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Amending Section 1059(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, in the 111th Congress, I worked closely with Senator Lugar on two pieces of legislation to improve our immigration laws in small but meaningful ways. My bill, the Refugee Opportunity Act, would provide refugees and asylees more opportunity to become self-sustaining, productive members of their new American communities. Senator Lugar's bill, which I was proud to support, would have permitted lawful permanent residents to return, without penalty to their citizenship process, to their country of nationality to assist in post-conflict or disaster reconstruction efforts. Both of these bills, the Refugee Opportunity Act and the Return of Talent Act, were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March of 2010. Unfortunately, undefined Republican objections stalled the progress for both of these bipartisan bills.

The Refugee Opportunity Act would provide relief from the continuous presence requirement in the immigration law for certain refugees and asylees. Specifically, the legislation would waive the requirement for refugees or asylees who worked overseas, if such presence outside the United States was in the service of the United States Government, within the refugee or asylee's home country, and within the protection of the United States Government. For refugees and asylees, in order to adjust from that status to lawful permanent resident status, 1 year of continuous presence in the United States is required after arrival. The purpose of the Refugee Opportunity Act was to permit refugees and asylees in the United States, who often arrive after years of persecution or displacement, to take employment opportunities overseas in service of their new government without penalty to their immigration process. The policy goal was to provide encouragement for refugees and asylees to take a step forward on the path to independence and self-sufficiency while assisting the international efforts of their adopted country.

The legislation that Senator Toomey has introduced, and for which he has sought consent in the Senate, would provide this same relief from the continuous presence requirement in the immigration law for recipients of the Special Immigrant Visa. These visas are available to Iraqi and Afghan interpreters or translators who had served the United States armed forces overseas. The bill we pass today would remove barriers for Special Immigrant Visa holders who, after receipt of such a visa, wish to work again for the United States abroad. Like the Refugee Opportunity Act, this bill would waive the applicable presence requirement that the immigrant must satisfy before adjusting his or her status while he or she was outside the United States. In fact, the goals of H.R. 6223 are identical to the bill I introduced over 2 years ago with Senator Lugar--to encourage new arrivals to America to work on behalf of the United States in furthering the goals of our government abroad and to remove barriers to such employment and participation.

Although I am glad that the goals of the Refugee Opportunity Act and the ideal that we do right to encourage new Americans to serve their adopted government are being promoted in the legislation Senator Toomey has sought to pass, I regret that the same cooperation and courtesy we give him today was withheld by some of Senator Toomey's fellow Republican Senators when Senator Lugar and I asked for consent on our legislation to achieve these same goals.


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