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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 2412. A bill to address homeland security issues relating to first responders, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the use of technology, Federal, State, and local coordination, and critical infrastructure, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today, I am introducing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Implementation Act of 2006. This legislation will provide $41.625 billion over the next 10 years to help ensure that we implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Back in July of 2004, the 9/11 Commission--with distinguished bipartisan leadership from former Republican Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton--issued its report with recommendations of what the government should do to help better protect the Nation.

Nearly a year and a half later, they issued a so-called report card to tell us how well the government had been doing at implementing their recommendations.

Well, it doesn't look good. That report card was riddled with Cs, Ds, Fs, and incompletes.

Most Americans believe that we've taken the obvious steps to close the gaps in our homeland defense. They believe that at the very least, we have a plan, that we've set priorities, and that we know what the next steps are.

But, let me quote from the Commission's report card from December on what we've done to assess the risks and vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure--transportation, communications, and industrial assets.

Here's what they say--and I quote--``no risk and vulnerability assessments have actually been made. No national priorities are yet established. No recommendations have been made on the allocation of scarce resources. All key decisions on homeland security are at least a year away.''

We all remember 9/11, when we learned for the first time that local police, fire, and rescue units could not communicate with each other and could not communicate with Federal agencies. We saw how this inability probably resulted in many deaths that could have been prevented. Well, we learned during Hurricane Katrina that things are no better today. No better today.

The one place I think most Americans think we've probably done pretty well--passenger screening--actually got an ``F.'' The 9/11 commission reports stated that, in fact, ``few improvements have been made to the existing passenger screening system since right after 9/11.'' With respect to checked bag and cargo screening for commercial flights, the 9/11 Commission gave a score of ``D'', stating that ``improvements have not been made a priority by Congress or the Bush Administration.''

This is unacceptable. This Administration hasn't even filled in the very obvious gaps in our homeland defense. We haven't done it. We simply haven't done it.

The bill that I am introducing today will ensure that we address the most obvious gaps in our homeland defense. It begins with those areas where the Commission graded us and the President as ``F'' and ``D.'' And, it addresses those areas that were outside the scope of the report but are commonsense things that we should be doing, such as securing the rails and providing funding for local law enforcement.

And it's pretty basic. We have done nothing much to deal with the problems most Americans know relate to homeland security. We are safer but not nearly safe enough. The bipartisan commission that got great grades from everybody in the Nation felt compelled on their own dime, their own money, their own resources, not funded by the government, to continue to issue reports and to hold hearings. And they issued a report on December 5 that is, quite frankly, embarrassing and dangerous.

We can and we have to marshal all our country's resources in this struggle. Do you think that the American people would rather us spend this money on securing our ports, our chemical plants, our railroads, our cities, or give it back as a tax break for the wealthiest Americans? Given the choice, the American people said, let's make our streets safer. I'm confident they think we should make the country safer. This legislation will help take us down that path, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

By Mr. BIDEN (for himself and Mr. LUGAR):

S. 2413. A bill to establish the Return of Talent Program to allow aliens who are legally present in the United States to return temporarily to the country of citizenship of the alien if that country is engaged in post-conflict or natural disaster reconstruction, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, two of the greatest challenges we face today are how to address the needs of post-conflict countries, and countries that are suffering from large-scale natural disasters. These are critical issues, and ones that we cannot afford to get wrong--for the sake of the people living in those nations, and for the sake of our own security.

On the post-conflict front, a 2004 commission organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Association of the U.S. Army found, to no one's surprise, that ``failed states matter--for national security as well as for humanitarian reasons. If left to their own devices, such states can become sanctuaries for terrorist networks, organized crime and drug traffickers, as well as posing grave humanitarian challenges and threats to regional stability.''

The most obvious case in point is the reconstruction of Iraq. I've spent many hours on this floor, for three years, making clear that we have to get it right in Iraq. And in addition to Iraq, unfortunately, we can talk about many other states that are either unstable, or are tenuously recovering from past conflicts including Liberia, Afghanistan, East Timor, Kosovo, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Earthquakes, floods, drought and landslides often have the most dire impacts in developing countries that are the least equipped to respond. The countries ravaged by the 2004 tsunami are on a path to recovery, but there is still a long way to go: Indonesia lost over 150,000 people, with half a million left homeless. In India, almost 20,000 people lost their lives and 2.79 million people were affected, losing homes, land, and livestock. The tsunami set back the Maldives twenty years in development, eviscerating the country's economic backbone and tourism industry.

Recent years also saw devastating natural disasters in other parts of the world. Earthquakes in Iran affected more than 30,000 people. Catastrophic floods in Bangladesh left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Recurring droughts in Afghanistan left over 130,000 people--some 92 percent of the population--in need of food or aid.

We need comprehensive--and creative--strategies to address the need to rebuild in countries on the rebound from conflicts or natural disasters. One such strategy is to tap into the store of human as well as financial resources here in the United States. We should allow, and indeed encourage, immigrants to use their skills, talents, and knowledge to help rebuild their native lands. In fact, the diaspora presents one of the best collective resources that exists: these individuals know the communities. They know the culture. They know the language--more than any contractors and more than any humanitarian workers from the outside, no matter how well trained or how much expertise they may have.

So today, I am introducing legislation that would create a ``Return of Talent'' visa program.

The idea is simple: a Return of Talent program would allow legal immigrants in the United States to return home to help with reconstruction efforts. ``Legal Permanent Residents'' will be able to return temporarily to their countries after a conflict or a significant natural disaster to help rebuild, without their time out of the United States affecting their ability to meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

Under current law, a Legal Permanent Resident who wants to apply for U.S. citizenship is required to be physically present in the United States for at least half of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application.

This residency requirement could be particularly difficult to meet for those who may have family and friends in their country of origin who are in desperate need of help. We should not stand in their way of returning, allowing them to bring their talent and expertise home, helping them help others at a time of greatest need.

Press articles have highlighted stories of such individuals--engineers, bankers, teachers and translators--who are willing to contribute to reconstruction efforts. They simply cannot do so without jeopardizing their immigration status.

This legislation would encourage those skilled and committed individuals to return to their countries of origin to revive the business, industry, agriculture, education, health and other sectors that have been weakened or destroyed after years of conflict or devastating disasters.

The Return of Talent program would include any individual who demonstrates an ability and willingness to make a material contribution to the post-conflict or natural disaster reconstruction in their country of origin.

The program would apply to immigrants from countries where U.S. armed forces have engaged in armed conflict or peacekeeping, or countries where the United Nations Security Council has authorized peacekeeping operations in the past ten years. Immigrants from countries which received funding from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance also would be eligible to participate in the program.

Estimates of individuals who could participate in this program are relatively low. For example, the United States admitted 2,137 Afghani and 3,494 Iraqi immigrants in 2004 who are now Legal Permanent Residents eligible to pursue U.S. citizenship. Immigrants from Indonesia numbered 2,418 and Bangladesh, 8,061 in the same year. Yet, while the program would have a small impact on the U.S. naturalization process, the contributions of even a few hundred individuals could have a tremendous positive effect on reconstruction work.

In simple terms, a Return of Talent program makes sense. Everybody wins: The United States is able to support badly needed rebuilding efforts without increasing foreign aid; immigrants are able to use their skills and resources to help communities without jeopardizing their immigration status; and the people recovering from conflict and disaster receive much-needed assistance.

A Return of Talent program is an important piece of our overall strategy to stabilize and rebuild countries torn by conflict and devastated by natural disaster. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 2413


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