The Lieberman Immigration Reform Agenda                       
(September 3, 2003)

As the grandchild of immigrants and a husband of a first generation American, Joe Lieberman feels a powerful connection to those who come to this country --whether from overseas or over the border -- looking to live the American dream.  He believes that immigrants don't just improve themselves in seeking a better life here; they enrich our nation and help define who we are.  We should treasure and further that heritage -- not chip away at it.

But American immigration is under threat today - and the opportunities America promises for millions of immigrants are at risk.  In Arizona, a divisive ballot initiative is threatening to deny basic services like health care and education to undocumented immigrants.  In California, another ballot initiative - the "Racial Privacy Initiative" - would make it that much harder to identify and address the challenges facing new Americans.  And what is George W. Bush's response?  Silence.  Not just on these initiatives, but in even speaking with Mexican President Vicente Fox about the critical challenges for us on both sides of the border.

Joe Lieberman has vocally condemned both the Arizona and California initiatives, but he believes we need more than strong words.  Today he is once again filling the Bush leadership gap with a progressive, common-sense agenda to reform the immigration process and renew the values of opportunity and community for the 21st Century.  His agenda focuses on seven key goals:

1) creating a new one-time earned legalization status;
2) strengthening family reunification;
3) offering temporary work visas;
4) fixing bureaucratic obstacles for immigrants and refugees;
5) protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants;
6) improving identification; and
7) achieving the American Dream.


Undocumented immigrants who have lived here for five years, paid taxes and contributed to their communities have earned the right to become full-fledged Americans.  Joe Lieberman believes the time has come to recognize that right -- and give these families a fair chance to realize their dreams.

A balanced earned legalization program will improve our security.  By bringing the honest, hard-working immigrants out of the shadows, we can better focus our enforcement resources on looking for the few who pose real threats to the country, such as criminals and terrorists, thereby making the country safer.

Legalizing undocumented immigrants will fill a long-term need in the workforce, improve the wages and working conditions of all Americans, and stop an underground labor market characterized by abuse and exploitation.

Joe Lieberman would create:

Family Reunification

Because of huge backlogs in the applications for available immigration visas, hundreds of thousands of people are waiting to re-join their close family members.   In fact, a legal permanent resident in the U.S. must wait five years or longer to be reunited with his spouse and minor children.  These backlogs undermine family unity and contradict our common history as a nation of immigrants.

Joe Lieberman believes it is long past time to fix this unfairness.  He would:

Temporary Work Visas

Many undocumented immigrants risk death illegally entering the U.S. looking for work. Joe Lieberman believes that channeling these workers into a work visa program will reduce the often dangerous flow of illegal immigration, alleviate social problems, provide more protections for American workers, enhance our security, and improve our economy.

Unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented immigrants often exploit them, and undercut the wages offered by their law-abiding competitors.  These rampant illegal employment practices hurt American workers by driving down wages and degrading work conditions for all.

Joe Lieberman would:

Addressing Obstacles to Immigration and Refugee Resettlement

A variety of rules, structural problems, and bureaucratic delays have substantially slowed the processing of immigrant visas and the settlement of refugees.  The delays have become much worse under the Bush Administration.  Joe Lieberman believes these hurdles can be removed by:

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, heightened vigilance in the visa process is necessary.  But the Administration should be developing better systems, such as consolidated watch lists and other data-sharing, that allow more efficient screening of applicants.  It should not be using homeland security as an excuse for shutting down lawful immigration and refugee resettlement.

The fact is, however, the admission of refugees this year has fallen far behind the amount allowed by annual quotas -- thanks in large part to much slower processing of security, medical, and other necessary clearances.   As a result, these refugees have been living in squalid camps for many years, with little hope of rescue.  It is wrong to act as if these immigrants and refugees pose a terrorist challenge that we cannot meet through more narrowly focused and expeditious means.

To fix this problem, Joe Lieberman would:

Protecting the Rights of Undocumented Immigrants

The Bush Administration has too often treated undocumented immigrants unacceptably harshly, often using terrorism as a justification.  We must improve and restore the integrity of the naturalization process.   Two particular areas Joe Lieberman believes are in need of reform are:

The September 11 Detainees:
On June 2, 2003, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice released a report detailing problems with the treatment of hundreds of undocumented immigrants arrested in the weeks after September 11, 2001.  The report revealed disturbing details about mishandling and abuse inflicted by our Department of Justice on people in no way linked to terrorism.  There was no evidence of criminal law violations against most of the detainees, yet they were denied access to counsel and their families, and imprisoned in harsh and abusive conditions for months without their cases being reviewed.

In the days after September 11, law enforcement's number one imperative was to prevent additional terrorist attacks.  Nevertheless the Department of Justice should have moved more quickly to review the cases of the hundreds of people it had incarcerated.

Mandatory detention of Haitians and other undocumented immigrants:
In April of 2003, Attorney General Ashcroft issued a decision that requires the automatic detention of all Haitians and others trying to enter the U.S by sea.  The decision means that people seeking asylum automatically will be detained without a chance to request release on bond at a hearing.  The Attorney General has not demonstrated why we should be throwing in prison people who are seeking freedom in this country, even when they pose no flight risk or no danger to the community.

Many refugees from other countries are fleeing because their lives are in danger in their home country.  Each year, hundreds of Haitians are granted political asylum.  We have always held our nation open to people fleeing persecution.  Undocumented immigrants should be entitled to a hearing to determine whether they should be released on bond, if they pose no flight risk and are not dangers to the community.

Joe Lieberman would ensure that undocumented immigrants in detention:

He also would guarantee that:

Improving Identification

Mexican consulates in the U.S. issue identity documents (the matricula consular) for use by its citizens.  Although not eligible for federal benefits, undocumented immigrants can use the IDs in those states, localities and banks that recognize them.  The Department of Treasury is considering clamping down on the acceptance of the documents by banks.  Instead, Joe Lieberman believes banks and state and local governments should be encouraged to recognize the documents.

When undocumented immigrants are forced to live in the shadows, they are more likely to be preyed upon.  The ID cards enable hard-working immigrants to interact with their local governments, and obtain available services and information.  Bank accounts help consumers build assets and avoid high cost financial services, such as check cashers and payday lenders.

Enabling immigrants to open bank accounts also serves law enforcement purposes.  It helps deter crimes against undocumented immigrants, as immigrants often become the targets of robberies and assaults because they are known to carry large amounts of cash on payday.  The acceptance of alternative identification also helps law enforcement combat money laundering and terrorism. Banks and thrifts, in comparison to other financial providers, are subject to federal regulation, and more extensive record keeping and reporting requirements.

The matricula consular documents are just as reliable as state driver's licenses.  And if necessary Joe Lieberman will urge the Mexican government to add even stronger security features to the ID card.

Achieving the American Dream

The American Dream Fund:  The divisive debate over English only proposals ignores a basic reality -- most new Americans want to learn English, because they know it is essential to economic success in this country, but they often can't get access to the necessary educational programs.   According to the National Center for ESL Literacy Education, waiting lists for ESL classes in many urban areas are so long that some immigrants have to wait years before finding space.  In many rural areas, by contrast, there are no classes offered at all.

Instead of trying to take away parts of immigrants' native culture, Joe Lieberman believes we should affirmatively help new Americans learn English -- by widening access to effective educational programs.   His goal is to expand opportunities for new Americans to learn English so they can participate more fully in the workforce, without discouraging the continued use of other languages.

To achieve that goal, he would:
Create a new public-private partnership -- the American Dream Fund -- that would raise money to create new English language classes where the need is greatest.   This new initiative would be chartered by Congress, launched with federal seed money, and grown by asking successful immigrants to give something back so others can reap the opportunities America promises.

The DREAM Act: The bipartisan DREAM Act would make it easier for some students who are undocumented immigrants to attend universities in the U.S., and to apply for permanent residency after school or serving in the Armed Forces.  Joe Lieberman believes we must push for immediate passage of the legislation.

Tens of thousands of students who have lived in America for several years graduate from American high schools each year, but can't go to college because their parents were undocumented when they brought them here.  Federal law prohibits state governments from offering in-state tuition to these students, and that's wrong.  The DREAM Act allows state to give in-state tuition to the students, something many states have expressed an interest in doing.

Reinstatement of 245(i): Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, originally in effect from 1994 to 1997, allowed certain out-of-status immigrants to apply for permanent residency from the U.S.  Without 245(i), the immigrants are forced to leave their families and jobs and return home to apply through U.S. consulates, and they are barred from re-entering the country for three to ten years.

Joe Lieberman believes Section 245(i) must be reinstated.  It is wrong for the government to force people to choose between leaving their families and continuing to live here illegally.