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[Congressional Record: September 20, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S8804-S8806]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr20se00-119]                         



 
                               H-1B VISAS

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I am pleased that we are finally turning 
our attention to this legislation and a debate over the best way to 
increase the number of H-1B visas, a policy goal that is shared widely 
in this body. The bill was reported from the Judiciary Committee more 
than six months ago. It has taken us a very long time to get from Point 
A to Point B, and it has often appeared that the majority has been more 
interested in gaining partisan advantage from a delay than in actually 
making this bill law.
  The Democratic Leader has consistently said that we would be willing 
to accept very strict time limits on debating amendments, and would be 
willing to conduct the entire debate on S. 2045 in less than a day. Our 
Leader has also consistently said that it is critical that the Senate 
take up proposals to provide parity for refugees from right-wing 
regimes in Central America and to address an issue that has been 
ignored for far too long--how we should treat undocumented aliens who 
have lived here for decades, paying taxes and contributing to our 
economy. I joined in the call for action on H-1B and other critical 
immigration issues, but our efforts were rebuffed by the majority.

[[Page S8805]]

  Indeed, months went by in which the majority made no attempt to 
negotiate these differences, time which many members of the majority 
instead spent trying to blame Democrats for the delay in their bringing 
this legislation to the floor. At many times, it seemed that the 
majority was more interested in casting blame upon Democrats than in 
actually passing legislation. Instead of working in good faith with the 
minority to bring this bill to the floor, the majority spent its time 
trying to convince leaders in the information technology industry that 
the Democratic Party is hostile to this bill and that only Republicans 
are interested in solving the legitimate employment shortages faced by 
many sectors of American industry. Considering that three-quarters of 
the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted for this bill, and that 
the bill has numerous Democratic cosponsors, including Senator 
Lieberman, this partisan appeal was not only inappropriate but absurd 
on its face.
  Finally, last week, the majority made a counteroffer that did not 
provide as many amendments as we would like, but which did allow 
amendments related to immigration generally. We responded 
enthusiastically to this proposal, but individual members of the 
majority objected, and there is still no agreement to allow immigration 
amendments. At least some members of the majority are apparently 
unwilling even to vote on issues that are critical to members of the 
Latino community. This is deeply unfortunate, and leaves those of us 
who are concerned about humanitarian immigration issues with an 
uncomfortable choice. We can either address the legitimate needs of the 
high-tech industry in the vacuum that the majority has imposed, or we 
can refuse to proceed on this bill until the majority affords us the 
opportunity to address other important immigration needs. I voted 
yesterday to proceed to S. 2045 because I believe it presents a good 
starting point for discussion, and because I believe we should make 
progress on immigration issues in this Congress. I still hope that an 
agreement can be reached with the majority that will allow votes 
on other important immigration matters as part of our consideration of 
this bill.

  I believe there is a labor shortage in certain areas of our economy, 
and a short-term increase in H-1B visas is an appropriate response. Due 
to the stunning economic growth we have experienced in the past eight 
years, unemployment is lower than the best-case scenario envisioned by 
most economists. Increasing the number of available H-1B visas is 
particularly important for the high-tech industry, which has done so 
much to contribute to our strong economy. Although it is important that 
the high-tech industry ensure that it is making maximum possible use of 
American workers, it should also have access to highly-skilled workers 
from abroad, particularly workers who were educated at American 
universities. Under current law, however, which allowed for 115,000 
visas for FY 2000, every visa was allotted by March, only halfway 
through the fiscal year.
  So I support this bill's call for an increase in the number of visas. 
But I believe the legislation can be improved, and I look forward to 
the opportunity to make improvements through the amendment process. 
Most importantly, instead of including an open-ended provision 
exempting from the cap those foreign workers with graduate degrees from 
American universities, as S. 2045 does, I believe we should retain a 
concrete cap on the number of these visas. I believe we should increase 
the cap to 200,000, and then set aside a significant percentage of 
those visas for such workers. This should address employers' needs for 
highly-skilled workers, while also limiting the number of visas that go 
to foreign workers with less specialized skills.
  I regret that we will likely be unable to offer other important 
amendments to this bill. For much of the summer, the majority implied 
that we were simply using the concerns of Latino voters as a 
smokescreen to avoid considering S. 2045. Speaking for myself, although 
I have had reservations about certain aspects of S. 2045, I voted to 
report it from the Judiciary Committee so that we could move forward in 
our discussions of the bill. I did not seek to offer immigration 
amendments on the Senate floor because I wanted to derail S. 2045. Nor 
did the White House urge Congress to consider other immigration issues 
as part of the H-1B debate because the President wanted to play 
politics with this issue, as the distinguished Chairman of the 
Judiciary Committee suggested on the floor last Friday. Rather, the 
majority's inaction on a range of immigration measures in this Congress 
forced those of us who were concerned about immigration issues to 
attempt to raise those issues. Under our current leadership, the 
opportunity to enact needed change in our immigration laws does not 
come around very often, to put it mildly.
  It is a disturbing but increasingly undeniable fact that the interest 
of the business community has become a prerequisite for immigration 
bills to receive attention on the Senate floor. In fact, with only a 
few weeks remaining before we adjourn, this will be the first 
immigration bill to be debated on the floor in this Congress. Even 
humanitarian bills with bipartisan backing have been ignored in this 
Congress, both in the Judiciary Committee and on the floor of the 
Senate.
  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. First, 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.
  Second, the Senate has thus far refused to act on the bipartisan S. 
2058, which would extend the deadline by one year for Nicaraguans, 
Cubans, and Haitians to apply for adjustment of

[[Page S8806]]

status under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, 
NACARA, and the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, HRIFA. The 
original deadline expired on March 31. But the Senate did not extend 
the deadline--an action that the Judiciary Committee unanimously 
approved--by March 31. And the Senate has not acted to extend the 
deadline in the intervening five and a half months. No one has 
expressed any opposition to S. 2058, which counts Senators Mack and 
Helms among its sponsors; rather, the majority has simply allowed the 
bill to sit and fester, perhaps holding it hostage to the passage of S. 
2045. As a result, we in the Congress have had to rely upon the 
Administration's assurances that it would not remove those who would be 
aided by the extension from the United States while this legislation 
was pending. As someone who has served for more than 25 years in the 
Senate, I find it profoundly disturbing that this body must rely on the 
Administration not to enforce the law because it has taken us so long 
to actually make good on our intention to change it. We should not need 
to rely on the good graces of the Administration--we should do our job 
and legislate.

  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.
  When a bill such as S. 2045 comes to the floor, then, those of us who 
are concerned about immigration legislation would be abdicating our 
duty not to raise other potential immigration legislation. Most members 
of both parties want to see a significant increase in the number of H-
1B visas. If there had been another avenue to obtain consideration of 
the rest of our immigration agenda, we would have taken it. But such an 
avenue was not offered.
  I voted to proceed to consideration of this bill. I hold out hope 
that we can reach an agreement to discuss other critical immigration 
matters. If the majority truly wishes to display compassionate 
conservatism, and show concern for all Americans, such an agreement 
should be easy to reach.

                          ____________________





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