Senator Kennedy’s Statements On New Immigration Bill

October 12, 2004


Mr. Kennedy. Mr. President. I have serious concerns about the direction our Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives have taken on the legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The House bill, H.R.10, departs in significant and problematic ways from the Commission’s specifically-tailored recommendations to protect our country against future terrorist attacks. The recommendations call for preventing terrorist travel, establishing an effective screening system to protect our borders, transportation systems, and other vital facilities, expediting full implementation of a biometric entry-exit screening system, establishing global border security standards by working with trusted allies, and standardizing identity documents and birth certificates.

Instead of adhering to these carefully considered measures, as the Senate has done, the House Republican leadership has included long-rejected, anti-immigrant proposals that have nothing to do with the Commission’s recommendations. The House bill severely limits the rights of immigrants, asylum seekers, and victims of torture and fails to strengthen the security of our nation.

Among the worst provisions in the House bill are those which create insurmountable obstacles and burdens for asylum seekers, including many women and children, eliminate judicial review, including the constitutional writ of habeas corpus, for certain immigration orders, and which allow the deportation of individuals to countries where they are likely to be tortured, in violation of our international treaty obligations.

Many share my concerns with the House bill. The list of critics, lead by families of the 9/11 victims, is rapidly growing. A recent letter to House members, signed by more than two dozen family members of persons who died in the terrorist attacks, states that the immigration provisions are outside the scope of the Commission’s recommendations and urges House members not to enact them. To underscore their concerns, the families state their “strong collective position that legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations not be used in a politically divisive manner.”

Similarly, the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean, has said that the House immigration provisions “which are controversial and are not part of our recommendations to make the American people safer perhaps ought to be part of another bill at another time.” Likewise, the vice-chair, Lee Hamilton, warned that the inclusion of these “controversial provisions at this late hour can harm our shared purpose of getting a good bill to the President before the 108th Congress adjourns.”

I am submitting for the record the letters of a broad spectrum of religious, immigrant, human rights, and civil liberties groups voicing their strong opposition to the immigration provisions in the House bill. These groups include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Jewish Committee, Amnesty International, the Arab-American Institute Center for Community Change, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Freedom House, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Service Employees International Union, the Tahirih Justice Center, the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Migration, World Relief, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

In these difficult times for our country, we know that the threat of terrorism has not ended. We have to keep doing all we can to see that our borders are protected and our immigration laws are enforced, and that law enforcement officials have the full support they need. But we must do so in ways that respect fundamental rights. Congress should not enact laws that ride rough-shod over basic rights in the name of national security. Immigrants are part of our heritage and history. We jeopardize our own fundamental values when we adopt harsh security tactics that trample the rights and liberties of immigrants. We must learn from the past, so that we do not continue to repeat these mistakes in the future.

This legislation is too important for it to be derailed by political pandering to anti-immigrant extremists. We need to pass this reform legislation, but we need to get it right. The American people expect, and deserve, better.

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