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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Nomination of James Ziglar
July 18, 2001

The nomination of James Ziglar to be Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service is a very important one for our nation and for Vermont. The next Commissioner will hold office at a pivotal time for the agency and for immigration policy in the United States. The Administration has expressed interest in reorganizing the INS and having the new Commissioner implement the reorganization plan. The new Commissioner will also inherit a number of questionable immigration policies that Congress enacted five years ago in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. In addition, many important immigration issues, including the way in which the United States should treat undocumented workers from Mexico and other nations, remained unresolved at the end of the last Congress and promise to be major issues during the coming years.

We are fortunate in the Senate to have the benefit of Senator Kennedy and Senator Brownback serving as Chairman and Ranking Member of this Committee’s immigration subcommittee, and I am confident that the nominee will find them to be extraordinarily helpful and dedicated. The nominee will also benefit from the interest in immigration issues in both parties, as Congress should be ready to provide the INS with the resources it needs to achieve its mission. And the new Commissioner will also find that there are many fine men and women and well-run offices and programs at the INS, including the Law Enforcement Support Center, the Vermont Service Center and Sub-Office, the Debt Management Center, the Eastern Regional Office, and the Swanton Border Patrol Sector, all located in my State of Vermont.

We in the Senate know Mr. Ziglar well from his time as Sergeant at Arms. The last few years in the Senate have been difficult and partisan, but Jim Ziglar found a way to serve everyone. During the impeachment trial, the American people saw Chief Justice Rehnquist presiding. They did not see all the work that Jim Ziglar did behind the scenes to make a difficult process run as smoothly as possible. We here all owe him a debt of gratitude for his hard and effective work.

Before he came to the Senate, Jim Ziglar had a long and distinguished career in investment banking and the law, and served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science during the Reagan Administration. He also was a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun.

He has chosen to take on a new challenge with the INS, and although I am sure that many of us on the Committee will have a number of questions about his views on immigration matters, I applaud his willingness to head the agency during what promises to be an eventful period.

One of the bigger issues facing the next Commissioner will be restructuring the INS. I strongly support improving the agency and giving it the resources it needs. The tasks we ask the INS to do range from processing citizenship applications to protecting our borders, and I agree that there are some internal tensions in the INS’ mission that might be resolved. I also believe, however, that we must ensure that the INS does not lose its strengths, which I think are well represented by the great efficiency of the INS offices in Vermont. I intend to play an active role in the development and consideration of any INS reorganization plan.

In addition to ensuring a fair and sensible organization, I have a number of other legislative priorities for this Congress that I would like to raise today, and I want to ask the Administration and the nominee for their help in making them law. First, Senator Brownback and I, along with Senator Kennedy and others, are developing legislation along the lines of the Refugee Protection Act that we introduced in the last Congress. I hope that this legislation will accomplish a number of needed goals, including restricting the use of expedited removal to times of immigration emergencies and reducing the use of detention against people seeking asylum.

The use 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, calls the United States’ commitment to refugees into serious question. Since Congress adopted expedited removal in 1996, we have had a system where we are removing people who arrive here either without proper documentation or with facially valid documentation that an INS officer simply suspects is invalid. This policy ignores the fact that people fleeing despotic regimes are quite often unable to obtain travel documents before leaving – 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 received reliable reports that valid asylum seekers have been denied admission to 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. I believe we must address this issue in this Congress.

Second, I hope that this Congress will examine some of the other serious due process concerns created by passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996. Through those laws, Congress expanded the pool of people who could be deported, denied those people the chance for due process before deportation, and made these changes retroactive, so that legal permanent residents who had committed offenses so minor that they did not even serve jail time suddenly faced removal from the United States. The Supreme Court has recently limited some of the retroactive effects of those laws, in INS v. St. Cyr, but there is more work to do to bring these laws into line with our historic commitment to immigration. This new legal regime has created numerous horror stories, including the removal of noncitizen veterans of the American armed forces for minor crimes committed well before 1996. In the last Congress, I introduced a bill that would have guaranteed due process rights for veterans, a bill that was supported by the American Legion and other veterans’ groups, and I plan to introduce similar legislation this year. In addition, I am a proud cosponsor of Senator Kennedy’s Immigrant Fairness Restoration Act, which would restore a broad range of due process rights to immigrants.

Third, I have introduced S. 864, the Anti-atrocity Alien Deportation Act, which makes aliens who commit acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, or other atrocities abroad inadmissible to and removable from the United States, and establishes within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice an Office of Special Investigations with responsibility over all alien participants in war crimes, genocide, and the commission of acts of torture and extrajudicial killings abroad. This legislation passed the Senate in 1999 and now has bipartisan support in the House. I hope that it will become law this year.

Fourth, the Senate needs to act quickly and approve S. 778, legislation introduced by Senators Kennedy and Hagel to extend the deadline for people seeking to adjust their immigration status under section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 245(i) allows people who are eligible to become legal permanent residents of the United States to apply for that status from within the country, instead of having to return to their home countries to do so. This policy keeps families together, allows employers to retain valued employees without interruption, and raises substantial revenue for the Treasury through the $1000 fees that applicants must pay. This provision, which had previously been repealed, was restored for a four-month period at the end of the last Congress and has now expired again. There is bipartisan agreement in the Senate that that four-month period was insufficient, and that we should extend the program for another year. I plan to help Senators Kennedy and Hagel move this legislation through the Committee as quickly as possible, and I hope that the full Senate will act on it promptly.

Finally, there are other outstanding issues from the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which so many of us strongly supported in the last Congress, that we must resolve. First, we need to figure out a way to allow some undocumented workers to adjust their immigration status. The White House is apparently considering taking steps with regard to undocumented workers from Mexico. I am encouraged by the White House’s apparent interest in this issue, but I believe that we should treat undocumented workers equally, without regard to their native country. Second, we need to change our law so that immigrants who fled from right-wing governments in Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Liberia are treated the same way under our immigration law as we treat those who fled left-wing governments in Nicaragua and Cuba. Last year, we had the strong support of the Clinton Administration on this issue, and I hope that the Bush Administration will look closely at the issue and reach the same conclusions.

In conclusion, we have a lot of work to do on immigration policy during this Congress and this Administration. From my experience with the nominee, I am confident that he will be a good partner in these efforts.