STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - October 25, 2005)
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By Mr. HAGEL:
S. 1916. A bill to strengthen national security and United States borders, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
By Mr. HAGEL:
S. 1917. A bill to require employers to verify the employment eligibility of their employees, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
By Mr. HAGEL:
S. 1918. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to address the demand for foreign workers; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
By Mr. HAGEL:
S. 1919. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act in order to reunify families, to provide for earned adjustment of status, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. HAGEL. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce my comprehensive immigration reform legislation. This legislative package consists of four bills that deal with national security, employment security, America's workforce, and bringing accountability to those living here illegally. This package is an enhanced version of immigration reform legislation I introduced in 2004 with former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Immigration reform is an urgent national security priority. We cannot continue to defer making tough choices about our nation's immigration policy. It is not in our interest to have 8 to 12 million people undocumented and unaccounted for in our country. The American people won't accept immigration reform until they are convinced we are controlling our borders. Congress must reform the patchwork of immigration laws that have created an underground, black market labor force.
The first bill is the Strengthening America's Security Act of 2005. The bill strengthens national security and U.S. borders by assisting law enforcement in their efforts to secure our borders. It will increase the number of Customs and Border Protection officers; require DHS to use updated technology at the border; increase criminal penalties for alien smuggling, document fraud, misuse of social security numbers, gang violence, and drug trafficking at the border; authorize continued funds to reimburse states for the costs of detaining undocumented aliens; and give DHS additional tools to detain and deport undocumented aliens.
The second bill, the Employment Verification Act of 2005, requires employers to verify the employment eligibility of their employees. The bill will assist all employers in their effort to hire legal workers by establishing a mandatory electronic worker verification system. The system would be managed by DHS in conjunction with the Social Security Administration. The system will allow employers to immediately verify whether an individual is authorized to work in the U.S. This system is already being used by the federal government and by certain employers across the country, including some in Nebraska. The system will be phased-in over a 5 year period, starting with large employers. The legislation includes protections to ensure that the system will not result in hiring discrimination based on race or national origin, nor will it interfere with the regular hiring process. Employers who use the system will receive a ``safe-harbor'' from prosecution for hiring unauthorized workers.
The Strengthening America's Workforce Act of 2005 will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to address
the demand for foreign workers. The bill will provide foreign workers for low-skilled jobs that would otherwise go unfilled by admitting a limited number of workers annually through a new temporary worker program. Employers seeking to hire foreign workers through this program must first demonstrate that no qualified U.S. worker exists and that they will provide the same wage levels and working conditions as U.S. workers. Workers will be admitted for a limited period of time and will be allowed to change employers. Visas are good for 2 years and can be renewed. Qualified workers and their families would be provided an opportunity to adjust their immigration status over time.
In order to address the need for high-tech workers and to reduce the existing worker visa backlog, this legislation would allow foreign students who have earned an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math from U.S. universities to receive a H-1B work visa without leaving the country and without regard to the annual cap of 65,000. In addition, high-tech workers who have worked in the U.S. for three years may be allowed to adjust to permanent resident status without regard to the annual cap of 140,000. The spouses and children of immigrant workers would also be allowed to adjust status without regard to this cap.
In order to encourage more foreign students to study in the U.S., this legislation would give full-time foreign college and graduate students the opportunity to work part-time while studying at U.S. universities.
The fourth bill, the Immigrant Accountability Act of 2005, will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act in order to encourage those in the U.S. illegally to apply for legal status. The legislation would create an earned adjustment program for long-term undocumented Immigrants and provide an opportunity for illegal aliens and their families to become invested stakeholders in the country if they can demonstrate that they have met all of the following requirements:
Passed national security and criminal background checks;
Resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years preceding the date of introduction;
Worked a minimum of 3 years in the U.S. preceding the date of introduction, and 6 years after introduction;
Paid all Federal and State taxes;
Registered for Military Selective Service;
Demonstrated knowledge of English language and American civics requirements;
Paid a $2,000 fine, in addition to required application fees. Fines assessed from this program could total as much as $12 billion.
The legislation would create a program for short-term undocumented immigrants who cannot meet the work or residence requirements. They will register with DHS and will be allowed to apply for a visa. However, these undocumented immigrants must return to their home country to obtain the visa and be readmitted through the legal process. These undocumented immigrants will have three years to complete the application process and will be authorized to work during that time.
There is a backlog reduction provision in the bill that would exempt certain individuals, living outside the U.S., from existing caps on family-based immigrant visas. This section was originally included in the 2004 Hagel/Daschle Immigration Reform bill.
The new fines and fees created by this legislation will fund the new and expanded programs created in it. Fines assessed by this legislation could total as much as $12 billion. A majority of the funds will come from the $2000 fine illegal aliens would pay under the Earned Adjustment Program.
This legislation is the product of years of discussions with law enforcement, business, labor, and advocacy communities. The bills are a serious effort to meet the President's principles for reform with commonsense legislation. In March, I visited the Mariposa Nogales Port of Entry in Arizona at the U.S.-Mexico border and saw first-hand border patrol operations with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
I understand that immigration reform is a complex and difficult issue. In addition to the legislation I have introduced today, there are other proposals on the table. The American people won't accept any more excuses. Now is the time for us to stop deferring tough decisions and take action on this urgent national priority.