U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) today voted in favor of S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 68-32, represents the most significant reform of America's immigration policy in recent history by offering millions of undocumented immigrants an earned pathway to citizenship.
Also included in the final bill is an amendment offered by Senator King that would save and reform the State Department's J1 Visa program, which exists to foster increased global understanding through sponsor-based educational and cross cultural exchanges. The immigration reform bill, as initially written, would have effectively killed the program by including it in a well-intended but overly-broad provision meant to curtail abuses across all visa programs. Senator King's amendment will reform the program to combat abuses by giving the State Department greater authority to oversee and regulate fees and increase disclosure and transparency. As a result, the amendment would preserve a valuable diplomatic exchange program while also allowing law-abiding sponsors to remain in business.
Senator King said:
"Today's bipartisan vote marks an enormous step forward in repairing an immigration system that is almost universally regarded as broken and dysfunctional. The comprehensive legislation not only strengthens our borders, deters illegal activities, and supports those who have followed the law, but it also rightly establishes an opportunity to earn citizenship -- not grant amnesty -- so that America's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants can emerge from the shadows and contribute more fully to our society. The bill also includes my amendment to save the State Department's J1 Visa Program from virtual elimination, as the original bill language would have done, and reforms it through greater oversight and transparency in order to preserve a valuable diplomatic program that has for nearly half a decade promoted vital cross-cultural exchanges.
"Like any compromise, however, the legislation is not perfect. For example, while I support efforts to better secure our border, the expensive $30 billion price tag to substantially increase border protection personnel is excessive. I'm also disappointed that the bill doesn't include my other amendments to improve assistance to refugees and to allow asylum seekers to pursue work authorization when they apply for asylum. I am hopeful that these provisions will be introduced in the House.
"At the end of the day, though, this bill represents substantial progress. No other country in the history of the world was built in the way of America -- through the constant infusion of new ideas, new people, and new energy, and I'm pleased this bill will help promote that defining endeavor."