The majority of this week in the Senate was spent on S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
I believe that immigration reform is an important issue that our country must address--that's why I voted to begin debate on this bill several weeks ago. Although this bill is in some ways an improvement from the immigration bill in 2007, I had hoped that the Senate would produce a bipartisan bill that truly solved the many issues plaguing our nation's outdated immigration system. Unfortunately, the amendment process did not allow for the changes I felt necessary to support the bill.
I have said for many years and from day one of this debate that border security is my top priority, and I am disappointed that S.744 does not ensure true border security. I voted against S.744 on Thursday because it contained several waivers and loopholes that could allow those who are here illegally to obtain green cards before our nation's borders are truly secure. The bill passed by a vote of 68 to 32.
The Senate's vote is just the beginning of the process. I look forward to seeing what the U.S. House of Representatives produces on immigration reform, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to fix our nation's broken immigration system.
Army Restructuring and Impact on Fort Stewart
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army announced it will inactivate twelve brigade combat teams (BCTs), as part of plans to reduce end strength by 80,000 soldiers. Eight installations across the country will each lose one BCT, and two BCTs in Europe are already scheduled for inactivation.
This significant reduction in the size and capability of the Army results from the Obama administration's decision to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reduce the size of its force from the current level of 562,000 to 490,000 by the end of 2017.
In order to reduce the number of BCTs, the Army decided to cut one brigade at each location where more than one brigade combat team were stationed. While Fort Benning and Fort Gordon were left largely untouched by these reductions, the Army will inactivate one BCT at Fort Stewart. The Army will add a battalion to each of the remaining two BCTs to mitigate the impact to Fort Stewart and the surrounding community.
Fort Stewart will see a net loss of approximately 1,300 soldiers and their families.
These cuts are not a part of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which are set to reduce military spending by an additional $500 billion by 2022. If sequestration remains in effect, the Army could reduce force structure by an additional 100,000 soldiers.
While I am disappointed to hear of the plan to eliminate a brigade combat team at Fort Stewart, I understand the Army is responding to its changing mission and to the requirements of the Budget Control Act of 2011 to reduce spending and reduce our debt. It is important to note that Fort Stewart will still be home to 19,000 soldiers and their families--that's 4,000 more troops than were stationed at Fort Stewart prior to September 11, 2001.
At the same time, I am happy that Fort Benning and Fort Gordon will not lose troops. I will continue to work with Senator Chambliss to prevent additional cuts while ensuring our nation's military readiness is always our prime consideration.
Legislation to Compensate Iran Hostage Crisis Victims
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed by voice vote the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, S.559. I introduced this legislation along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that would properly compensate the 52 victims of the Iran Hostage Crisis for the 444 days they were held captive. The compensation would come from fees collected from violations of Iran sanctions.
The 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days when Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979 deserve more than the small compensation they received upon their release more than 30 years ago. Many of the hostages were terrorized and subjected to torture while held captive. In 1981, the hostages were freed by the Algiers Accords--an agreement between the U.S. and Iran that settled the crisis--that barred hostages from seeking damages for their imprisonment.
Since that time, a group of 45 former hostages have sought to collect damages in court challenges over the years, but their efforts have been halted by the Algiers Accords, which was the deal brokered between the United States and Iran to release the hostages and prohibits the hostages from suing Iran. Our legislation provides an alternative avenue for the victims to collect compensation without violating the Algiers Accords.
I applaud the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their support of this legislation. The 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days deserve meaningful compensation for their horrendous captivity during the Iran hostage crisis, which unfolded on the nightly news 30 years ago and which has been brought back to light today by the Oscar winning film, Argo. I urge my Senate and House colleagues to quickly pass this bipartisan legislation so that those who have suffered will finally receive what they rightfully deserve. Congress must also pass this bill to send a signal to our Foreign Service members that we have their backs.
What's on Tap?
Next week, the Senate will not be in session in observance of Independence Day. Among other meetings and activities during the week, I will be speaking at the Rotary Club of Dalton's weekly meeting on July 2. I also look forward to celebrating and remembering the ideals upon which our nation is founded. Thank you to all of our veterans and the men and women in our armed forces working each day to maintain our freedom. May God bless them and may God bless America.