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[Congressional Record: September 20, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S8806-S8807]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr20se00-120]                         



 
                   LATINO AND IMMIGRANT FAIRNESS ACT

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, let me speak about the Latino and Immigrant 
Fairness Act and why we should consider this bill now.
  I say this with no ulterior motive. Obviously, if anyone looks at the 
demographics of Vermont, they know I am not speaking about this because 
of a significant Hispanic population in the State of Vermont. I speak 
about it out of a sense of fairness. It is called the Latino and 
Immigrant Fairness Act. That is what it is.
  I am a proud cosponsor of this legislation, not only as a Senator but 
as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, because it addresses 
three very important issues to the Latino community.
  We fought on our side of the aisle consistently to obtain debate and 
a vote on these proposals either as an amendment or as a freestanding 
bill.
  Once again, I call on the leadership to give us either a vote as a 
freestanding bill or as an amendment because we ought to stand up in 
the Senate and say how we stand on this issue. If my colleagues on the 
other side believe in compassionate conservatism, they will allow a 
vote on this bill, which offers help to hardworking families who pay 
taxes and help keep our economy strong.
  First off, this legislation ensures that we treat all people who fled 
tyranny in Central America equally, regardless of whether the 
tyrannical regime they fled was a left-wing or right-wing government.
  I remember going into a refugee camp in Central America and talking 
to a woman who was there with her one remaining child. Her husband had 
been killed. Her other children had been killed.
  I said: Do you ally yourself with the left or the right? She didn't 
know who was on the left or who was on the right in the forces that 
were fighting. She only knew that she and her husband had wanted to 
raise their family and to farm a little land. And yet the forces of the 
regime came in and killed the whole family with the exception of her 
and her one child.
  People who have no political position get caught in terrible 
circumstances, in between forces to which they have no allegiance.
  In 1997, Congress granted permanent residence status to Nicaraguans 
and Cubans who fled dictatorship and who met certain conditions. It may 
well have been the right step. But others were left behind.
  It is past time to extend the benefits of the 1997 law to 
Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians. To benefit under 
this bill, an immigrant would have to have been in the United States 
since December of 1995 and would have to demonstrate good moral 
character.
  In addition to the clear humanitarian justifications for treating an 
immigrant from Guatemala who fled terror in the same way we treat an 
immigrant from Nicaragua who fled terror, there is also a strong 
foreign policy justification for this bill. These immigrants send money 
back to their families. They help support fledgling economies in what 
remain fragile democracies. The United States has devoted significant 
effort to assisting democratic efforts in Latin America, and the hard 
work that Latin American immigrants perform in America helps to 
stablize the growth of democracy there.

  Second, this amendment would reinstate section 245(i), which, for a 
$1,000 fee, allows immigrants on the verge of getting legal permanent 
residence status to achieve that status from within the United States, 
instead of being forced to leave their families and their jobs for 
lengthy periods to be able to complete the process. Section 245(i) was 
a part of American law until 1997, when Congress failed to renew the 
provision. There is bipartisan support for correcting this erroneous 
policy, and now is the time to do it. It is important to note that 
these are people who already have the right under our laws to obtain 
permanent residency--this provision simply streamlines that process 
while contributing a significant amount to the Treasury. Indeed, in the 
last fiscal year in which section 245(i) was law, it produced $200 
million in revenue for the government. At a time when the Immigration 
and Naturalization Service is plagued by backlogs, that is funding that 
would be useful.
  Third, of course, the amendment would allow people who have lived and 
worked here for 14 years or more, contributing to the American economy, 
to adjust their immigration status. That has been a part of the 
immigration law since the 1920s. It has been continually updated. It 
should be updated now for the first time in 14 years. This will adjust 
the status of thousands of people already working in the United States, 
helping both them and their employers to continue playing a role in our 
current economic boom. These are people who have built deep roots in 
the United States, who have families here and children who are American 
citizens, and who have in many cases done jobs that American citizens 
did not want. We should continue our historical practice and update the 
registry.
  This legislation has the strong support of numerous groups 
representing Hispanic Americans, including the League of United Latin 
American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican 
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National 
Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. It also has the 
support of conservative groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and 
Empower America. It has received union support from the AFL-CIO, the 
Union of Needletrades and Industrial Textile Employees, and the Service 
Employees International Union. Religious groups ranging from the U.S. 
Catholic Conference to the Anti-Defamation League

[[Page S8807]]

to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services have also endorsed the 
bill. Finally, business organizations including the National Restaurant 
Association and the American Health Care Association have also 
encouraged this bill's passage.
  When we talk about H-1B visas, we are usually talking about giving 
immigration benefits to people who are going to have high-paying, high-
tech jobs. Everybody wants to do that. We worked to get that out of the 
Judiciary Committee.
  But I would say to those who are holding up the Latino and Immigrant 
Fairness Act, don't think only of people in high-tech, high-paying 
jobs. Think of the needs of ordinary workers.
  It seems that the immigration concerns of everyday families have been 
ignored day after day in this Congress. I am talking about people who 
are not going to be in executive positions, and who cannot afford 
lawyers or anything else they want. I am talking about men and women 
who work for an hourly wage, who try to raise their families, who go to 
church, who want to see their children go to school, who want to live 
the American life, the American dream.

  My grandparents came to this country. They did not speak a word of 
English. But they raised a family. They raised six children, including 
my mother. They started a small business. They had a grandson who ended 
up in the Senate. But they also had six children. They weren't wealthy. 
My grandfather came here not speaking a word of English, with his 
brother, and they started a stone shed. Then when they had enough money 
to afford to send back to Italy for their wives and their children, 
they did. It was the American dream. People still have that dream. We 
should help them, especially in this case.
  There are also important due process issues that need to be fixed if 
America wants to retain its historic role as a beacon for refugees and 
a nation of immigrants. But in this Congress, even humanitarian bills 
with bipartisan backing have been completely ignored, both in the 
Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. The bipartisan bills that 
have suffered from the majority's neglect include both modest bills 
designed to assist particular immigrant groups and larger bills 
designed to reform substantial portions of our immigration and asylum 
laws. Bills to assist Syrian Jews, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Liberians, 
Hondurans, Cubans, and Salvadorans all need attention. Bills to restore 
due process rights and limited public benefits to legal permanent 
residents have been ignored.
  The Refugee Protection Act, a bipartisan bill with 10 sponsors that I 
introduced with Senator Brownback, has not even received a hearing in 
the Judiciary Committee, despite my request as Ranking Member. The 
Refugee Protection Act addresses the issue of expedited removal, the 
process under which aliens arriving in the United States can be 
returned immediately to their native lands at the say-so of a low-level 
INS officer. Expedited removal was the subject of a major debate in 
this chamber in 1996, and the Senate voted to use it only during 
immigration emergencies. This Senate-passed restriction was removed in 
what was probably the most partisan conference committee I have ever 
witnessed. The Refugee Protection Act is modeled closely on that 1996 
amendment, and I hope that it again gains the support of a majority of 
my colleagues.
  As a result of the adoption of expedited removal, we now have a 
system where we are removing people who arrive here either without 
proper documentation or with facially valid documentation that an INS 
officer suspects is invalid. This policy ignores the fact that people 
fleeing despotic regimes are quite often unable to obtain travel 
documents before they go--they must move quickly and cannot depend upon 
the government that is persecuting them to provide them with the proper 
paperwork for departure. In the limited time that expedited removal has 
been in operation, we already have numerous stories of valid asylum 
seekers who were kicked out of our country without the opportunity to 
convince an immigration judge that they faced persecution in their 
native lands. To provide just one example, a Kosovar Albanian was 
summarily removed from the U.S. after the civil war in Kosovo had 
already made the front pages of America's newspapers.

  The majority has mishandled even those immigration bills that needed 
to be passed by a date certain to avoid significant humanitarian and 
diplomatic consequences. In the most egregious example, the Senate 
failed to pass a bill to make permanent the visa waiver program that 
allows Americans to travel to numerous other countries without a visa. 
The visa waiver pilot program expired on April 30, and the House passed 
legislation to make the program permanent in a timely manner, 
understanding the importance of not allowing this program--which our 
citizens and the citizens of many of our closest allies depend upon--to 
lapse. The Senate, however, simply ignored the deadline and has 
subsequently ignored numerous deadlines for administrative extensions 
of the program.
  I am well aware that immigration is just one of the many issues that 
Congress must address. Indeed, there may be some Congresses where 
immigration needs to be placed on the backburner so that we can address 
other issues. But this is not such a Congress. It was only four years 
ago that we passed two bills with far-reaching effects on immigration 
law--the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal 
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. There are still 
many aspects of those laws that merit our careful review and 
rethinking. Among many others, Senators Kennedy, Moynihan, and Durbin 
have been actively involved in promoting necessary changes to those 
laws, in an attempt to rededicate the United States to its historic 
role as a leader in immigration policy. But their efforts too have been 
ignored by the majority.
  In the limited time we have remaining, I urge the majority to just 
bring up the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act and have a vote on it. 
We know we could pass it if we could only be allowed to have a vote. 
Let's show the kind of fairness that America wants to show. Let us be 
the beckoning country that it was to my grandparents and my great-
grandparents.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.

                          ____________________





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