The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the historic reform of the nation’s immigration laws on a bipartisan 13-5 vote. The bill that was considered was by the Gang of Eight, a group of four Democrat Senators and four Republican Senators. The Senate will now take up the bill, with some estimates of up to a month of debate.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) Statement:
Over the past several days this Committee has considered the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Today, that consideration is culminating in our bipartisan vote in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in order to bring millions of people of out the shadows, onto a pathway to citizenship, and into American life.
We have concentrated on this effort with multiple hearings and five days in which we considered hundreds of amendments. We have endeavored to move expeditiously, because too many have been waiting too long for fairness. I have protected the rights of all Senators in the process and ensured that we have been transparent in our deliberations.
Few topics are more fundamental to who and what we are as a Nation than immigration. The Statue of Liberty has long proclaimed America’s welcome: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. . . . Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” That is what America has stood for and what we should continue to represent. Immigration throughout our history has been an ongoing source of renewal of our spirit, our creativity and our economic strength.
In the course of our hearings I quoted my friend of many years, Ted Kennedy. In the summer of 2007, as our effort at comprehensive immigration reform was being blocked in the Senate, he spoke about his disappointment and our resolve. He 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.” I have taken inspiration from many sources, from our shared history as immigrants and as Americans, from the experiences of my own grandparents, and from our courageous witnesses Jose Antonio Vargas and Gaby Pacheco and from the families that cam be more secure when we enact comprehensive immigration reform.
This bipartisan legislation establishes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. It addresses the lengthy backlogs in our current immigration system – backlogs that have kept families apart sometimes for decades. It grants a faster track to the “dreamers” brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, and to agricultural workers who are an essential part of our communities and work so hard to provide our nation’s food supply. It makes important changes to the visas used by dairy farmers and the tourism industry and by immigrant investors who are making investments in our communities. It addresses the needs of our law enforcement community, which requires the help of immigrants who witness crime or are victims of domestic violence. It improves the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers so that the United States will remain the beacon of hope in the world.
This is not the bill that I would have drafted. I have voted for amendments that have been rejected and against amendments that have been accepted. My greatest disappointments is that legislation that comes from the Senate Judiciary Committee should recognize the rights of all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans who have just as much right to spousal immigration benefits as anyone else. I will continue my efforts to end the needless discrimination so many Americans face in our immigration system. This discrimination serves no legitimate purpose and it is wrong.
The dysfunction in our current immigration system affects all of us and it is long past time for reform. I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action. We need an immigration system that lives up to American values and helps write the next great chapter in American history by reinvigorating our economy and enriching our communities.