Since the founding of our Republic, the establishment of Justice has always been one of the fundamental duties of the federal government. Not only does Article III of the Constitution enshrine the Judiciary as the third branch of government, but the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments all proscribe fundamental legal rights due to all Americans in both federal and state courts.
Unfortunately, just as the federal government has grown too large and intrusive in education, health care, and transportation, the American justice system has also too often become a burden on Americans’ lives.
But there is hope. There are concrete reform Sen. Lee has undertaken to help return the justice system to balance.
In past decades our criminal justice system was undermined by sentences that were too lenient. Too many violent felons were returning to the streets to do harm too soon. But now, decades later, some mandatory minimum sentences are too harsh. And people are learning that a criminal justice system can be just as undermined by sentences that are too harsh.
This is the premise behind the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that I have co-sponsored in the Senate.
Our bill expands federal judges’ now-limited discretion, so they can imposes punishments – neither too lenient nor too harsh – that fit both the crime and the criminal.
It broadens the federal “safety valve” – a provision that allows judges to sentence a limited number of offenders below the mandatory minimum.
It improves the quality of our federal prisons – by increasing access to vocational training, therapeutic counseling, and reentry services – so that we have fewer first-time offenders turning into career criminals.
Finally, the bill requires the Government Accountability Office to produce a report detailing how many federal crimes are on the books. Right now, no one knows. That is a threat to every Americans liberty, and this bill is a good first step to rolling those criminal laws back.
The authors of our Bill of Rights included the Fourth Amendment because they knew that one of the best protections against tyranny is to limit the government’s power to search its citizens.
Specifically, the Framers wanted to ensure that the federal government could not issue broad general warrants that would empower the executive branch to indiscriminately rummage through the private lives of American citizens—in other words, to spy on them. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the National Security Agency began doing after 9/11.
To roll back this invitation for abuse, Sen. Lee introduced and helps pass the USA Freedom Act, which both banned the bulk collection of domestic telephone and email records while still maintaining the government’s ability to collect necessary intelligence in a more targeted and traditional manner.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no person shall 'be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' And while everyone can agree that crime should not pay, a decades old change in who gets to keep proceeds from asset forfeitures has created a profit incentive that has led to government abuse at the expense of innocent Americans.
Before 1985 proceeds form asset forfeitures went to the general fund where Congress had control over how that money was spent. But after 1985 the Justice Department was given direct control over asset forfeiture proceeds. Since that switch proceeds from asset forfeitures have increased ten-fold.
That is why Sen. Lee has cosponsored the FAIR Act with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which eliminates the profit incentive for law enforcement officers and adopts procedures—such as notice and hearing rights, the right to an attorney, and higher burden of proof—that will better protect the rights of innocent property owners.
The employment-based green card system provides permanent residence to individuals who contribute to U.S. competitiveness and economic growth. Current law caps the number of visas that can be given to immigrants from any given country at 7% of the total number of visas awarded. These per-country caps have resulted in serious unfairness for applicants who come from larger countries where the applicant pool regularly exceeds the country’s share. Whereas applicants from a country that does not take up its allotted share of available visas receive their visas within a very short time, applicants from countries such as India and China can be forced to wait over ten years.
The excessive wait times caused by the current per-country caps force applicants for employment based visas – 95% of whom already live and work in the United States on temporary visas – to make the difficult choice between waiting for many years for a green card or returning to their home countries, taking their training and talent with them. Additionally, because immigrants with temporary visas have restrictions on their ability to change jobs, employers are able to exploit workers under the current system by hiring immigrants from countries with long wait times and thereby force them to work for the same employer for an extended period until their employment-based green card application is approved.
What the Bill Does
Without increasing the number of employment-based visas, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act will create an even playing field for high skilled immigrants and U.S. employers by eliminating the per-country caps on these visas. This means that immigrants will receive green cards on a “first-come, first-serve” basis, rather than having their wait times depend on their country of origin. This will help restore the employment-based visa program’s purpose of allowing U.S. companies to hire the best and the brightest from anywhere in the world. The bill also raises the per-country limit on family-sponsored visas from 7 to 15%.
In addition to eliminating the per-country caps, the bill ensures that the transition from the current system will occur seamlessly, and without any unfairness to current applicants. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that it will take four to five years for existing backlogs to be eliminated under the bill. To ensure that applicants do not have their applications delayed as the system processes applicants stuck in the backlog, the bill sets aside a select number of visas for applicants from countries other than the two countries with the largest application backlogs for a three year period. Moreover, the bill now includes a “do no harm” provision that ensures that people already at the front of the line will have the same or a better wait time after the bill is passed.