[WASHINGTON, DC] – The United States Senate today approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill balances enforcement – stronger border security, tougher sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants – with provisions allowing undocumented immigrants who work hard and play by the rules to earn their way to legal status. The Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 62 to 36.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that while the bill was not perfect, it was a compromise worthy of support. “If we want to address the problem of illegal immigration effectively, we must take a comprehensive approach. We must strengthen border security, improve enforcement of our immigration laws, and deal with the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants who are in the United States today. In the final analysis, this bill achieves these goals.”
Durbin was the author of several key provisions of the immigration bill including:
- an amendment eliminating legislative language that would have criminalized nurses, volunteers and people of faith who provide humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants;
- the DREAM Act, a narrowly tailored, bipartisan measure that would permit a select group of undocumented students to earn their way to citizenship if they came here as children;
- the addition of 2,000 Department of Labor investigators to ensure that companies obey the law on guest workers; and
- a program to address the increasing migration of health workers from the poorest countries in the world. This “brain drain” is considered the single biggest obstacle to fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa.
In recent months, churches, charities and community organizations in Illinois and across the country have expressed serious concern over language in immigration legislation being considered by the Senate that could criminalize their humanitarian assistance to immigrants in need.
Durbin said that while the original bill included an exception for humanitarian assistance, the exception only protected individuals, not organizations, such as churches, hospitals, or schools. Furthermore, the exception only applied to aid provided in emergency situations and aid given without compensation.
“Charitable organizations should be able to provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants without fearing prosecution,” said Durbin. “A domestic violence shelter should not be forced to decide whether the government would regard a situation as ‘an emergency’ before they protect a battered mother and her children. A non-profit hospital should not be required to provide medical care without compensation in order to avoid criminal prosecution.”
This legislation also includes the DREAM Act, a narrowly tailored, bipartisan measure that Durbin sponsored with Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN). The DREAM Act would permit undocumented students to become permanent residents if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years.
“Our immigration laws prevent thousands of young people from pursuing their dreams and fully contributing to our nation’s future. These young people have lived in this country for most of their lives. It is the only home they know. They are American in every sense except their technical legal status,” said Durbin. “They are honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists and valedictorians. These children are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, firefighters, soldiers, and senators.”
Under Durbin’s amendment, those applying for legal status to work as health professionals in America must answer whether they signed a bond or made a promise to work in their home country in exchange for educational support. If the answer is yes, they must fulfill that commitment before being allowed to work in the U.S.
Additionally, the amendment would allow legal permanent resident doctors and nurses to travel to developing countries to assist with health emergencies without jeopardizing their own immigration status in the U.S.
“We must find a way to allow immigrants to make a difference in global health crises without sacrificing their own American dreams. America is a land of opportunity; it is also a land of compassion. Any comprehensive immigration reform must reflect both,” Durbin said.
Department of Labor Inspectors
At Durbin’s request, the comprehensive legislation included an additional 2,000 Department of Labor investigators to ensure that companies obey the law on guest workers.
Durbin cautioned that the fight for comprehensive immigration reform was far from over.
“Today is a historic day in the United States Senate, but there is still one more bridge to cross in order to enact comprehensive immigration reform. We must reconcile this bill, which takes a comprehensive approach, with the enforcement-only legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The President says he supports comprehensive reform. Now he must exercise his leadership to make it a reality.”