06.17.13

Leahy: Vulnerable Populations Must Be Protected

WASHINGTON –Vital safety net programs that protect immigrant women and children should not be stripped during the Senate’s consideration of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Monday.

Some lawmakers are seeking to deny or significantly delay protections currently in the bipartisan legislation that would help individuals who will apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, but Leahy said such protections are crucial to the legislation and to encourage legal immigration. 

“While some may want to look like they are being even tougher on the undocumented population, we all need to consider how further punitive measures may deter people from coming out of the shadows,” Leahy cautioned.  “When kids and pregnant women are put at risk by an urge to punish millions of people who are trying to make a better life for their families, we do not live up to our American values and we do not make this a safer country.”

Leahy also cited leading conservatives who told the Judiciary Committee in testimony that immigrants contribute far more to the nation’s safety net programs than they receive and would also help reduce the federal deficit.  He reiterated that the bill pending before the Senate includes a tough but fair path to citizenship.

“Too often, immigrants have been unfairly blamed and demonized as a drain on our resources,” Leahy added.  “The facts prove the opposite.  We are a nation of immigrants and we should fight to maintain our tradition of protecting the vulnerable and allowing the American dream to be a reality for all in this country.”

Senator Leahy’s floor remarks are below, and his extended remarks can be viewed online.

 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744
June 17, 2013

As we continue yet another week debating S.744, the bipartisan immigration bill, I hope we can make more progress on this vital legislation. 

The American people know that our immigration system is broken and must be fixed.  In order to have an effective solution to this complex problem, we cannot focus simply and obsessively on one border or any single aspect of our immigration system.  We must address all parts of our immigration system.  Yes, we must secure our borders, but we must also reduce the incentives people have to come here illegally or to overstay their visas.  That means we must implement E-Verify so that employers stop hiring those who are not authorized to work here and we must eliminate the extensive backlogs that tear so many families apart.  We must respond to the needs of American farmers and technology companies and investors who create jobs in this country.  And we need to remember that our history and our future as a Nation is based on immigrants when we are considering the legalization process provided in this bill. 

Almost four weeks ago, the Judiciary Committee voted to report this immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan vote of 13 to 5.  I understand that the Congressional Budget Office’s task is a difficult one with a complex, comprehensive measure such as this one.  We had expected their score today.  I hope they are able to get us their official score early tomorrow so that we can move forward to complete consideration of this bill.

In addition to the CBO score we are awaiting, we should also credit the extensive testimony the Judiciary Committee received from former CBO director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin who testified that immigration reform “will increase the productivity growth in the US economy, the fundamental building block of higher standards of living, and generate larger economic growth numbers than we have seen in recent years.”  Specifically, he estimated that reform of this nature would increase growth, so that the “overall growth rate in real GDP would rise from 3.0 percent to 3.9 percent, on average annually, over the first 10 years.  The upshot is that GDP after 10 years would be higher – a difference of $64,700 per capita versus $62,900 per capita.  This higher per capita income of $1,700 after ten years is a core benefit of immigration reform.”  According to Holtz-Eakin, this increase in growth would also help decrease our federal deficit. 

And the Judiciary Committee also received powerful testimony from Grover Norquist who was asked repeatedly by those who oppose this bill whether legalizing immigrants would lead to a drain on our safety net.  His response was that the opposite would occur.  He testified that “immigrants come at the beginning of their working lives, which means they will have years to pay taxes and contribute to the economy before being eligible for entitlements.” It is not every day that I agree with these conservative commentators and advocates but I was happy to invite them to testify before the Committee and commend their analysis to Members who are concerned about the approximated ‘cost’ of reforming our broken immigration system. 

America protects the most vulnerable among us, which include survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as pregnant women, and children.  I am proud to report that there are strong protections in this bill for the treatment of kids caught in the broken immigration enforcement system.  And in the Judiciary Committee we added to the bill’s protections for domestic violence and human trafficking victims.  But the Judiciary Committee also rejected several amendments that sought to take away protections in our safety net programs for immigrants who need them. 

I know that some may want to punish the 11 million undocumented people currently living here in the shadows, and the bill specifically contains a steep financial penalty for that purpose.  The undocumented also need to go to the back of the line and take classes to learn English, but those tough steps are not enough for those who oppose the bipartisan bill.  While some may want to look like they are being even tougher on the undocumented population, we all need to consider how further punitive measures may deter people from coming out of the shadows.  When kids and pregnant women are put at risk by an urge to punish millions of people who are trying to make a better life for their families, we do not live up to our American values and we do not make this a safer country. 

Last week, Senator Hatch filed several amendments to deny or delay protections for the millions of people who will apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status.  I will oppose all of these amendments because they are not fair and they will deter people from coming forward to register, which will make us all less safe. 

It is a cruel irony that when my friends on the other side of the aisle talk about border security, the high cost of implementing their proposed measures are absent from their discussion.  Yet, when we are talking about programs that help kids who live near the poverty line, then suddenly, fiscal concerns are paramount.  So if we are talking about a specific type of fencing or new expensive exit program, our concern is supposed to trump any hesitancy about government spending or dramatically increasing the boon that such proposals would be to government contracting firms.  However, if we are talking about programs that literally feed the hungry or provide vaccinations to children, then we hear lectures about how we cannot afford those programs in the current fiscal environment. 

The bill we are considering prohibits immigrants in registered provisional status from access to any federal means tested public benefit programs throughout their time in provisional status.  In addition, as a result of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996, even qualified legal permanent resident immigrants must wait an additional five years after they are legalized to receive any safety net protections.  So, including the five-year bar, most immigrants who are working their way through the path to legalization will have to wait anywhere from 13 to15 years before having any access to safety net programs.  Given the penalties and fines they have to pay, it is wrong to further deny these low-income families protections that some may desperately need.

Like some of the harsh amendments that have been filed with respect to the safety net, I have seen similarly harmful amendments on the issues of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which were designed to help hardworking families who pay taxes. 

The Earned Income Tax Credit is available only to families that are working and paying payroll taxes.  The EITC is a core part of the tax code – like any other tax credit that adjusts federal tax liability based on families’ circumstances.  It is not, and has never been considered a “public benefit.”  Yet, amendments have been filed seeking to deny the EITC for all registered immigrants for eternity – even after the individual has obtained legal status.  One of these amendments was offered during the Committee process, and was rejected.

I will strongly oppose any amendment to deny hard working families from participating in these tax credits when they are paying payroll taxes. 

Some who oppose comprehensive immigration reform have raised the false alarm that this immigration bill would drain our Social Security Trust Fund and bankrupt our Medicare system.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In an editorial dated June 2, 2013, entitled “A $4.6 Trillion Dollar Opportunity,” the Wall Street Journal states unequivocally that “Immigration reform will improve Social Security’s finances.” 

However, “immigrants unquestionably narrow the funding gap.  More generous immigration is a wise step toward solving the entitlement crisis in Washington.”  I ask that a copy of the editorial be printed in the record.

The goal of this bill is to encourage undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows so we can bring them into our legal system and so everyone will play by the same rules.  If we create a reason for people not to come out and register, then it will defeat the purpose of this entire bill.  Amendments that seek to further penalize the undocumented will encourage them to stay in the shadows.  These steps will not make us safer and will not spur our economy.   

One of the many reasons we need immigration reform is to ensure that there is not a permanent underclass in this great nation.  As part of this effort, we need to continue the vital safety net programs that protect children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations.  Too often, immigrants have been unfairly blamed and demonized as a drain on our resources.  The facts prove the opposite.  We are a nation of immigrants and we should fight to maintain our tradition of protecting the vulnerable and allowing the American dream to be a reality for all in this country.  

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