June 27, 2013

SENATE APPROVES IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL THAT DELIVERS BIG RESULTS FOR HAWAII

Hirono, The Senate’s Only Immigrant, Worked Closely With Colleagues To Shape Bill To Help Hawaii, Immigrant Women & Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono voted today for the Senate immigration reform bill that delivers big results for Hawaii and includes a number of measures that protect immigrant women and families. The U.S. Senate’s only immigrant, 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. 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 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.

Summaries of each of the measures Hirono convinced her colleagues to include in the final Senate bill reads below:

Hirono’s Immigration Victories For Hawaii

  • Reunifying Filipino WWII Vets With Their Children: Although thousands of Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service to the United States in World War II, their children were not granted citizenship. Senator 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: 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. Senator Akaka last introduced a bill in 2011 that would have restored migrants’ Medicaid eligibility.
  • Allowing Hawaii Fishing Vessels To Temporarily Rotate Foreign Crews: 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 nonimmigrant 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. Senator Hirono’s amendment would allow U.S. vessels to temporarily rotate their nonimmigrant foreign crew in Hawaii, the same flexibility currently available to U.S. ships rotating crew in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Measure To Potentially Increase Tourism To Hawaii: Senator Hirono’s bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by Senators Hatch and Lee, would designate Hong Kong as eligible to be considered for participation in the visa waiver program (VWP) for visitors to the United States. 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 2013.

Hirono Measures To Help Women & Families In Immigration System

  • Keeping Families United At the Border: 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.
  • Making DREAM Act Students Eligible For Federal Student Aid: Senator 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 United States before they were 16 years of age and were granted registered provisional immigrant status, or who are immigrant farm workers with blue card status.
  • Protecting Victims Of Child Trafficking: 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.
  • Allowing Immigrants On Path To Citizenship To Pay Penalties in Installments: Senator Hirono’s measure makes the path to citizenship more fair for Registered Provisional Immigrants by making penalties payable in installments.
  • Strengthening The DHS Official Charged With Protecting Immigrants’ Rights: The committee also approved an amendment that would strengthen the Department of Homeland Security official charged with protecting the rights of immigrants in our immigration system.
  • Studying How Merit System Impacts Who Can Get Green Cards: Hirono amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to study how the new merit based system impacts who is allowed to immigrate to the United States.
  • Better Understanding Immigration Trends: Senator Hirono’s amendment requires the Department of Homeland Security to gather confidential data on Registered Provisional Immigrants. This information will be used to better understand immigration trends and make necessary policy adjustments.