After many days of work on immigration reform as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) released the following statement after voting for final passage of the Senate’s immigration reform bill in committee on May 21:
“I applaud Chairman (Patrick) Leahy (D-Vt.), the Gang of Eight and my Judiciary Committee colleagues for their productive work and this transparent process. Both as a new senator and a new member of the committee, it was an honor to work with my colleagues on this significant piece of legislation.
“We added a number of amendments that will help my home state of Hawaii and improved the bill. This immigration reform bill does much to improve family immigration, but I fear that the bill contains some fundamental changes to our immigration system that move us away from the principle of family unification.
“I will continue working to strengthen the provisions in the bill that impact families. Nearly everyone agrees that our immigration system is badly broken and in dire need of fixing, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”
The committee adopted a number of Hirono’s amendments to the immigration bill:
- Reunifying Filipino World War II vets with their children (Hirono1): Although thousands of Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service to the U.S. in World War II, their children were not granted citizenship. Hirono’s amendment would help eliminate the immigration backlog for the families of Filipino World War II vets seeking citizenship. The amendment is identical to Hirono’s previously introduced bill, the bipartisan Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act of 2013.
- Restoring Medicaid eligibility for compact migrants (Hirono15): In 1996, Congress passed a law that made migrants from Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall islands who now live in Hawaii ineligible for federally backed Medicaid funding. But Hawaii has continued to provide health care services to these families even without federal support. Each year, the state spends an estimated $30-40 million to provide health care to these families. By making these individuals eligible for Medicaid, Hirono’s amendment requires the federal government to once again share the cost of providing health care to these individuals. Restoring Medicaid eligibility for these compact migrants has been a priority of Hawaii leaders for more than a decade. Sen. Daniel Akaka last introduced a bill in 2011 that would have restored migrants’ Medicaid eligibility.
- Making DREAM Act students eligible for federal student aid (Hirono21): Hirono’s amendment would make DREAM Act students eligible for federal student loans, work-study, and campus services like academic counseling. The amendment would give these students financial options to pay for their education like other academically qualified Americans. These are students who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years of age and were granted registered provisional immigrant status, or who are immigrant farm workers with blue card status.
- Making Hong Kong eligible for the visa waiver program (Hirono4): Hirono’s bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee (both R-Utah), would designate Hong Kong as eligible to be considered for participation in the visa waiver program (VWP) for visitors to the U.S. The VWP allows citizens of participating foreign countries or states to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, provided they meet appropriate requirements. Currently, 37 countries are VWP participants. Hong Kong must still meet all statutory requirements that every country must meet for inclusion in the VWP. The amendment is identical to a bill previously introduced by Hirono in April.
- Keeping families united at the border (Hirono23): Right now, many families are torn apart at the border since current law requires many adult men to be transferred to a border location hundreds of miles away from where they were intercepted. Meanwhile, their families are simply sent back across the border at the place they were intercepted with no money and no idea of where their husbands or fathers were taken. The situation leaves the women and children vulnerable to trafficking, sexual violence and other dangers. Hirono’s amendment would stop families from being torn apart at the border by allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consider keeping families together during removal.
- Allowing Hawaii fishing vessels to temporarily rotate foreign crews (Hirono2): Hawaii and Hawaii residents depend on fresh, locally caught fish. Because of Hawaii’s geographic isolation, Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet faces a unique competitive disadvantage. Federal law requires U.S. fleets to rotate their non-immigrant foreign crews at foreign ports. While mainland fleets can comply with this requirement by rotating foreign crews at ports in Canada or Mexico, Hawaii-based vessels must make a round-trip voyage of more than two weeks to reach the nearest foreign port. Hirono’s amendment would allow U.S. vessels to temporarily rotate their non-immigrant foreign crews in Hawaii, the same flexibility currently available to U.S. ships rotating crew in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
- Protecting victims of child trafficking (Hirono22): Hirono’s amendment, the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act, would place independent child welfare professionals at border patrol stations to provide basic humanitarian assistance to unaccompanied immigrant children held in border stations. The measure also ensures appropriate screening of children to identify victims of persecution or trafficking and ensures children are not held for longer than necessary in U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.
- Making the path to citizenship more fair (Hirono12): Hirono’s measure makes the path to citizenship more fair for registered provisional immigrants by making penalties payable in installments.
- Strengthening protection of immigrants’ rights (Hirono24): The committee also approved an amendment that would strengthen the Department of Homeland Security official charged with protecting the rights of immigrants in the immigration system.
- Studying how merit system impacts who is allowed to come to this country (Hirono11): The amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to study how the new merit-based system impacts who is allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
- Understanding immigration trends (Hirono20): Hirono’s amendment requires the DHS to gather confidential data on registered provisional immigrants. This information will be used to better understand immigration trends and make necessary policy adjustments.