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Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief Act, 2005--Conference Report--Continued--

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC - Senate

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the fiscal year 2005 emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces risk their lives to defend ours. They are completing a mission they did not ask for and, in Iraq, a mission that is longer and more dangerous than they were ever told. Yet amid roadside explosions, insurgent attacks, and the loss of some of their closest friends, they wake up each day and do their jobs. They wake up each day and do whatever it takes to leave a democratic Iraq for a free Iraqi people.

This bill is a way for us to support these efforts. With its passage, I sincerely hope our troops will receive all the support and all the equipment they need to do their job. With its passage, I hope we do not hear any more stories about troops driving convoys with unarmored humvees, or about troops going into battle with armor their parents had to send them from home for their birthday. And I sincerely hope this money will be used to train more Iraqis to secure their own country so we can bring home our young people safe and secure.

I particularly thank the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee for working with me on several other emergency spending needs.

I say to Senator Cochran, I appreciate that this bill provides $25 million for the prevention of the avian flu. As some of you may have read, the number of cases in Southeast Asia is increasing, and there is serious concern that this virus could mutate and jump from continent to continent, potentially causing a pandemic that could kill millions of people. We have to work proactively to prevent such a pandemic, and I appreciate the support from the committee chairman as well as the administration on this issue.

Also included in the bill is an amendment I sponsored with my friend from South Carolina, Senator Graham. This amendment will ensure that our injured service members who remain under medical care but are no longer hospitalized will not have to pay for their meals while receiving therapy.

I thank the graciousness of Senator Cochran for adopting that amendment on the floor without debate.

I also joined with Senator Durbin to address the security needs of our judiciary. As some of my colleagues know, a Federal judge in Illinois recently suffered a tragic loss, the murder of her mother and her husband. This bill provides necessary funding for the U.S. Marshal Service to step up its security for our Federal judges.

I commend all those who have been involved, including the chairman, for crafting a number of important measures in this bill. I wish that I could, without any further statement, simply say how proud I am of our troops and move on with the supplemental. Unfortunately, this bill also includes some immigration provisions, known as REAL ID, that cause me enormous concern. Although I will certainly vote for the conference report because of the good measures I have already discussed, it is important to state for the record my serious reservations about REAL ID.

Despite the fact that almost all of these immigration provisions are controversial, the Senate did not conduct a full hearing or debate on any one of them. While they may do very little to increase homeland security, they come at a heavy price for struggling State budgets and our values as a compassionate country. The driver's license provisions in REAL ID, for example, will cost an estimated $100 million over 5 years. States will have to bear the majority of these costs. At a time when budgets are tight, I don't think we should be outsourcing our homeland security to States that can't afford it.

The cost to our Nation's legacy as a refuge for asylum seekers is also heavy. Conferees were able to improve some aspects of REAL ID, including increasing the limit on the number of foreigners who can apply for asylum in the United States, but other provisions intended to eliminate fraudulent asylum applications may end up denying asylum to people who deserve to receive it.

These are costs that call for greater examination. As a sovereign country, we have the right to control and identify those who enter and exit. I have worked with my colleagues to support hundreds of millions of dollars for more Border Patrol agents to help exercise that right. But controlling immigration is a Federal responsibility--it always has been--and it should not come at the expense of State budgets or basic civil liberties. We should have more time to examine and debate the REAL ID provisions as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

These provisions, currently in the bill, are opposed by religious organizations, civil liberties groups, civil rights organizations, church groups, and hundreds of other groups. The legitimate concerns of these groups have not been properly aired in the Senate. I am aware of the fact that the REAL ID Act, despite what I say, despite my reservations, will become law. It will become law not because it is the right thing to do but because the House majority has abused its privilege to attach this unexamined bill to must-pass legislation. This is highly inappropriate, and I hope that all of the Senate will agree to highlight and correct the deficiencies of these immigration provisions in the year to come.

I yield the floor.

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