The Senate Judiciary Committee will dedicate most of its time this spring to comprehensive immigration reform, including changes for technology companies and agricultural businesses, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, said Wednesday.
"We have to find a way through the partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change on immigration laws, and that should include a path for citizenship," Leahy said at Georgetown University Law Center this morning. "I know I’m going to hear a lot of different views on this, but I hope that in the end we can honor those who came before us from distant lands in search of freedom and opportunity."
The committee will start next month with public hearings, Leahy said. He did not mention specific proposals, but hinted at reforms targeting H1-B visas by mentioning "innovating for technology companies" and H2-A visas by mentioning the "hardworking men and women who play vital roles supporting our farmers."
Leahy also said the committee will continue oversight of the nation's counterterrorism efforts and protecting civil liberties, including the administration's use of drones abroad as well as in the United States.
"I am concerned about the growing use of drones by federal and local authorities to spy on Americans here at home," Leahy said. "This fast-emerging technology is cheap and I think just because it’s available doesn’t mean it helps us. There could be a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans."
The committee will begin examining reforms to national gun policy to remedy "tragedies like last month's shootings in Newtown," Leahy said. He said hearings would find a way to better protect communities from mass shootings "while respecting the fundamental right to bear arms recognized by the Supreme Court."
The committee will also focus on promoting national standards and oversight for forensic labs and practitioners, as well as fiscal issues related to the high rate of imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences, Leahy said.
The reliance on mandatory minimum sentences has been "a great mistake," Leahy said. "Let judges act as judges and make up their own mind what should be done. The idea we protect society by one size fits all…it just does not work in the real world."
Leahy also said there are too many young people, minorities, and people from the inner cities, who are serving time where others who do the same crime get lighter penalties. He used the example of someone from the inner city buying $100 of cocaine could spend years in prison, while a Wall Street banker would only face reprimand, and maybe spend a week of public service on Park Avenue.