Senate’s Passage of Immigration Bill Seen as Step Toward Real Reform

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On June 18, Sen. Mazie Hirono joined more than 100 immigrant women on Capitol Hill to rally the Senate to fix provisions in the Senate’s immigration bill that inadvertently disadvantage women.

WASHINGTON — Asian Pacific American legislators and advocates are applauding Thursday’s vote by the U.S. Senate on S. 744 as a step toward real immigration reform.

The Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by a vote of 68 to 32. 

While the passage of the bill was significant, the Japanese American Citizens League expressed continuing concerns about amendments to the bill, and the failure to address issues key to the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

JACL pointed out that provisions in S.744 limited family-based immigration pathways to the U.S., and eliminated family-based immigration options for U.S. citizens to petition for reunification with adult children over 30, married children, and siblings.

“An immigration system that keeps families together delivers both social and economic benefits,” said Priscilla Ouchida, JACL executive director. “Studies have found that immigrant families play a crucial role in the economy and in community development.”

JACL also expressed disappointed in the inclusion of the Corker-Hoeven Amendment, which militarizes the southern border. S.744 requires 40,000 border control officers, the use of drones, mandatory enforcement of E-verify, and further obstacles for immigrants at a cost of $40 billion.

Ouchida concluded, “Although the measure did not address all issues of critical importance to the AAPI community, we celebrate a major milestone toward immigration reform. The creation of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents in the United States, added protections for survivors of domestic violence, and broader opportunities for workers are significant victories.

“We also hail the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, which will make it easier for same-sex couples to sponsor their partners for citizenship.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) voted for the bill, which delivers big results for Hawaii and includes a number of measures that protect immigrant women and families. As the Senate’s only immigrant member, Hirono worked closely with colleagues to shape the bill in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

“I stand with the large, bipartisan group of senators in voting for an immigration bill that will benefit Hawaii and our nation,” said Hirono. “This bill is not perfect, but it’s a true compromise developed through a transparent and open process. Beyond just providing a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers, the bill contains a number of measures that will help Hawaii, clear the family immigration backlogs and provide protections for immigrant women and families. Now, it is time for my former colleagues in the House to come together and pass this bill.”

Of Hirono’s 11 measures that were passed during the Judiciary Committee’s markup, all were included in the final bill. These include major legislative victories for Hawaii –measures that help Filipino World War II veterans reunite with their children, restore Medicaid eligibility for COFA (Micronesian) migrants, help Hawaii’s fishing industry and could expand foreign tourism in the state. She also convinced her colleagues to include key protections for women and families during the committee’s markup.

An immigrant who came to America with her mother and brothers as a young girl, Hirono worked with her colleagues to make the immigration bill better for women and families. She introduced an amendment with 12 of her female colleagues that would have given women a more equal opportunity at receiving green cards.

Even though the measure got bipartisan support from members of the Gang of 8 and was prioritized by Democratic leaders for a vote, it could not be brought to the floor because of a lack of agreement on voting on any amendments. Hirono plans to work to include the measure in a conference report on a final bill.

In March, she earned the rare distinction as a freshman senator of chairing a full Judiciary Committee meeting on the challenges that women and families face in the immigration system. Before the bill was filed, Hirono led a group of seven senators in sending a letter to the Gang of Eight, encouraging them to prioritize family unification in the immigration bill.

Both during the committee’s mark-up and on the senate floor, Hirono urged her colleagues to craft a bill that would be fair to women, encourage family reunification and allow immigrants taxpayers get access to safety net programs they pay for.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said, “Today is a landmark moment in the fight to fulfill America’s promise as a nation of immigrants. More than two-thirds of the Senate, from all reaches of the country and both ends of the political spectrum, answered the call for immigration reform that the American people made loud and clear in last year’s election. In doing so, they also leveled a challenge for the House to follow suit.

“So far, the House Republicans’ strategy for immigration reform has been to slow-walk and cherry-pick. On the same day that the Senate passed their compromise bill, the House marked up an ideological bill that completely disregarded the needs of minority and immigrant communities laid out by the Congressional Tri-Caucus.

“This overt partisanship cannot last if the House is going to rise to the occasion. I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join us in good faith to solve our immigration problems, and to stop undercutting the sincere efforts that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have put forth. The time for immigration reform is undoubtedly now, and the time for the political games to end has long passed. We must get this done.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), chair emeritus of CAPAC, commented, “As the son of Japanese migrants, this is an issue that is close to my heart. I am ready to work with House Republicans to pass this crucial legislation, and to lead the fight for reform that respects family unity. Your move, Mr. Speaker.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), a member of CAPAC, said, “The vote in the U.S. Senate is a great victory for those of us who have long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. Passage of the bill represents the first realistic chance in years to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, and finally overhaul the dysfunctional immigration laws that have failed to work for the American people for far too long.

“I thank the Gang of Eight, and in particular Chuck Schumer – my home-state senator – for all their tireless work, and for the difficult job they’ve endured in reaching this critical moment.”

Meng also participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill, where members of CAPAC, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, collectively known as the Congressional Tri-Caucus, slammed immigration bills offered by House Republicans.

“I join my colleagues in criticizing House Republicans for pushing forward a piecemeal approach to immigration reform,“ said Meng. “The SKILLS Visa Act, Legal Workforce Act and other GOP bills are unacceptable, and will do nothing to fix our broken immigration system. These bills show a shocking misunderstanding of not only the value of family, diversity visas and how much immigrants contribute to our economy, but they would also place undue burdens on businesses, create hurdles to employment and encourage discrimination of legal immigrants.

“I urge Republicans in the House to reverse course and follow the Senate’s lead by passing a comprehensive reform package so that a full and meaningful overhaul of our nation’s immigration laws can finally become reality.”

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