06.10.13

The Time Is Now To Consider Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Leahy Urges Senators To Help “Promote the Public’s Engagement in this Process”

WASHINGTON (Monday, June 10, 2013) –In a floor statement Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said the Senate should consider comprehensive immigration reform in an open manner that “will promote the public’s engagement in this process as it did during the Committee’s consideration of the legislation.”

First, Leahy noted, Senators should support a procedural motion to consider the bipartisan measure.

“The legislation before us is the result of a bipartisan group of Senators who came together and made an agreement,” Leahy said of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.  “What was initially a proposal from the so-called ‘gang of eight’ became, through the Committee process, the product of a group of 18, supported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee.  If Senators who have come together to help develop this bill keep their commitments, I have no doubt that we will be able to end this filibuster and pass this fair but tough legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Leahy also highlighted an editorial in The Barre Montpelier Times Argus, which called the Judiciary Committee’s proceedings a “lesson in democracy.”  The Committee held five markups and debated the legislation for more than 35 hours last month, ultimately approving the bill on a bipartisan 13-5 vote. 

“The bill now before the Senate is not the bill that I would have drafted,” he said.  “But despite many shortcomings as a result of compromise, the bill before the Senate is worthy of this chamber’s immediate attention and support.  It is time for us to proceed to this bill, and to get to the business of legislating.”

An amended version of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, which also includes technical corrections, is available online.  The committee report is also available online.

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 Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity,
and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744
June 10, 2013

When 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 live on the Committee’s website and broadcast on C-SPAN.  We made available on our website proposed amendments, and reported developments 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.  The bill, as amended, was supported by a bipartisan, two-thirds majority of the Committee.

I appreciated President Obama’s remarks this weekend about immigration reform.  I agree with him that we must move in a timely way.  The time is now for the Senate to act.  I hope we can take some of the same steps in the Senate that we took in the Judiciary Committee during our debate on this legislation to promote an efficient and transparent process.   

During our Committee consideration last month, an editorial in The Barre Montpelier Times Argus termed our proceedings a “lesson in democracy.”   Our Committee proceedings demonstrated to the American people and the world how the Senate can and should fulfill its responsibilities, despite our differences. 

The Ranking Republican on the Committee, the senior Senator from Iowa, and I were on different sides of the legislation but we were able to work well together.  I hope we can continue to work in a bipartisan way.  Although he voted against the bill, the senior Senator from Iowa said that had his vote been necessary to report the bill to the Senate, he would have voted to do so.  I appreciated that sentiment and look forward to his cooperation.

I have proposed to Senator Grassley, who, as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee will be managing the bill for the minority, that we try to replicate here in the Senate the fair and transparent process we were able to achieve in the Committee. To that end, once the Senate is able to proceed to the bill, I suggest that we establish a filing deadline for amendments as we did at the outset of our Committee consideration.  Ideally, we would then work together to group amendments for consideration by issue or title as we did in Committee.  Doing so will promote the public’s engagement in this process as it did during the Committee’s consideration of the legislation.   It will help us in our efforts to ensure the Senate's timely consideration of this important legislation.  

Yet, in order for Senators to be able to file amendments and work on this bill, the Senate first needs to proceed to the bill.  Republicans and Democrats worked together to develop this legislation. Senators from both sides of the aisle, including the Senator from Alabama, who has already spoken on the Senate Floor at length about this legislation, had amendments adopted in Committee.  Almost none of the more than 135 amendments adopted by the Judiciary Committee were adopted on party-line votes.  We should be able to work together to ensure consideration of amendments and then proceed to a vote on final passage without filibusters.

I had hoped the Senate would turn immediately to the consideration of amendments to this important bill, and I regret that tomorrow afternoon, instead, we will vote on cloture on a procedural motion to allow use to begin debate on this bill.  The legislation before us is the result of a bipartisan group of Senators 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, supported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee.  If Senators who have come together to help develop this bill keep their commitments, I have no doubt that we will be able to end this filibuster and pass this fair but tough legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.

There is broad agreement that our Nation’s immigration system is broken and in need of a comprehensive solution.  This bipartisan legislation will achieve this and given the impact the broken system has on our economy and our families, we cannot afford delay.  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. 

Comprehensive immigration reform was last on the Senate floor six years ago.  When it was blocked by the minority party, the former chairman of our Immigration Subcommittee, Ted Kennedy, said: “A minority in the Senate rejected a stronger economy that is fairer to our taxpayers and our workers. A minority of the Senate rejected America's own extraordinary immigrant history and ignored our Nation's most urgent needs. But we are in this struggle for the long haul. . . . As we continue the battle, we will have ample inspiration in the lives of the immigrants all around us.”  He was right and we are back-- in strength.  A small minority of the Senate that continues to reject this measure should not prevail this time.

I have taken inspiration from many sources, from our shared history as immigrants, from the experiences of my own grandparents, from my wife’s parents, from our courageous witnesses Jose Antonio Vargas and Gaby Pacheco and, as Senator Kennedy noted, from the millions of American families that will be more secure when we enact comprehensive immigration reform.  During his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Vargas asked the Committee: “What do you want to do with us?  What do you want to do with me?”  This legislation answers Mr. Vargas and sends a message to the millions of others who are looking to Senators to be true to our “extraordinary” history and tradition as a Nation of immigrants. 

I am encouraged that some on the other side of the aisle are signaling their support for this legislation, and I welcome the support of those who supported immigration reform in the past and who support this effort again. I trust that those Republican Senators who helped draft this legislation will be with us for the long haul.  I hope they will be firm in their commitments, and will defend the legislation that they asked 14 members of the Judiciary Committee to consider and approve. I hope they will not look for excuses to abandon what has been and what needs to be a bipartisan effort. 

The bill now before the Senate is not the bill that I would have drafted.  I voted for amendments in the Judiciary Committee that were rejected and I voted against amendments that were accepted.  I withheld an amendment on what to me is an issue of fundamental fairness in ending discrimination, after Republican Senators pledged to abandon their support for this bill had that amendment been adopted.  But despite many shortcomings as a result of compromise, the bill before the Senate is worthy of this chamber’s immediate attention and support.  It is time for us to proceed to this bill, and to get to the business of legislating.

 

The Congress was unable to achieve this goal during the last decade.  Now, in the second decade of the 21st Century, we again have the opportunity to make the reforms we so desperately need to carry us forward and strengthen our Nation.  As I said on the Senate floor late last week, 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 America’s history of immigration.

 

I ask that a copy of the editorial to which I have referred be included in the Record.

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