Washington, D.C. – Ahead of leading a bipartisan trip to border facilities in Texas, Senator Mazie K. Hirono spoke on the Senate Floor yesterday on the need to show compassion to the unaccompanied children fleeing Central America for the United States. Hirono, the only immigrant in the Senate, shared stories of the danger children are desperately fleeing in their home countries.
Watch Hirono’s full remarks here. Hirono is leading a bipartisan delegation – including Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske – to Texas border facilities in McAllen and Lackland Air Force Base tomorrow, Friday.
Hirono’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
I rise today to speak about the ongoing humanitarian crisis on our Southern Border.
As a woman and an immigrant, my heart breaks for these children.
My mother fled Japan out of desperation to escape a terrible marriage.
I came with her to this country as a young girl and I remember how uncertain I was about what was in store for us.
Although we rode a ship in steerage, at least we traveled safely and together.
We did not face the same kind of danger as these children, who are risking everything to be here.
Their journeys to our border are lined with smugglers and traffickers.
Children are arriving injured and malnourished.
Yet they continue to come, not just to the U.S. but to other nearby countries, fleeing their countries out of desperation.
These children don’t care about the DREAM Act or the Senate’s immigration reform bill.
They are terrified of the violence, abuse, and death in their home countries.
Young girls – who represent 40 percent of the children who arrived this year – often face sexual assault and rape.
Let me share some recent stories from young girls who are fleeing.
One girl fled an area of El Salvador controlled by gangs.
Her brother was killed for refusing to join a gang that tried to forcibly recruit him.
She was raped by two men and became pregnant as a result.
She fled El Salvador and was attacked on her journey to the U.S.
Another girl was kidnapped by a gang in Honduras that attempted to traffic her into prostitution.
She escaped and reported the kidnapping to the police.
The gang then abducted her again, raped her, and burned her with cigarettes.
She fled to the U.S. and is seeking asylum.
Yet another girl fled El Salvador when she was 8 years old.
Gang members had kidnapped her two older sisters.
The girls’ mother did not want her 8-year-old daughter to suffer the same fate, so she arranged for her daughter to be brought to the U.S.
These are horrific stories.
It’s clear that something needs to be done.
I have worked with my colleague Senator Menendez to introduce a comprehensive plan to address this issue.
The plan aims to curtail trafficking and smuggling, contain the violence and discord in Central America, and ensure that these children have access to legal assistance and are in safe and humane conditions when they arrive here.
This Friday, I will also take some of my colleagues to McAllen and San Antonio, Texas, to view facilities housing these children during the processing and removal process.
We see for ourselves the conditions that these children are in and meet with officials and leaders on the ground.
This crisis clearly demonstrates that inaction is not an option.
I urge my colleagues to support the supplemental funding needed for our country to meet this humanitarian crisis.
We have a responsibility to ensure that those in our custody are treated according to our values as a nation—and the President’s request will allow our government to keep these commitments.
I’d also urge my colleagues to reject the idea that the solution here is to speed up deportations of these children, back to the dangerous conditions they fled.
Stripping away basic legal protections for children in this terrible situation will not solve this problem.
To really address this situation we need to do more to work with our partners in the region to reduce violence and improve opportunities in their home countries.
We must provide resources so that we can safely, fairly, and timely process these children, including asylum determination, as provided by the law.
We should all look to our conscience in seeking a path forward.
Surely, we can do better than sending these children back to conditions that we can help change.
Out of sight is not out of mind.
I strongly urge my colleagues to support the President’s supplemental request.
And I urge my colleagues to work toward resolving the underlying causes of this crisis.
Washington, DC – A new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) audit released today found that the average wait time for new patients seeking primary care at the VA Medical Center in Honolulu was 145 days, significantly higher than the desired goal of the VA. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) called the findings of the wait times in Hawai‘i unacceptable and called for improvements in access to health care for veterans.
“This excessive wait time is unacceptable. It is clear that the VA needs additional resources to match increasing demand for health services,” Senator Schatz said. “Our veterans deserve better. That is why I’m
supporting legislation that would cut wait times and establish a major new VA medical facility on Oahu that would double VA clinical services on the island.”
Last week, Senator Schatz announced his support for bipartisan legislation authored by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would make the VA more accountable and
improve access to health care for veterans. It would allow the VA to reallocate $500 million in unspent funds to hire new doctors and nurses, expanding the pool of health care providers to help reduce the wait times for veterans. The bill would also authorize a $15.88 million lease for the Advance Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access (ALOHA) Center in the Ewa Plain of Oahu. Once completed, the 118,000 net usable square-foot ALOHA Center will double the VA’s existing clinical capacity on Oahu, helping veterans get the timely care they need by alleviating the demand for existing services at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. The facility is initially expected to provide care to 15,000 veterans, with enrollment growing annually as more veterans visit from the North Shore and the center of the island.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, released the following statement on data revealed today showing Honolulu’s Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center has the longest average wait time – 145 days – in the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) system when it comes to new patient primary care appointments.
“These long wait times for new patients at Honolulu’s Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center are extremely troubling. The medical center faces challenges involving neighbor island transportation and access, but these should not be excuses. Prior to this data release, my office reached out to the VA Inspector General’s Office asking for an impartial review and verification of wait time data for Hawaii-based VA medical clinics and centers. The audit released by VA today makes clear that we need to get to bottom of what is going on in the VA system in order to take appropriate action. I will also introduce bipartisan legislation this week to provide immediate relief for waiting veterans who require emergency procedures.”
Download Hirono’s letter to the VA here: http://www.hirono.senate.gov/download/letter-to-va-ig.
By Jeff King
Two major figures inside the Beltway turned in their resignations today. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney received a hug from the President this morning. He “…will spend more time with his family…” before deciding his next career move. Carney will be replaced by press aide Josh Earnest.
And Maj. Gen. Eric Shinseki (US Army, retired) resigned as Secretary of the Veterans Administration today. He did so, according to reports, to eliminate the distraction of his presence while the tragedies of medical attention lapses for America’s veterans come under more and more scrutiny.
The retired Army officer will return home to Hawai’i. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), released a statement saying, “General Shinseki is a war hero and public servant who gave everything he had to our country and the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In his judgment, it was time for new leadership to move forward. The problems uncovered are appalling and unacceptable and the VA must deliver accountability for any wrongdoing and systemic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I pledge to work with the new Acting Secretary to make sure all veterans get quality and timely care.”
Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), stated “General Eric Shinseki’s patriotism and dedication to this nation is without parallel. I’ve had a number of opportunities to talk directly with General Shinseki about the challenges facing the VA. I agree with the President’s statement that his ‘commitment to our veterans is unquestioned.’
“I respect the Secretary’s decision to step aside in order to avoid being a distraction. The focus should be on delivering care to our veterans and ensuring the VA has the necessary resources to accomplish that. As I’ve done all year long, I met with veterans groups in Hawaii this week to discuss their firsthand experiences with the VA. I will take their comments, insights and concerns back to DC to inform my work to address the unacceptable situation that has been uncovered.”
Speculation on Shinseki’s replacement is not exactly running rampant and applicants for the job are not flooding the White House.
Washington – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced an amendment that would exempt Hawaii and Alaska from the increase in air travel fees included in the budget deal. This exemption would protect interisland flights from increased air travel fees, which would more than double from $2.50 to $5.60 in the budget compromise bill the Senate will vote on this week.
“The budget deal makes tough choices, working to balance critical investments that grow our economy, ease the pain of the sequester, and preserve our promises to our seniors,” said Hirono. “However, raising air travel fees ignores the disparate economic impact that increased fees and taxes on air transportation would have on non-contiguous states. In Hawaii, residents rely on air travel to receive healthcare, connect with family and friends, and conduct business. That’s why I’ve introduced this amendment with my colleagues from Hawaii and Alaska to help maintain affordable air transportation for our constituents.”
“Flying isn’t just a luxury for Alaskans – it’s a necessity for things like work and medical care. With over 30,000 people living off the road system, doubling air travel security fees for some flights in my state would create an unnecessary strain for traveling Alaskans,” said Begich. “This fix is important so the people in my state affected by these security fee increases are not unfairly burdened.”
“We in Hawaii are in a different situation than those on the mainland and we often are dependent on air travel for business, health care, or to visit family. Recognizing the unique position of both Hawaii and Alaska, and exempting us from increased air fees is not only fair, it is commonsense,” said Schatz.
Senator Hirono sent a letter to Senator Murray before the budget deal was unveiled, noting the history of Congressional exemptions for Hawaii air travel passengers. Hirono also called Murray to discuss the importance of this issue for Hawaii. For the full text of Hirono’s letter, please click here.
Washington, D.C. – Following the devastation that Typhoon Haiyan caused in the Philippines, Senator Mazie K. Hirono joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 16 Senate colleagues to call on the Obama Administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Filipino nationals currently residing in the United States and to consider additional avenues of relief for certain Filipinos with family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. TPS is granted to foreign nationals who cannot safely return to their native country.
“Typhoon Haiyan has wrought unparalleled destruction and tragic loss of life in the Philippines,” the Senators wrote. “Victims of Typhoon Haiyan clearly meet the eligibility requirements for TPS, and we urge you to extend this designation as soon as possible. The United States has demonstrated its commitment to assisting the Philippines with the recovery effort through foreign aid, military assistance and relief supplies, but we must also assist the victims’ families in whatever way possible.”
The letter was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),Chris Coons (D-DE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dean Heller (R-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Currently, the United States grants Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria. TPS would only be available to Filipinos already living in the United States who pass a background check and meet related eligibility requirements.
Below is the full letter:
The Honorable Rand Beers
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20528
Acting Secretary Beers:
In light of the tremendous devastation suffered by the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, we write to express our deep concern about the impact of this tragedy on Filipinos in the United States. We ask that you consider granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Filipino nationals within the United States and additional avenues of relief for certain Filipinos with U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members in the U.S.
As you know, Typhoon Haiyan has wrought unparalleled destruction and tragic loss of life in the Philippines. The U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated the storm’s sustained winds at 195 miles per hour at landfall, which if confirmed would make Haiyan one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced with no shelter or clean water and millions face food shortages.
The United States has granted TPS to other nationals after similarly traumatic events. Following Hurricane Mitch in 1999, the United States granted TPS to Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals; following several earthquakes in Central America in 2001, the United States granted TPS to Salvadorans; and following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the United States granted TPS to Haitians. Victims of Typhoon Haiyan clearly meet the eligibility requirements for TPS, and we urge you to extend this designation as soon as possible. Providing TPS is critical to humanitarian relief efforts as it both protects individuals who would be endangered by returning to their country of origin and it allows the home country more time to recover before accepting returnees.
It is important to note that granting TPS to Filipino nationals will not endanger our security. An alien is ineligible for TPS if he has a criminal background or poses a threat to national security. The decision to deny, withdraw or terminate TPS is in the sole discretion of the government; there is no judicial review of such a determination. Moreover, TPS is not a backdoor to U.S. citizenship. TPS does not make a beneficiary eligible for legal permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship. When the TPS designation of a country is terminated, beneficiaries revert to the same immigration status they maintained before the designation.
We also ask that you consider humanitarian parole and expedited visa processing for Filipinos who have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives in the U.S. and approved or pending family petitions, especially Filipinos who have been orphaned, lost relatives in the storm or suffer other serious hardships. We also ask that you consider an automatic extension of visas, in categories where an extension is feasible, for Filipinos currently present in the U.S. Lastly, we ask that you consider temporarily suspending deportations to the Philippines and utilizing alternatives to detention in appropriate cases.
The United States has demonstrated its commitment to assisting the Philippines with the recovery effort through foreign aid, military assistance and relief supplies, but we must also assist the victims’ families in whatever way possible. Therefore, we respectfully request that you extend TPS to Filipino nationals residing in the United States and support the reunification of U.S. citizens and their Filipino family members.
Thank you for your consideration.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono and Dean Heller (R-NV) have filed an amendment to S.1197, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This legislation will help all eligible Filipino veterans receive the compensation they are entitled to for their service to the United States during World War II.
“Mahalo to Senator Heller for partnering with me to help ensure all Filipino World War II veterans who bravely served alongside Americans in the critical South West Pacific Theatre receive the compensation they have earned. Given the advanced age of many of these Filipino veterans, we simply cannot wait any longer to establish a process that fairly recognizes veterans who deserve benefits,” said Hirono.
“This amendment is the least we can do for our nation’s brave Filipino veterans. Every effort must be made to ensure that those individuals who valiantly served alongside U.S. troops are properly recognized for their contributions to our nation. I am proud to work across party lines with Senator Hirono to ensure these Filipino veterans are treated with dignity and respect,” said Senator Heller.
After World War II, the U.S. Army created the Approved Revised Reconstructed Guerilla Roster of 1948, also known as the “Missouri List,” based on individuals who came forward after the war to receive healthcare. This list has been used by the military to verify those who served alongside U.S. troops in the Philippines. It is possible that some Filipinos who fought were not added to this list and could be improperly denied benefits.
The Filipino Veterans Promise Amendment would direct the Department of Defense (DOD), in consultation with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to establish a process for determining whether certain individuals meet the necessary service requirements to receive veterans’ benefits and subsequently be verified as a Veteran by the United States Army.
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