Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the One Year Anniversary of Senate Passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

One year ago tomorrow, the Senate came together to pass historic legislation to reform our broken immigration system. We did so with a strong bipartisan vote, and after weeks of exhaustive work. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would unite families, spur the economy, and help protect our borders.  Above all else, this historic legislation would create an immigration system that is worthy of our American values.


Today, our system does not reflect the values we hold as a Nation. It is devastating that after one year, the House has yet to pass desperately needed immigration reform. The cost of inaction is all around us: from the millions of workers who are forced to live in the shadows without fully contributing to our economy; to the foreign-born students who are taking their skills overseas when they graduate instead of investing their talents here; to the uncertainty that continues to plague our agricultural and dairy industries because of unstable work visa programs. Families are being torn apart by deportations, and visa applicants around the world find themselves stuck in limbo because of our lengthy visa backlogs. However, nowhere is the cost of inaction more evident than in the faces of the young children sleeping on cold floors in detention centers on our border.  


The humanitarian crisis at the border is growing, and we have a moral duty to address it. I was glad this body came together last year to support my bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which included important new provisions to improve the treatment of unaccompanied children at our border. This vital legislation, signed into law as part of the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, provides additional advocates and support for the unaccompanied youngsters who come to our border often fleeing violence and abuse in their country of origin. I was proud when the Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly to support these important protections for unaccompanied minors. But they address just one piece of a rapidly growing problem. To truly address the crisis we are seeing today, the Republican House must act to pass bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform.


Those Republican critics who claim we must first secure our border before the House will vote on immigration reform should actually read the bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that the Senate passed last year. The bill would double the number of border patrol agents and authorize the completion of a 700-mile wall at the Southern border. This language was a Republican demand during Senate consideration of the legislation. While I did not agree with it, I voted to authorize this so-called “border surge” because I supported the broader reform that would do so much for the families and DREAMers who contribute to the fabric of this Nation. Border security measures take up an entire Title of the legislation, allocating billions of dollars to border security in addition to the considerable expenditures already authorized by existing law. Those measures are reinforced by “triggers” that must be satisfied before undocumented individuals may apply for permanent residence under the bill. These issues were hard-fought in the Senate, and the result was legislation that dramatically reshaped the landscape for border enforcement. So I say again, those who claim we must secure our border before passing immigration reform should look at the bill this Senate passed with broad bipartisan support a year ago.


Americans have seen too much inaction in Washington. The issue before us is too important to simply put off for another time. Just as House Republican leaders set aside partisanship to do what is right by passing the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act, they should again recognize that a majority of the chamber supports passing comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration reform should not be held back due to partisan caucus rules that say only legislation supported by the majority of Republicans can be considered. All members, Democrats and Republicans, should have the courage to vote. House Republican leaders cast aside partisanship and showed their courage last year by bringing the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act to the floor. They should do so again today.


Legislating is about making tough choices. It is not about standing on the sidelines and complaining that this solution is not perfect. It is about supporting efforts that move this country forward. The bipartisan legislation we passed had the support of businesses, community and faith leaders. It received support from groups ranging from the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform to law enforcement, university presidents, civil rights groups, and community advocates. Voices from across the Nation and the political spectrum came together in support of enacting long-overdue reforms.


I have been privileged to serve in this great body for nearly four decades because of the trust of the people of Vermont.  In my time here, I have rarely seen such commitment to an issue as I did last year to comprehensive immigration reform. What was initially a proposal from the so-called ‘gang of eight’ went through an extensive Committee and floor process to allow every Senator to offer their input. The result was an historic bill supported by 68 Senators from both sides of the aisle. I congratulate those Senators for their hard work to pass this historic legislation. They share my belief that the status quo is not an option. President Obama, who has called the crisis at the border an “urgent humanitarian situation,” knows that maintaining the system we have in place today is not an option. We need a long-term plan to address the many problems in our immigration system; and to ensure that in the future we have the tools to address crises like the one we are seeing now.  That solution lies in passing the Senate immigration bill.


There is still time this year to accomplish meaningful and historic reform. I urge Republican leaders in the House not to waste another day and to bring up the bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.


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