The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to express the sense of the Senate that the country must not prohibit people from entering the U.S. based on their religion, approving what opponents argue is a move toward the creation of a human right to migration.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-MA) to legislation on nuclear terrorism conventions, passed 16 – 4.
“It is the sense of the Senate that the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this Nation was founded,” the amendment reads.
Committee members highlighted the recent comments by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump — to suspend Muslim immigration to the U.S. — as the reason such legislation is needed.
Prior to passage, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) offered a lengthy response in opposition to the Leahy amendment urging caution in its consideration given its wide breadth.
“I would note there is nothing in the Leahy amendment that mentions Islam or Trump. It is a broad, historic statement of policy that goes beyond what we’ve done before, misunderstands the situation,” Sessions said.
“Let’s say we have a situation where the Klan makes itself somehow into a religion and we can’t consider their hateful ideas when they apply for admission into America?” he asked. “So this goes beyond where we ought to be going, it has impacts for years to come. I think it’s a principle that is too broadly stated and we shouldn’t have frustration over political statements to create a resolution that is unwise.”
Sessions argued that the amendment would be transformative, extending Constitutional rights to foreign nationals, saying that it would be a progression toward the ratification of the idea that global migration is a “human right.”
“And that immigrant rights must be supreme to the rights of sovereign nations to determine who can and cannot enter their borders. Fundamentally foreign nationals living in foreign countries do not have a Constitutional right to enter the United States. If they did any alien denied entry could filed suit to demand entry, claim damages for loss of employment, lost welfare benefits or income if they believe they were improperly denied,” Sessions said.
Democrats claimed that religious freedom is an essential right that Trump has threatened.
“The offering of the senator from Vermont to reaffirm a basic tenet, the basic American value is appropriate and timely,” Sen. Dick Durbin said, highlighting Trump’s comments and the bipartisan objection to Trump’s policy.
The committee also passed an addition offered by Sessions to Leahy’s amendment to express the sense of the Senate that the Second Amendment “is among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty and deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, such that any violation of this precious right would be contrary to the fundamental principles upon which this Nation was founded.”
Sessions, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. David Vitter and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted against the Leahy amendment amended by the Sessions language. Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. David Purdue (R-GA), Leahy, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Durbin, Sen, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-IL), Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) voted for the Leahy amendment.
Those who were not in attendance voted by proxy.