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[Congressional Record: July 27, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S7749-S7751]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr27jy00-96]                         



 
                   LATINO AND IMMIGRANT FAIRNESS ACT

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise today in support of a bill that 
will correct severe injustices affecting thousands of immigrants to the 
United States, while at the same time strengthening their ability to 
contribute to the U.S. economy and to the struggling economies of their 
countries of birth.
  A short time ago on the floor of the Senate a unanimous consent 
request was made by Senators Kennedy and Harry Reid of Nevada asking 
that this legislation, the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, be 
brought to the floor for immediate consideration. It is very difficult 
to argue that we are so consumed with work in the Chamber of the Senate 
that we can't consider this legislation. In fact, we have done precious 
little over the last several days because of an honest disagreement 
between the leadership on the Democrat and Republican side.
  I do believe this legislation should be brought on a timely basis for 
the consideration of the Senate. The bill in question is the Latino and 
Immigrant Fairness Act. It has the support of an impressively broad 
coalition of groups and individuals, labor unions, business groups, 
human rights groups, religious organizations, conservative and 
progressive think tanks. Empower America supports this bill as pro-
family and pro-market. The AFL-CIO supports it because it is pro-labor.
  The administration is committed to its passage. Perhaps the most 
compelling reason for passing this bill is that it embraces the 
principles of fairness and justice that are of value to the American 
spirit and to the work we do in the Senate.
  I recall, when we discuss the issue of immigration, one of my 
favorite stories involving President Franklin Roosevelt. President 
Roosevelt, of course, came from a somewhat aristocratic family in New 
York and was elected President in 1932. As the first Democratic 
President in many years, he was invited to speak to the Daughters of 
the American Revolution in Washington, DC. Of course, the DAR is an 
organization which prides itself on its Yankee heritage and the fact 
many have descended from those who came over on the Mayflower. They 
have a history of being somewhat skeptical of immigration policy in 
this country. When Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the DAR, his opening 
words set the tone. He introduced himself by saying: Fellow immigrants, 
a reminder to the DAR, a reminder to all of us, with the exception of 
Native Americans, who have been here for many centuries, we are all 
virtually immigrants to this country.
  I am a first generation American. My mother immigrated to this 
country at the age of 2 from the country of Lithuania in 1911. My 
father's family dates back to before the Revolutionary War, so I really 
represent both ends of the spectrum of white immigration to America. 
This bill tries to address the basic principles of immigration fairness 
and justice which we have tried to hold to during the course of this 
Nation's history. I bring particular attention to the Senate to the 
plight of immigrants from Central America and Haiti who have been dealt 
a severe injustice during the past 20 years, one that would be directly 
addressed by this legislation.
  In the recent past, thousands of people from Central America and 
Haiti have been forced to flee their homes in order to save their lives 
and the lives of their families. In Guatemala, hundreds of so-called 
``extra-judicial'' killings occurred every year between 1990 and 1995; 
entire villages ``disappeared'', most probably massacred. In El 
Salvador, political violence was rampant--63,000 people were killed in 
the 1980's by a combination of leftist guerrillas, right-wing death 
squads, and government military actions. Ironically, an end to twelve 
years of civil war did not mean an end to violent internal strife; the 
death toll in 1994 was higher than it was during the war. In Honduras, 
the Department of State's Human Rights Reports cite ``serious 
problems'', including extrajudicial killings, beatings, and a civilian 
and military elite that have long operated with impunity. In September 
1991, Haiti's democratically-elected government was overthrown in a 
violent military coup de'etat that, over a three year period, was 
responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings.
  Current law creates a highly unworkable patchwork approach to the 
status of these immigrants, one that assaults our sense of fair play. 
Immigrants from Nicaragua and Cuba who have lived here since 1995 can 
obtain green card status in the U.S. through a sensible, 
straightforward process. Guatemalans and Salvadorans are covered by a 
different, more stringent and cumbersome set of procedures. A select 
group of Haitian immigrants are classified under another restrictive 
status. Hondurans by yet another. As if this helter-skelter approach 
isn't bad enough, existing policies also treat family members of 
immigrants--spouses and children--differently depending on where they 
live, and under which provision of which law they are covered.
  The United States is known around the world as the land of equal 
opportunity, but the opportunities we are affording to Central American 
and Haitian immigrants who have lived in this country for years are 
anything but equal. The current situation is untenable. Why should a 
family that has set down firm roots in the United States after fleeing 
death squads in Nicaragua be treated differently under the law

[[Page S7750]]

than another family from, say, El Salvador, who left that country for 
precisely the same reason. The point was made brutally clear when 
Amnesty International documented the case of Santana Chirino Amaya, 
deported back to El Salvador and subsequently found decapitated. This, 
and many similar stories, led to charges that the U.S. was engaged in a 
``systematic practice'' of denying asylum to some nationals, regardless 
of the merits of their claims. A class-action lawsuit brought by the 
American Baptist Churches and other faith-based organizations on behalf 
of Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants made a similar case, and was 
eventually settled in favor of those seeking a fairer hearing.
  Or consider the plight of Maria Orellana, a war refugee from El 
Salvador, who fled the country when soldiers killed two members of her 
family. She has lived the past ten years in the United States. 
Recently, the INS ordered her deported even though she is eight months 
pregnant and even though her husband--himself an immigrant--has legal 
status here and expects to soon be sworn in as a U.S. citizen. When a 
newspaper reporter asked the INS to comment on Maria's case, the reply 
was: ``I don't know why Congress wrote it differently for people of 
different countries. We're not in a position to change a law given to 
us by Congress . . . we just enforce the law as written.''
  Well, the law, in this case, was written badly, and needs to be 
fixed. The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act would resolve these many 
inequities by providing a level playing field on which all immigrants 
from this region with similar histories would be treated equally under 
the law. And it would address two other issues of great importance to 
the immigrant community as well.
  The provision to restore Section 245(i) would restore a long-standing 
and sensible policy that was unfortunately allowed to lapse in 1997. 
Section 245(i) of the Immigration Act had allowed individuals that 
qualified for a green card to obtain their visa in the U.S. if they 
were already in the country. Without this common-sense provision, 
immigrants on the verge of gaining their green card must return to 
their home country to obtain their visa. However, the very act of 
making such an onerous trip can put their green-card standing in 
jeopardy, since other provisions of immigration law prohibit re-entry 
to the U.S. under certain circumstances. This has led to ludicrous 
situations, like the forced separation of married couples because one 
spouse must leave the country to obtain a visa, uncertain as to when 
they can be reunited. Restoring the Section 245(i) mechanism to obtain 
visas here in the U.S. is a good policy that will help keep families 
together and keep willing workers in the U.S. labor force.
  Let me add, in my office in Chicago, IL, two-thirds of the casework 
we do relates to immigration. We understand the plight of these 
families on a personal basis. We meet them in our office, we meet their 
friends and relatives, we meet members of their churches who ask why 
the laws on immigration in America have to be so unfair and 
contradictory. That is why this bill is so important.

  The Date of Registry provision is equally important. Undocumented 
immigrants seeking permanent residency must demonstrate that they have 
lived continuously in the U.S. since the date of registry cut-off. This 
amendment updates the date of registry from 1972--almost 30 years of 
continuous residency--1986. The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act 
recognizes that many immigrants have been victimized by confusing and 
inconsistent INS policies in the past fifteen years--policies that have 
been overturned in numerous court decisions, but that have nonetheless 
prevented many immigrants from being granted permanent residency. 
Updating the date of registry to 1986 would bring long overdue justice 
to the affected populations.
  It is worth reviewing the recent history of immigration policy to 
understand how we arrived at such a highly convoluted and piecemeal 
approach. Prior to the passage of the illegal Immigration Reform and 
Responsibility Act in 1996, aliens in the United States could apply for 
suspension of deportation and adjustment of status in order to obtain 
lawful permanent residence. Suspension of deportation was used to 
ameliorate the harsh consequences of deportation for aliens who had 
been present in the United States for long periods of time.
  In September of 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform 
and Responsibility Act. This law retroactively made thousands of 
immigrants ineligible for suspension of deportation and left them with 
no alternate remedy. The 1996 Act eliminated suspension of deportation 
and established a new form of relief entitled cancellation of removal 
that required an applicant to accrue ten years of continuous residence 
as of date of the initial notice charging the applicant with being 
removable.
  In 1997, Congress recognized that these new provisions had resulted 
in grave injustices to certain groups of people. So in November of 
1997, the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act 
INACARA) granted relief to certain citizens of former Soviet block 
countries and several Central American countries. This select group of 
immigrants were allowed to apply for permanent residence under the old, 
pre-IIRRA standards.
  Such an alteration of IIRRA made sense. After all, the U.S. had 
allowed Central Americans to reside and work here for over a decade, 
during which time many of them established families, careers and 
community ties. The complex history of civil wars and political 
persecution in parts of Central America left thousands of people in 
limbo without a place to call home. Many victims of severe persecution 
came to the United States with very strong asylum cases, but 
unfortunately these individuals have waited so long for a hearing they 
will have difficulty proving their cases because they involve incidents 
which occurred as early as 1980. In addition, many victims of 
persecution never filed for asylum out of fear of denial, and 
consequently these people now face claims weakened by years of delay.
  Correcting the inequities in current immigration policies is not only 
a matter of fundamental fairness, it is good, pragmatic public policy. 
The funds sent back by immigrants to their home countries sources of 
foreign exchange, and significant stabilizing factors in several 
national economies. The immigrant workforce is important to our 
national economy as well. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has 
frequently cited the threat to our economic well-being posed by an 
increasingly tight labor pool, and has gone so far as to suggest that 
immigration be uncapped. While these provisions will not remove or 
adjust any such caps, it will allow those already here to move freely 
in the labor market.
  I come to the floor disappointed because the effort for unanimous 
consent to bring up the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act was denied. 
This is an act which advances justice, keeps families together, and 
strengthens the national and international economy. It deserves 
unqualified support and rapid passage.
  Not that many years ago, immigrants to this country faced an 
onslaught of criticism. There were propositions in the State of 
California, speeches made by politicians, charges made by groups that 
really caused a great deal of fear and concern among those who had 
immigrated to this country. It is a stark reminder that, as a nation of 
immigrants, we should continue to have a fair and consistent policy of 
immigration.
  This country opened its doors to my mother, her family, to give her a 
chance to leave her land and come to live here. I often think about the 
courage involved when their family came together, her mother and three 
small children, to get on a boat in Germany to come to a country where 
they did not speak a word of the language.
  But they heard they had a better opportunity here in America, as many 
millions before them and many millions since have heard the same thing. 
Should we not in this generation show we are compassionate 
conservatives, compassionate moderates, and compassionate liberals when 
it comes to immigration fairness? The way to show that, the way to 
prove it, is to bring to the floor this legislation as quickly as 
possible.
  I hope on a bipartisan basis we can have Republicans and Democrats 
join in the enactment of this legislation.
  I yield the floor.

[[Page S7751]]

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Colorado.


							  
							  


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