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Public Statements

Securing America's Borders Act

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SECURING AMERICA'S BORDERS ACT

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, immigration is the story of American history. From the earliest days of our Nation, generation upon generation of immigrants have come to be part of a land that offers freedom and opportunity to those willing to do their part. Immigrants built our great cities. They cultivated our rich farmlands. They built the railroads and highways that bind America from sea to shining sea. They erected houses of worship to practice their faiths. They fought under America's colors in our wars. In fact, 60,000 immigrants are fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Immigrants worked hard so that their children could embrace the ever-widening possibilities in our land. And over the centuries, immigrants came to America from every part of the globe and made the American dream. They created a Nation that is the envy of the world.

That is our history. But it is also our present and our future.

We heard the moving immigration story anew here in the Senate just last week as Senator DOMENICI eloquently described his family's immigrant roots. He told how his parents came from Italy with nothing. His father earned his citizenship through his service in the U.S. Army in the First World War. His mother remained an undocumented immigrant until much later in life. In fact, she was arrested by the immigration authorities many years after coming to America, but she was able to gain legal status, remain in the country and later become a citizen. The Domenicis worked hard, learned English, built a successful grocery business, and their children went on to have successful professional careers. And, as we know, one became a distinguished and respected United States Senator.

Last week, we also heard from Senator MARTINEZ of Florida of his family's flight from Cuba to begin new lives in America. Young MEL MARTINEZ was 15 years old when his family escaped from Cuba to seek a new life of freedom. Like millions before him, his family worked hard, learned English, and earned their success in Florida. And today, MEL MARTINEZ not only was a Cabinet Secretary in the administration but was elected by the people of Florida to serve as their United States Senator.

There are some in the Senate who seem to believe that immigrants are just criminals. In fact, the Frist bill that's before the Senate declares that all undocumented immigrants are criminals. The Frist bill would have declared Senator DOMENICI's mother to be a criminal and the Kyl amendment would disqualify her from earning American citizenship.

The facts tell a different story. Immigrants--including undocumented immigrants--continue to strengthen the fabric of America in thousands of different ways. As David Brooks observed in his column last week in the New York Times, Hispanic Americans and Hispanic immigrants in particular are less likely to divorce. Husbands and wives stay together and raise their children. Even though they may have less money than other Americans, they spend almost twice as much on music for their children, they spend more on gifts and family get-togethers, and they are more likely to support their elderly parents.

The path of progress that we witnessed with the Martinez and Domenici families is familiar even today. By the second generation, most immigrant families have reached the middle class and they pay more than enough taxes to make up for the costs of their parents' generation. By the third generation, 90 percent of the grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants speak English fluently, and 50 percent of them marry non-Hispanics. These patterns of assimilation are identical to those that characterized the children and grandchildren of Southern and Eastern European immigrants who came to the United States 100 years ago, and to the assimilation of German and Irish immigrants who came here 50 years before that.

In many ways, our economy is more dependent on immigration than ever before. The arrival of new and young immigrant workers helps explain why America's economy grows faster than most of the aging European nations. According to the Aspen Institute, immigration will be the only source of growth in the prime age labor force in America in the next two decades. So America's choice really is between immigration and economic stagnation.

However, even though immigration brings many benefits, there is no doubt that our current system is broken and fails to protect us and meet our Nation's needs. Our borders are out of control at a time of heightened concern about terrorism. Millions cross our borders and remain illegally, creating an underground society that is subject to abuse and that harms American wages and working conditions. Millions more enter through our airports and seaports as visitors but remain long after their visas expire. They come and remain because they wish to work and contribute, and our employers continue to offer them jobs. As a result, more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are living and working in America today.

Many in Congress suggest that the answer is simply more enforcement. Just build more fences and hire more patrols and it will solve the problem.

But we have tried that before and failed. We have spent more than $20 billion over the past decade to build fences and triple our border patrols, but illegal immigration went up, not down. In the 1980s, the rate of illegal immigration was 40,000 people a year. Today, it is more than half a million. And the probability that a border crosser will be apprehend has plummeted from 20 percent a decade ago to just 5 percent today.

An enforcement-only approach to solving our immigration problems may make a good campaign slogan. But in reality it is a failed strategy that threatens our security and threatens American wages.

That's why Senator MCCAIN and I have proposed a comprehensive, common sense plan to make a real difference.

An effective immigration strategy must have three parts.

First, we must enhance and modernize our immigration enforcement capabilities, both at our borders and at worksites. To accomplish this, our bill enhances our capacity to monitor immigration flows and stop illegal entry. To do this, it doubles the number of Border Patrol agents over the next 5 years. And it builds roads, fences, and vehicle barriers in specific high-flow areas; adds significant new technology at the border to create a robust ``virtual fence''; develops new land and water surveillance plans; authorizes new permanent highway checkpoints near the border; and expands the exit-entry security system to all land borders and airports.

Our bill increases our capacity to crack down on criminal syndicates that smuggle immigrants into the country and place them at great risk. To aid in this mission, it creates new Federal penalties for constructing border tunnels; new criminal penalties for evading or refusing to obey commands of immigration officers; and new criminal penalties for financial transactions related to money laundering or smuggling. And it creates new fraud-proof biometric immigration documents; increases access to anti-fraud detection resources; and improves coordination among Federal, State, local, and tribal efforts to combat alien smuggling.

Our bill increases cooperation with Mexico to strengthen migration control at Mexico's southern border to deter migration from Central America through Mexico and into the United States. And it requires cooperation with other governments in the region to deter international gang activity.

And our bill would reduce the job magnet in America by creating a universal electronic eligibility verification system which will allow employers to tell which individuals are authorized to work in the United States. It will substantially increase penalties against employers who fail to comply with eligibility verification rules and add 5,000 new enforcement agents to back up these provisions.

Second, we must address the presence of the 11 million undocumented workers who are here now.

It is clear that we are not going to send them back. Many have American citizen children and even grandchildren, and deporting them would rip families apart. The massive roundup of 11 million people would create havoc in our communities and cost $240 billion. It would require 200,000 buses in a convoy that would stretch from Alaska to San Diego.

These families want to continue working and contributing to our communities, and we should give them that opportunity not by offering an amnesty, but by allowing them to earn the right to remain.

So under our plan, to earn their legal status and eventually apply for citizenship, they must pay a $2000 fine, work for six years, pay their taxes, learn English and civics, pass rigorous criminal and security background checks, and get in the back of the line behind those who have been waiting patiently to qualify for green cards.

Unfortunately, yesterday on television Senator FRIST mischaracterized our commonsense proposal. He called it an amnesty, when in fact nothing is forgiven, nothing is pardoned. Undocumented workers must earn the privilege of legal status and a path to American citizenship.

And he said that our plan allows undocumented immigrants to jump to the front of the line, when our bill says plainly in black and white that they must wait in the back.

We should conduct this debate based on fact, not fiction--thoughtful policy and not bumper sticker slogans.

Earned legalization should not be available to criminal aliens and others who would undermine U.S. security, but we must not be fooled by the amendment offered last week by Senators KYL and CORNYN. Our bill already excludes from earned legalization criminal aliens and any immigrant representing a security risk to the United States. The Kyl-Cornyn amendment would also exclude literally millions of undocumented immigrants already living and working in this country because they previously failed to depart following an order to do so. Our analysis of DHS and INS statistics suggests that fully 95 percent of immigrants affected by the Kyl-Cornyn amendment would not be criminal aliens, but rather exactly the hardworking immigrants and families this program is designed to bring out of the shadows.

The third and final element of a successful immigration strategy is to address future immigration. We must provide a path to earned legalization for those already here. But we must also address the continuing needs of our employers for workers and the reality that people will continue to come here to improve their lives and contribute to America.

In the past, we have largely ignored these realities. We have turned our heads as people have come here to work and required them to remain in an underground economy.

The head-in-the-sand policy cannot be allowed to continue. It is harmful to these workers who are subject to abuse by employers. It is harmful to employers who never know if their workers may be sent home tomorrow, and most of all it is harmful to American workers whose wages are cut because employers can get away with hiring undocumented workers at lower pay.

Therefore, the plan that Senator McCain and I propose and that was adopted by the Judiciary Committee provides a strong and effective guest worker program for the future. It is far better for American workers if future immigrants come here legally with rights to fair wages and working conditions, rather than having to compete with illegal workers who are paid substandard wages. Isn't it better if an employer must pay an immigrant carpenter a standard wage like American workers than a substandard wage that drives down wages for everyone else? That is what our guest worker program would do.

It is estimated that the American economy demands about 400,000 new low-skilled immigrants each year, but our current immigration system grants only 5,000 visas to these workers. That is why we have more than 11 million undocumented workers today. There simply are not enough visas to go around.

To meet future needs, our guest worker program takes the commonsense step of starting with a 400,000 annual quota and allows the quota to be adjusted up or down in future years based on the needs of the economy.

Taking this realistic step would free up our enforcement efforts to focus not on those who yearn to breathe free--they should be welcomed as guest workers who contribute to America. We should concentrate our enforcement resources on those who would truly harm us--the criminals, the drug smugglers, and especially the terrorists. That should be the priority for our time, and that is the priority of the McCain-Kennedy legislation.

Enhanced enforcement, earned legalization for those who are here, and a realistic guest worker program for the future--that is a plan for success, and the American people know it. It is a plan that Time magazine reports is supported by more than three-quarters of the American people, and they support it because they know our three-part plan increases our security, respects our values, and strengthens our progress. In fact, poll after poll finds that between two-thirds and three-quarters of all Americans favor a new program to allow temporary visas for future essential workers, and an even higher proportion favor allowing undocumented immigrants into the United States to earn citizenship if they learn English, have a job, and pay taxes.

In contrast, in a Time magazine poll conducted last week, just one in four Americans favor making illegal immigration a crime and preventing anyone entering the country illegally from remaining in the country and working here. The American people want real comprehensive reform, not just more immigration enforcement.

All three of these changes are necessary if we are to address the root causes of undocumented immigration and break the cycle of illegality which now corrodes our immigration system. All three of these changes are necessary if we are to ensure that immigrant families today, as in the past, continue to live the American dream and contribute to our prosperity, our security, and our values. All three of these changes are necessary if we are to be true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I have probably 15 pages of names of different groups that support and now embrace the McCain-Kennedy legislation, now called our border security legislation. There are 430 different groups that have supported this legislation representing the faith community.

This chart is entitled ``Evangelical Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.''

We support comprehensive immigration reform, based on the biblical mandates, our Christian faith and values, and our commitment to civil and human rights.

These are 41 national, local, and individual evangelical leaders and groups. This is reflected also in other religious groups that have supported it, including a number of groups representing labor, business communities, men and women of faith who are supporting the comprehensive approach.

I will review very quickly, once again, the kind of worker protections we have put in this legislation. One of the principal reasons the church leaders have been so supportive is because they have followed and witnessed this program for so many years.

In the 1950s we had the Bracero Program which was a program that saw enormous human abuses of workers who were basically brought in here, doing sweat labor, without any rights at all, and then shipped back, for the most part, to Mexico. There was an extraordinary exploitation of individuals. That ended in the early 1960s. I was in the Senate when that program ended.

We still have enormous tensions between the workers and the farmers, particularly in California and a number of other Western States. We also have seen it on the east coast as a number of migrant workers have come up from Florida, through Georgia, through the Carolinas, even ended up coming into New York State and my own State in the form of apple pickers and other fruit pickers. They have followed the seasons.

But primarily this issue about agricultural workers has been focused, as has been spoken to eloquently by the Senator from California, Mrs. Feinstein. She has played an indispensable role, along with Senator Craig, who has been a longtime sponsor of what we call the AgJOBS bill. We have votes on that legislation. A bipartisan majority of the members supported that legislation. That particular legislation has been altered to a very small extent and incorporated in the broader legislation. It is one of the important reasons to commend this legislation.

As I have mentioned in an earlier statement, we have a comprehensive approach toward our immigration challenge that we are facing in this country, but there is a very important AgJOBS issue. We had not addressed it in the McCain-Kennedy legislation because it appears to have a separate constituency, but we were able to get that incorporated through the leadership of Senator Feinstein. It strengthened our package.

I mention, first of all, the protections that have been put in the agriculture comprehensive. Anyone who has followed the relationship between the farmers and the workers would understand it has been an extraordinarily strained relationship, to say the least. Caesar Chavez was the great leader of the farm workers. I had the opportunity to know, respect, and hold him in high regard. He was the leader for the farm workers for a great number of years. He is regarded almost as a saint among the farm workers.

There was enormous tension during a prolonged period of time, and in recent years there has been an accommodation between the two groups. Both of the groups--the farmers and agricultural workers--got together and made a proposal. This obviously has enormous implications. From my point of view, it has enormous implications because of what it will do. It will mean that men and women who work in that extraordinarily challenging and difficult agricultural area, which is back-breaking work, will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. And, second, it provides assurance to the farmers of a definite labor supply. Third, it gives the assurance that States such as California, the leading agricultural State, is going to have dependability and reliability in terms of the work force. That is going to mean better service to the consumers of agricultural products all across this country.

It is enormously valuable and very worthwhile and one of the compelling reasons for this legislation. Included in this legislation are very important protections that are not in there under the current H-2A program. Some people have talked about what is happening in agribusiness today in the H-2A program, and too much of that is true, but that will be altered and changed under the agricultural worker compromise.

There are specific provisions; again, in order to be eligible for this program individuals are going to have to demonstrate, they must already have a work record of more than 2 years. They will be able to work over a period of 3 years in the business after that period of time, 3 to 5 years, and after that, they can get on a glidepath toward citizenship. So total time for them would be a total of 10 to 12 years in order to earn the opportunity to be a citizen. That means they will have to pay the penalties, they will have to demonstrate they paid their taxes, that they have had no trouble with the law, and they have complied with the other provisions of the legislation. So there are very important protections.

If there were no other reasons for the support for this legislation, that particular provision, the AgJOBS legislation, is overwhelming in its importance and consequence in advancing the cause of justice for agricultural workers and also the assurance to farmers of a dependable and reliable workforce.

It has been stated a number of times by some Members perhaps who are not as familiar with the legislation as they might be, about the kind of protections that exist in the underlying legislation with regard to the guest worker program and how it would work. First of all, there has to be an advertisement in the United States to try and recruit American workers first. There has to be a certification of the effort under penalty of violating the law. They have to advertise to recruit American workers first. It is only after they have been unable to recruit American workers that they will be able to recruit workers, primarily in Mexico, but there is an allocation of workers, depending on the workforce in terms of other countries, and in limited numbers for other countries in Central America. There are even provisions in terms of the Asian nations. Those will be worked out through the embassies and through the department.

When this individual comes to the United States as a guest worker, they will have a tamper-proof identification card. The employer will know that individual has had his criminal record reviewed, that the person is found to be the individual as portrayed, and where there is employment that will be available to that individual in the United States. There are provisions included in the legislation that they are going to be covered by the prevailing wage, they will be covered by the Davis-Bacon provisions, they will be protected if they are going to work as what they call ``service contract'' employees, and their wages will be protected in those areas, as well.

Instead of having what we have at the present time--an undocumented alien worker recruited by an employer who can say: Look, you will work for me for $1, and if you do not like it I will turn you over to the immigration authority--this individual will be able to have the card and existing protections for wages which will have the corresponding effect. It will mean that all the wages are going to at least be enhanced because we will no longer have the downward drive in wages with the undocumented. And if that individual is feeling exploited in some way or being denied that or lied to, that individual will be able to take that same card and go to another job. That individual has to find that job within a period of time, some 45 days. In other words, we have drafted this legislation to take into account the exploitation which has existed in the past.

Under this particular provision, we will be avoiding that kind of exploitation. Under this provision we will be guaranteeing the protection of wages for that worker and permitting those who are undocumented to be able to acquire a card, as well.

Regarding the enforcement against employers who are interested in exploiting those workers, we have the mechanism to make sure those individuals are held accountable and prosecuted, which has never been done previously. It is important.

Our leader is here, and I will withhold my comments. I yield the floor.

http://thomas.loc.gov/

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