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Public Statements

Immigration

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, over the past several weeks the Senate Judiciary Committee has considered the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. In addition to the three hearings the Committee held this year on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the Committee held an additional three hearings specifically on this legislative proposal after it was introduced. In those legislative hearings we received testimony from 26 witnesses, including the Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Napolitano, who spoke at length about the bill would make our country safer and help address the current problems in our immigration system.

The Judiciary Committee has benefited from more process and transparency than any previous Committee consideration of immigration reform. In 1985, the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration held three hearings on the Immigration Control and Reform Act and heard testimony from 14 witnesses. In 2006 and 2007, the last two times the Senate tried to enact comprehensive immigration reform, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee held no hearings on his legislative proposal or the McCain-Kennedy proposal or the Kyl-Kennedy formulation.

In 2006, the Republican chairman circulated his legislative proposal just one week before the Committee met to make opening statements. He then revised his legislation and circulated it barely 2 days before the Committee met to begin debate and consider amendments. This year, the Judiciary Committee received the bill text on April 17, and after a period of more than 3 weeks to consider it and draft amendments we began our consideration of amendments to the bill on May 9.

During the Committees consideration of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 the Committee met four times. We are holding our fourth day of markup today. It is my hope that the Committee will complete our consideration of the bill on Wednesday after 6, extended days of consideration. In 1985, the Committee debated only 11 amendments, adopting 7. The Committee sent the bill to the Senate on as 12-5 vote.

In 2006, the Committee met five times to consider amendments to the Chairman's Securing America's Borders bill, conducted 60 votes and adopted 54 amendments. The bill was then reported to the Senate on a vote of 12 to 6. In 2007, the bill was not considered by the Judiciary Committee at all before floor consideration.

Already this year the Committee has met for 4 days to consider amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. During just the first three executive sessions, the Committee has considered 99 amendments. Of those 50--more than half--were offered by the Republican minority. During those first 3 days, the Committee debated and voted to accept 67 amendments to the bill. That is already more amendments than were debated in 2006 and 6 times as many amendments as were debated in 1986. Of those accepted, 20 were offered by Republican members. That includes several amendments sponsored by Senator Grassley, Senator Cornyn and a few sponsored by Senator Sessions. The Committee has acted in a bipartisan way to accept amendments authored by Senators from both sides of the aisle and by Senators who are proponents of the bill and some by Senators who can fairly be considered opponents of the bill.

The Committee will continue its consideration of the legislation after tonight's votes. As of 4:30 today, we have considered an additional 45 amendments, including 22 offered by Republicans, and 23 offered by Democrats.

One example of the Committee's bipartisan efforts to improve this legislation was offered by Senators Hatch, Coons and Klobuchar, which will increase certain immigration fees and provide 70 percent of the funds collected to the states to improve and enhance the economic competitiveness of the United States by improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and training in the United States. Senator Schumer offered a second degree amendment which would direct some of this funding to promote STEM education in groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, such as women and racial minorities. Both amendments were accepted by the Committee by unanimous consent.

The Committee also unanimously approved my amendment to permanently authorize and further strengthen the EB-5 Regional Center Program which will benefit the economy. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services--USCIS--estimates that the EB-5 Regional Center Program has created tens of thousands of American jobs and has attracted more than $1 billion in investment in communities all across the United States since 2006.

These amendments are just a few of the many offered to promote jobs and innovation in the non-immigration visa provisions in Title IV of the bill. Other bipartisan proposals to provide assistance for American workers to apply for jobs in the technology sector and establish employee reporting requirements to address potential abuse of the visa system have also been adopted.

The Committee has voted to accept amendments offered by nearly every member of the minority on the Judiciary Committee. Senators Grassley, Hatch, Sessions, Graham, Cornyn, Lee, and Flake have all offered amendments adopted by the Committee to improve the bill. Senators Feinstein, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Franken, Coons, Blumenthal and Hirono have also contributed important amendments to improve the legislation. With the adoption of these amendments, the Committee demonstrated its ability to act in a bipartisan manner to improve this historic legislation.

In an unprecedented effort to achieve transparency during the Judiciary Committee's public proceedings, and to ensure the American people could follow the Committee's consideration of the bill, I made public all 301 amendments filed on Tuesday, May 7, by posting them on the Judiciary Committee's website. In real time, as the Committee accepts or rejects amendments, the Committee's website is updated to reflect which amendments are modified, accepted or fail.

The Judiciary Committee's mark up of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is not yet finished but we have completed work on two of the four titles of the bill as well as the important ``trigger'' provisions. We have been able to focus our extensive consideration of this complex bill for three weeks and still achieve a fair and transparent process for Committee consideration. With the help of the Senators who serve so diligently on the Judiciary Committee from both sides of aisle, I hope by the end of this week that the Committee will have completed its consideration of the legislation and that we will report a comprehensive immigration reform bill to the Senate with the recommendation that it be considered and passed. I look forward to bringing this legislation before the full Senate at the beginning of our next work period.

I note, I hope we will finish that this week. We will go very late tonight, very late tomorrow night, very late Wednesday night, all day Thursday, and all day Friday, if necessary, until we get it finished.


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