Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, S.744 and Immigration Modernization Act

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held lengthy and extensive public markup sessions to consider the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act,    S. 744.  We worked late into the evenings debating the bill and considering hundreds of amendments.  The public witnessed our consideration first hand, saw our proceedings streamed on the internet and broadcast on television.  We posted proposed amendments on our website and updated the Committee’s website to include adopted amendments in real time.  Members from both sides of the aisle praised the transparent process and the significant improvements to the bill made by the Judiciary Committee.  This mark up process followed three additional hearings on the bill with 26 witnesses. The bill, as amended, was supported by a bipartisan, two-thirds majority of the Committee.

I have sent that bill, S.744, to the Senate on behalf of the Judiciary Committee and am filing an extensive Committee report, as well.  The report should be a valuable resource for Senators.  It explains not only the underlying provisions in the legislation and its history but also summarizes all amendments that were adopted and others that were rejected.    

In order for all Senators to be able to file amendments and work on this bill, the Senate first needs to proceed to the bill.  I had hoped that what has become all too typical obstruction would not infect these proceedings.  Senators from both sides of the aisle worked together to develop this legislation. Senators from both sides of the aisle had amendments adopted by the Judiciary Committee.  Almost none of the more than 135 amendments adopted by the Judiciary Committee were adopted on party-line votes, unlike this week’s vote in the House in which nearly every member of the Republican conference stood together to prevent DREAMERers from being able to stay in our country.  These young people are here through no fault of their own.  They have enriched our Nation and this debate, and I am proud we in the Senate are considering inclusive legislation that supports them.  I hope a fair process in the Senate finally prompts action in the other chamber.

The dysfunction in our current immigration system affects all of us and it is long past time for reform. As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both sides of the aisle said at the conclusion of our proceedings, this is a matter of great significance to the American people and the Senate should debate it.  Yet the Senate is being delayed from doing so by a small minority of opponents. 


The legislation we seek to bring before the Senate was the result of Senators from both sides of the aisle who came together and made an agreement.  What was initially a proposal from the so-called “gang of eight” became, through the Committee process, the product of a group of 18.  Amendments authored by 17 of those 18 members were adopted into the bill.  A bipartisan majority of more than two-thirds of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for the bill that the Senate is being called upon to consider. 


I am honored to serve as both the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and as the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, an office established in Article I, section 3 of the Constitution of the United States.   I have been privileged to serve the people of Vermont for more than 45 years, the last 38 as their Senator. One thing I learned many years ago is how important it is for Senators to keep their commitments, to keep their word, to stay true to their agreements.  If Senators who have come together to help develop this bill do those things, I have no doubt that we will be able to end this filibuster and pass this fair but tough legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.

I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action without the prolonged partisanship that often paralyzes this chamber.  We need an immigration system that lives up to American values. This is a time when we are called upon to come together.  Few topics are more fundamental to who we are as a Nation than immigration.  The Statue of Liberty has long proclaimed America’s welcome:  “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. . . . Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” That is what America has stood for and what we should continue to represent.  Immigration throughout our history has been an ongoing source of renewal of our spirit, our creativity and our economic strength.  

Our bipartisan legislation establishes a path to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. It addresses the lengthy backlogs in our current immigration system – backlogs that have kept families apart sometimes for decades. It grants a faster track to the DREAMers brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, and to agricultural workers who provide our Nation’s critical food supply. It makes important changes to the visas used by dairy farmers and the tourists and by immigrant investors who are creating jobs in our communities. It addresses the needs of law enforcement, which requires the help of immigrants who witness crime or are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. It improves the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers so that the United States will remain the beacon of hope in the world.  And it will make us all safer.

This is a measure the Senate should come together to consider and pass.  We should do what is right, what is fair, and what is just.  Immigration reform is an important economic issue, a civil rights issue and a fairness issue.  If a majority of us stand together and if we stay true to our values and our agreements, I believe that we can pass legislation to write the next great chapter in the American history of immigration. 

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