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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2013-06-10

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    Read More about Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed

    LEAHY. Mr. President, when the Senate Judiciary Committee held lengthy and extensive markup sessions to consider the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or S. 744--the bill before us--we worked late into the evenings debating the bill. We considered hundreds of amendments. But what was interesting and what we heard the most about was the fact that the public was able to witness our consideration firsthand. They saw all our proceedings streamed live on the committee's Web site and broadcast on C-SPAN. We made available on our website proposed amendments, and reported developments in real time throughout the committee process. I know this made a difference because I was receiving e-mails and calls from all over the country from people watching it. Whether they agreed or disagreed on a particular matter, they said how much it meant to them to actually know what the Senate was doing. And Members from both sides of the aisle praised the transparent process and the significant improvements in the bill made by the Judiciary Committee.



    The bill, as we amended it, was passed out of committee by a bipartisan two-thirds majority. Again, everybody worked together, set politics aside, and allowed the American people to see what we were doing. In many ways this is how we did it when I first came to the Senate, except we didn't have a way of streaming things live and we didn't have C-SPAN, so it is even more transparent now.

    I appreciate what President Obama said this weekend about immigration reform. I agree with him that we have to move in a timely way. Of course, the time is now for the Senate to act, so I hope we can take some of the same steps in the Chamber that we took in the Judiciary Committee during our debate of this legislation to have an efficient and transparent process. After all, look at the markup of the Senate Judiciary Committee: both parties--and it goes across the political spectrum as well as geographically, from the west coast to the east coast, from southern borders to our northern borders.

    During our committee consideration last month, an editorial in the Barre Montpelier Times termed our proceedings a ``lesson in democracy.'' Our committee proceedings demonstrated to the American people and the world how the Senate can and should fulfill its responsibilities despite our differences.

    The ranking Republican on the committee, the senior Senator from Iowa, and I were on different sides of the legislation, but we were able to work well together. I hope we can continue to work here on the Senate floor in a bipartisan way. Although he voted against the bill, the senior Senator from Iowa said had his vote been necessary to report the bill to the Senate, he would have voted to do so. I appreciate that sentiment, and I look forward to his cooperation.

    I have proposed to Senator Grassley, who as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee will be managing the bill for the minority, that we try to replicate here in the Senate the fair and transparent process we were able to achieve in the committee. To that end, once the Senate is able to proceed to the bill, I suggest we establish a filing deadline for amendments, as we did at the outset of our committee consideration. Ideally, then we will be able to take these amendments and group them and thereby work together by issue and by titles, as we did in the committee. It makes it a lot easier for the public as well as for the Senate to know what we are doing on the bill. It will help us with the Senate's timely consideration of this important legislation.

    Of course, in order for Senators to be able to file amendments and work on the bill, the Senate has to proceed to the bill. Republicans and Democrats worked together to develop this legislation. Senators from both sides of the aisle, including the Senator from Alabama, who has already spoken on the Senate floor at length about this legislation, had amendments adopted in committee. Almost none of the more than 135 amendments adopted by the Judiciary Committee were adopted on party-line votes. So we should be able to work together to ensure consideration of amendments and then proceed to a vote on final passage without filibusters.

    The American people want us to vote yes or no, up or down. They do not want us to add delaying tactics that allow us to say, well, maybe we would have been for it or maybe we would have been against it. They expect more of their Senators. Vote yes or no.

    I had hoped the Senate would turn immediately to the consideration of amendments to this important bill. I regret that tomorrow afternoon, instead, we will vote on cloture on a procedural motion to allow us to begin debate on the bill. The legislation before us is the result of a bipartisan group of Senators who came together and made an agreement. It was initially a proposal from the so-called Gang of 8. It came through the committee process a product of a group of 18, supported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee.

    If Senators who have come together to help develop this bill keep their commitments, I have no doubt we will be able to end this unnecessary filibuster and pass this fair but tough legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.

    There is broad agreement that our Nation's immigration system is broken and is in need of a comprehensive solution. There is also broad agreement in this Nation that people are tired of unnecessary delays in the Senate. They would like to see us do the work we are [[Page S4029]] paid to do, the work we were elected to do, and vote yes or no, not continue voting maybe by delaying. This bipartisan legislation will achieve this. Given the impact the broken system has on our economy and our families, we cannot afford delay. This is a measure on which the Senate should come together to consider and pass. We should do what is right, what is fair, and what is just.

    Comprehensive immigration reform was last on the Senate floor 6 years ago. When it was blocked by the minority party--the Republican Party-- the former chairman of our immigration subcommittee, Ted Kennedy, 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. He was right. We are back--in strength.

    I had the privilege of serving in the Senate with Senator Kennedy from the time I arrived until the time he died. I know how passionately he felt about this issue. I also know, both from then and now, that a small minority of the Senate that continues to reject this measure should not prevail this time and close the door on so many people in our country--both those who are citizens and those who aspire to become citizens.

    I have taken inspiration from many sources, from our shared history as immigrants, from the experiences of my own grandparents, from my wife's parents, from our courageous witnesses Jose Antonio Vargas and Gaby Pacheco and, as Senator Kennedy noted, from the millions of American families that will be more secure when we enact comprehensive immigration reform.

    During his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Vargas asked the committee: What do you want to do with us? What do you want to do with me? Poignant questions. But this legislation answers Mr. Vargas, and it sends a message to the millions of others who are looking to Senators to be true to our ``extraordinary'' history and tradition as a nation of immigrants.

    I am encouraged that some on the other side of the aisle are signaling their support for this legislation. I welcome the support of those who supported immigration reform in the past, who support this effort again.

    I trust that those Republican Senators who helped draft this legislation--and helped us greatly--will be with us for the long haul, be firm in their commitments, and will defend the legislation they asked the other 14 members of the Judiciary Committee to consider and approve.

    I will hope and expect that they will not look for excuses to abandon what has been and what needs to be a bipartisan effort because everybody had to give some on this bill. The bill now before the Senate is not the bill I would have drafted. I voted for amendments in the Judiciary Committee that were rejected, and I voted against some amendments that were accepted. I withheld an amendment on what, to me, is an issue of fundamental fairness in ending discrimination, after Republican Senators pledged to abandon their support for this bill had that amendment been offered. I cannot begin to tell this Senate how much it hurt to withdraw that amendment. But despite many shortcomings as a result of compromise, the bill before the Senate is worthy of this Chamber's immediate attention and support.

    It is time for us to stop voting ``maybe'' and instead proceed to this bill and get to the business of legislating. After all, that is what the American people, Republicans and Democrats alike, expect us to do. The Congress was unable to achieve this goal during the last decade. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we again have the opportunity to make the reforms we so desperately need to carry us forward and strengthen our Nation. As I said on the Senate floor late last week, if a majority of us stand together, if we stay true to our values and our agreements, I believe we can pass legislation to write the next great chapter in America's history of immigration--a chapter for which succeeding generations will thank us.

    Mr. President, before I conclude on this issue, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the editorial I referred to be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows; [From the Times Argus, May 11, 2013] Lesson in Democracy In a remarkable demonstration of the way democracy ordinarily works, Sen. Patrick Leahy held a mark-up session Thursday allowing the Senate Judiciary Committee to shape a new immigration bill.

    A mark-up session occurs when a committee discusses and debates a bill, marking it up with amendments, giving both sides a say and putting on display for the world to see the differences and compromises. In watching a mark-up session, we are able to observe senators in the actual process of lawmaking.

    That an important issue should be subject to an open and public mark-up session would not be so remarkable were it not for the remarkable distortion of the legislative process that has occurred in recent years by the manipulation of legislative rules.

    Lately, we have become accustomed to seeing major pieces of legislation used as chips in an unsavory game of poker, with all the cards in the hands of a few players. Action on budget and debt ceiling votes has been held up until the last minute when leaders are forced by a looming deadline to reach a deal. The members themselves, instead of being engaged in the process of lawmaking, are left to twiddle their thumbs until they get the call from their leaders that a deal has been struck.

    Everyone complains that making laws is like making sausage: You don't want to see what goes into it. But when the deal- making happens behind closed doors, cynicism can be the only response. The decision by Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to hold several lengthy open mark-up sessions on the immigration issue is a sign that both Republicans and Democrats see a way through the thicket. If the Republicans were interested merely in blocking the bill, they could use their usual tactics. But given the importance of the Hispanic vote and the party's record of hostility toward minorities, some Republicans have recognized they must deal with the issue.

    Protracted debate about bills in committee ought to be the norm. It is what committees are for. But the process has perils that legislators sometimes seek to avoid by using the rules to foist a measure on the body where a majority can hurry it through. It is unlikely that the Democrats could hurry anything through the Senate these days, so Leahy has decided to take the risks inherent in the amendment process to craft a bill that will win at least some Republican support.

    The immigration bill is the product of the so-called Gang of Eight, a group of four Democrats and four Republicans who have sought to forge a bipartisan compromise on immigration. They are looking for a way to achieve both border security and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally. Hard-line anti-immigration members will never be placated; the Senate will be working toward a formula allowing the skeptics who worry about border security enough assurance that they can lighten up a little on the punitive measures.

    Senate bills follow a perilous path, particularly these days, when Republican use of the filibuster has created what amounts to a political oligarchy: the rule of the minority over the majority. This was the bitter lesson that Leahy learned on gun control legislation, which also began in his committee. The bill calling for universal background checks had majority support on the Senate floor, but the minority was able to quash it by use of the filibuster.

    And yet this is why Leahy retained his position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee rather than moving to the Appropriations Committee. The appropriations process has become subject to the poker game, which robs the committee of its authority in creating and marking up a bill. As chairman of Judiciary, Leahy is giving the nation a lesson in democracy. It's a lesson that needs to be retaught.

    Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, seeing nobody seeking recognition, I ask permission to speak as in morning business on an issue we will vote on later today.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Rural Gigabit Pilot Program Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, let me speak on an important issue the Senate will be voting on later today, my amendment to the farm bill. The Internet has made a fundamental difference in our lives. From how we shop to how we stay connected to one another, there are few aspects of life the Internet does not touch. In the 21st century, access to high-quality, high-speed Internet is not a luxury but a necessity.

    Unfortunately far too many Americans, particularly those living in rural areas, like so many in my own State of Vermont, can only dream about having access to this kind of critical infrastructure. We must take action to correct this.

    [[Page S4030]] I am pleased the Senate will vote today on an amendment I have offered that sets our sights high for real, ultra-high-speed Internet. In some areas, these next-generation networks are already being built. These networks offer gigabit speed--speed that is 100 times faster than what we are accustomed to today.

    These networks bring with them innovation and jobs. Over the next 5 years these networks are going to become more widely adopted in urban areas, but rural America is at risk of falling further behind. If that happens, rural Americans will be left behind. They will lose potential economic growth. They will cede engines of innovation to urban areas that are equipped with ultra-high-speed Internet capability.

    My amendment will establish a pilot program within the Rural Utilities Service Program that is part of the farm bill to fund up to five projects to deploy ultra-high-speed Internet service in rural areas over the next 5 years. The pilot is narrow in scope. It is carefully crafted to ensure that the main focus of the RUS Program is deploying service to unserved rural areas, while at the same time giving RUS the flexibility to find the best rural areas to test gigabit service investment. This will help pave the way for the Internet infrastructure that rural communities across the Nation will need as our economy turns the corner into this next generation of Internet service. Next-generation gigabit networks have the potential to transform rural areas. They can dramatically improve education and health care. They have the potential to bring the innovations of Silicon Valley to the Upper Valley of Vermont and to rural areas across the country.

    Rural America has so much to offer in our way of life, but without the great equalizer of high-speed Internet, it cannot live up to its full potential. So now is the time to invest in these networks. One need only look at the number of applications Google received for its Google Fiber project to know that cities and towns throughout the country understand the innovation and economic growth that comes from gigabit networks. If we are going to invest money in rural networks, it makes sense that we invest some of it in networks that are going to be future-resilient.

    The broadband revolution of the last decade brought a bright new future for many areas of the country, but I know firsthand that many rural areas are still playing catch-up. As the next generation of broadband investment begins this decade, let's learn from those past mistakes and test our investment in gigabit networks in rural America.

    I thank Chairwoman Stabenow for working with me since the committee first started on this amendment and for her commitment to improve the quality of life for rural America, and I thank those Senators--both Republicans and Democrats--who have supported me. Most importantly, rural America supports it.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum and ask unanimous consent that the time be equally divided.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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