09.16.15

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Need to End Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Pass Immigration Reform September 16, 2015

The United States has a proud and unique history as a nation of immigrants. Ever since our founding, we have been a beacon of hope for those seeking opportunity.  Generation after generation, our nation has greatly benefited from the entrepreneurial spirit that these newcomers bring with them.  That is as true today as it was 200 years ago.

Our nation’s history with immigration has not always been a story of acceptance.  Newcomers have often faced resistance, isolation, discrimination and even racist opposition.  Many of us here in this body know those painful stories from our own immigrant families – others here have felt the stinging words of bigotry themselves.  My grandparents faced signs telling them to not bother applying for work because of their ancestry but those old stories are hard to imagine today.

That is why it is so shocking to hear the steady rise in racist, xenophobic rhetoric coming from the Republican field of presidential candidates.  These statements are offensive and have no place in our national dialogue.  Those who use such rhetoric are fear mongering for political gain.  Even in today’s hyped up political theater, this kind of language is unacceptable.  It is hurtful, harmful, and just plain wrong.

It is incumbent on all of us to speak out against this dehumanizing discourse.  A topic as important as immigration is worthy of debate, but in an informed and thoughtful manner.  This weekend, Steve Case, a co-founder of America Online, took a powerful stand in an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “Business Leaders Must Speak Out Against Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric.”  Two years ago, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I invited Mr. Case to testify before the committee when we were considering comprehensive immigration reform, and he has continued to be a leader on the issue.  He is right to stand up, speak out, and call on all Americans to reject the ugly words we are hearing from too many political actors on one of the most pressing matters facing our country.

The growing partisan rhetoric that attempts to equate immigrants with criminals and suggests we deport them en mass is both irrational and dangerous.  It is time that they stop.  The characterization of immigrants as criminals here to harm us and our communities is not just beneath the dignity of anyone who seeks to lead this Nation as president, it simply is not supported by the evidence.  Anyone who listened to the extensive testimony that the Senate Judiciary Committee collected two years ago will know that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than those born in the United States.  Many become job producers and the vast majority are hardworking members of our communities who support our economy and strengthen our neighborhoods.  No less than Grover Norquist testified that “Increased legal immigration will add millions of consumers, workers, renters, and others who will make our economy larger by working with Americans to produce more of the goods and services we demand.”

We must put an end to this destructive anti-immigrant rhetoric and find a way back to the constructive, bipartisan approach to reforming our immigration system.  The Senate Judiciary Committee played a critical role in that effort and I am proud of the productive, respectful debates that marked our consideration of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.  Both Democrats and Republicans praised the process as fair and thorough.  Bipartisanship was a priority, and of the 136 amendments we adopted in Committee, all but 3 passed on a bipartisan basis.  As a result of that remarkable effort, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform with overwhelming support.  If House Republican leaders had simply brought that bill up for a vote, it would have passed and been the law of the land.  We would have taken an enormous step forward as a country to fix our broken immigration system.  

That bill is an example of all we can accomplish when we put aside hateful slogans and focus on our primary job of actually legislating. I hope that we will return to a bipartisan approach this Congress so that we can again pass legislation that strengthens our communities and our economy, improves our border security, and keeps families together. 

There is still strong support for meaningful immigration reform in the Senate, and that is what we should work on here in Congress.  There is no excuse for continued inaction and scapegoating.  The time for immigration reform is now.

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