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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act--Continued--

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. First, over the last few moments I had a chance to listen to the Senator from Louisiana. I just want to applaud the tenacity with which she approaches her duties in this Chamber. She is a terrific colleague. When there is something she thinks is the right thing to do, she will fight very hard to get that done.

I am here to say a word in support of the bipartisan immigration legislation we are looking at. In the months that led up to this debate, I have met with people across Rhode Island to discuss our pressing need for national immigration reform. Rhode Island, like Connecticut--perhaps even more than Connecticut--is a State with a proud tradition of immigration, and our many immigrant communities make our State stronger and more vibrant.

I have heard from leaders of our Latino communities which are the fastest growing share of our State's population and workforce. I have heard from leaders of my State's other immigrant communities, particularly including members of our Liberian community, many of whom fled civil war in their home country but are unable to fully participate in the American
dream because of the uncertainty of their immigration status. I have heard from leaders in Rhode Island's technology industry who often have trouble recruiting talented employees they want to hire to fill a specific need, but the people they are looking for cannot obtain a timely green card. I met with men and women who are struggling to find work after losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers.

From all of those stories, one message comes through loudly and clearly: Our immigration system is broken. There are 11 million people living in the shadows. These are people who want to work to support their families and contribute to our communities. Eligible, legal immigrants can wait years, even decades to gain entry to this country. Then we educate the best and brightest from around the world, but too often we tell them they cannot remain in this country after they graduate.

The bill before us offers a bipartisan solution to these problems. It provides a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already in this country, including the DREAMers, the children who were brought here at an early age and who are American already in every meaningful sense of the word.

The pathway that is created by this bill is tough, but it is fair. It prevents dangerous criminals from becoming citizens. It requires undocumented immigrants to pay a fine, to learn English, and to work. But for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our Nation, it offers a way out of the shadows. That is why, as this debate continues, we should reject amendments that would place further obstacles in that path to citizenship.

This bill also significantly improves the security of our southern border--a border that is already more secure than at any time in our Nation's history. Under President Obama, the number of Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled. Border crossings are down. This bill will build on these successes by giving the Department of Homeland Security tools to further strengthen border enforcement. This bill makes real improvements to our legal immigration system. It will allow spouses and children of permanent residents to come to this country without unnecessary delay.

I recently heard a heartbreaking story from a woman in Cranston, RI, who told me her husband might be forced to return to his native country while he waits for up to 2 years to receive a green card--leaving her at home alone for those 2 years to care for her disabled child.

This bill will also make our Nation more competitive by helping us to attract the best and brightest from around

the world. Two years ago I met with a talented young man named Love Sarin who studied for his doctorate at Brown University and then founded a company in Providence that developed technology to help protect communities from the harm of mercury exposure. But when he applied for a green card, he was denied even though he had been educated at one of our universities, was creating jobs in our country, and was helping to protect our health and environment.

More recently, I received a letter from Charles in East Providence who says this issue is ``close to [his] heart,'' and it is. His girlfriend just finished her second master's degree program at Johnson and Wales University. But unless she finds an employer willing to sponsor her for a visa, she may have to return to her native China. ``These young people want to stay here and want to succeed,'' Charles wrote.

This bill will allow more talented individuals in the sciences and other fields to stay here and contribute to our economy. Let me compliment the eight sponsors of this legislation for their tireless efforts to find a reasonable middle ground. This bill is a compromise. No one can say they got everything they wanted, but on balance this bill is our best opportunity to fix our Nation's broken immigration system. It is our best opportunity in years.

As we now know, this bill will reduce our deficit by nearly $900 billion over the next 20 years.

Let me also compliment our Judiciary Chairman Senator Leahy for his leadership in getting us to this point. The markup of this legislation by Chairman Leahy's committee was thorough, fair, and transparent. The committee adopted 141 amendments--nearly all of them on a bipartisan basis--and the bill is stronger and better today than when it was introduced.

I was proud that three of my amendments were adopted, all of them unanimously, by the committee. My first amendment provided both American workers and workers on H-1B visas with a way of reporting H-1B program violations. At my community dinners back home, I heard stories of Rhode Island workers who were replaced by foreign workers on H-1B visas. One day they are at work, the next day they are gone, and a foreign worker is doing their job. Some were even forced to train their replacements.

These workers had nowhere to turn. My amendment creates a Department of Labor toll-free hotline and a Web site for American and foreign workers to report possible violations of H-1B visa rules and an inspector general audit.

My second amendment expands the bill's INVEST visa, which is issued to qualified foreign-born entrepreneurs so they can come and create businesses in the United States. My amendment added funding from startup accelerators to the INVEST Program criteria.

As many of my colleagues know, startup accelerators help entrepreneurs get off the ground by providing training, support, and often initial funding. In Providence, one such accelerator called Betaspring has helped launch 57 different companies, creating jobs in our State and across the country. So they will now benefit from the INVEST visa.

I also offered an amendment to allow scientists and researchers with unique skills who wish to serve our country by working in our prestigious National Laboratories to obtain citizenship on an expedited basis provided they pass the necessary rigorous background checks.

I want to thank my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for working with me to include these important provisions on a bipartisan basis. I do believe further improvements can be made on the floor, and I intend to offer several more amendments during this debate.

I am working on two amendments that would leverage our immigration laws to strengthen our Nation's cyber security. One amendment would set aside some entry visas for potential witnesses in investigations and prosecutions of cyber crime. We allow visas to those who help our law enforcement agencies to bring cases against those who are hacking us and trying to steal our intellectual property and potentially even sabotaging our critical infrastructure. Another amendment would ensure that enablers and beneficiaries of hackers who steal our American intellectual property do not benefit from our immigration system. It would allow our government to designate entities and individuals who are associated with criminal hackers and say: Forget it. If you are involved in supporting criminal hacking of our cyber networks, you are not getting a visa. Your employees are not getting visas, and your organizations cannot support visa applications.

I also intend to offer an amendment relating to the E-Verify system, clarifying that employers need not reverify the authorization of workers retaining the same position under the new employers. As new companies take over existing service contracts, workers in certain low-skilled positions can find themselves working for dozens of employers over their careers without ever changing their job. They are not changing their job, the employers are changing, and they should not have to reverify every time. That is a needless burden on both the employer and the employee.

In addition, I filed an amendment to close what is referred to as the terror gap. Right now, believe it or not, nothing in our laws prevents a suspected terrorist from legally purchasing a firearm even if a background check reveals he is on the terrorist watch list. My amendment would give the Attorney General the authority to prohibit the transfer of firearms to suspected terrorists on the terrorist watch list. That seems like common sense, and this amendment was based on legislation introduced by our late colleague, Senator Frank Lautenberg.

I am very aware of his presence as I stand here because with his departure, his desk moved over to the other side of the aisle, and my desk moved into his space. So now I am actually standing in Frank's spot.

Frank was a tireless advocate for protecting our communities from the scourge of gun violence. I know as Democrats and Republicans we are divided on gun issues. But if there is a gun issue we ought to be able to come together on, it is that the people who are on the terrorist watch list should not be able to buy firearms legally in this country. I hope we can at least agree on that.

Finally, Chairman Leahy has also put forward an important and worthy amendment that would provide for the equal treatment of all families under our immigration laws. I was extremely proud to stand with Rhode Island's Governor Lincoln Chafee last month as he signed into law legislation making Rhode Island the 10th State in the country to provide for marriage equality. It is time that our immigration system catches up with States such as Rhode Island, and I was pleased to vote for this amendment in the committee.

I will say I also understand and appreciate and indeed honor the position the group of Senators who put this bill together have taken, that they need to vote to protect their bill and their agreement. So on our side, Senator Schumer, Senator Durbin, Senator Bennet, and Senator Menendez may have to take positions to make sure this bill goes forward and passes, and I wish to be on record as saying that I may vote differently than they do, but I certainly appreciate the position they are in, and I think it is honorable on their part to stick with the deal they have agreed to and to work hard to make sure this immigration bill passes.

Chairman Leahy, the chairman of our committee, has worked for years to ensure that all families are treated fairly under immigration law. I have been very proud to support his efforts. I see no reason why treating all marriages equally should be so controversial, much less a reason for blocking our best hope for comprehensive immigration reform.

I will conclude by saying I look forward to working in earnest with my colleagues toward an immigration system that is worthy of our great Nation. It is time to come together, fix our broken immigration system, and make this a system of which we can be proud. I urge all of my colleagues to join in this important task.

I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.


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