S. troops. He said, ``My wife, my six children and myself fled Iraq after terrorist groups targeted me and my family because I aided the Americans by supplying water to their service camps.''

Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International, summed it up well when he said, ``There is a large group of Iraqis who have risked their lives to support the United States ..... people are sacrificing their lives to help the United States.''

The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including Refugees International, Refugee Council USA which encompasses Amnesty International USA, Arab-American and Chaldean Council, Chaldean Federation of America, Church World Service/Immigration and Refugee Program, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Human Rights First, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Jubilee Campaign USA, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Migration & Refugee Services/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and WorId Relief, the International Rescue Committee, and the PEN American center.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation in order to keep the faith with those many brave Iraqis whose lives are in jeopardy because of their association with our forces in Iraq.

I ask unanimous consent that the letters of suport be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mrs. Murray, and Mr. Byrd):

S. 1655. A bill to establish improved mandatory standards to protect miners during emergencies, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, last year, the Nation was stunned by the terrible tragedies at the Sago, Alma, and Darby mines. Those disasters exposed the many failures in our laws on mine safety and mine health, and made clear that it is essential to bring these protections into the modern world.

Last year, Congress came together to take a vital step toward protecting the Nation's miners with the passage of the MINER Act, which addressed critical lapses in mine safety and accident response, but advances in scientific research and technological development show us that there is much more to be done. In part through the new scrutiny that is taking place under the MINER Act, we have learned a great deal more about what puts miners in danger and how to prevent it.

We need to begin to address these other pressing safety and health needs. That is why today I am introducing the Miner Health and Safety Enhancement Act of 2007.

There is much we can do in the area of mine safety emergencies to increase miners' chances of survival, and this legislation encourages the development of technologies to do so. It requires stronger seal barriers to protect miners from explosions in hazardous mining areas. It also requires mine companies to adopt more sophisticated communications technology to stay in touch with miners underground, and to install rescue chambers to protect miners in the event of an explosion or fire.

The bill does more to eliminate dangerous conditions in mines before they harm miners, by banning the unsafe practice of ventilating mines in the same passageway as coal-dust laden conveyor belts. This practice, unfortunately, has been approved by the Bush administration, and it contributed to the tragic fire at Alma mine last year.

Other reforms are essential as well. Establishing a national call center can quickly coordinate emergency information and enhance mine rescue and recovery operations. To see that accident investigations are objective and thorough, the legislation requires an independent investigation to be conducted if miners or their families ask for one.

Successful prevention depends also on the willingness of miners to tell the truth about their working conditions. Safeguards are needed to allow them to speak out about on-the-job hazards without fearing for their jobs. The bill establishes an independent ombudsman, so miners' safety complaints can be heard and fully addressed, without jeopardizing miners who blow the whistle on job hazards.

Tragically, we continue to see miners developing symptoms of black lung disease and other deadly respiratory illnesses of the past. To protect them, the bill requires operators to provide miners with personal dust monitors developed and certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. To make underground air safer, the bill adopts the Institute's levels for exposure to coal dust, silica dust, and other air contaminants. It also adopts the higher OSHA standard for asbestos. We cannot continue to allow miners to work without the protection of these important health standards.

Mining is an essential industry, and the nation's miners deserve the safest possible working conditions. We have a responsibility to see that our mine safety laws make our mines the safest and healthiest in the world. America's miners deserve no less. I urge my colleagues to support the Mine Health and Safety Enhancement Act of 2007.

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