REMARKS [AS PREPARED]: AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE
Thank you so much for inviting me to join you here today. It is especially an honor to be here as you mark your 100th meeting. The longevity of this organization is a testament to you dedication and commitment to combating bigotry and promoting and protecting the civil rights of all.
The theme of your meeting -- "You Have to Light the Future" -- really highlights the obligation that we all have before us -- and that is to make the world we live in today, a better place for tomorrow. We owe that to our children and our grandchildren and all future generations.
As you know, an area where we have a real opportunity before us now to "light the future" and to make the world a better place for those among us and those ahead of us is the debate over the reform of our Nation's immigration laws.
America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants founded our country and throughout our history have contributed to its growth, development, and its unique diversity. For so many, America has long been a symbol of hope, refuge, and opportunity. I believe strongly that we must keep it that way.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have worked on immigration issues for more than a decade. During the past several months, however, the immigration reform debate has taken center stage in the U.S. Senate. The reason for the focus on immigration is simple -- our current immigration system is broken.
At present, there are approximately 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, with approximately 500,000 more entering each year. For the most part, we do not know who these people are or what they are doing. For our own national security, we need to fix this problem.
For American business owners who need workers for jobs that Americans will not do, our system is also broken. Today, in fact, we have only 5,000 visas a year that provide a path to citizenship for low-skilled foreign workers. Yet, our economy demands approximately 500,000 of these jobs each year. Our demand for work does not match our legal supply. For the good of our economy, we need to fix this problem.
Finally, for the immigrants, themselves, our system is broken. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, approximately 94% of illegal immigrants are working -- a labor participation rate that exceeds the rate of U.S.-born workers by more than 20 percent. Nonetheless, many of these immigrants are exploited, abused, and forced to live in the shadows. For the sake of American and foreign-born workers, we need to fix this problem.
Fortunately, we have a solution. Along with approximately 65 other Senators, I support a compromise bill that tackles each of these problems by taking a comprehensive approach to the immigration reform issue.
First, this bill increases enforcement of our borders, giving law enforcement officials the resources they need to fight illegal immigration. Over five years, it adds 12,000 new border patrol agents, 5,000 new interior agents, and 1,000 new agents dedicated to combating alien smuggling. It calls for building additional border fences in Arizona and mandates new road and vehicle barriers along the southern border. It cracks down on employers by increasing penalties for hiring unlawful aliens, including prison terms for those employers who engage in a pattern of misconduct. And, it creates an electronic, nation-wide employer verification system to make it easier for employers to determine which individuals are authorized to work in the country and which ones are not.
If passed, this would be the toughest enforcement bill in our Nation's history. Though we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. We need to enforce those laws so that we know who is in our country and why they've come calling. This bill would do just that. Second, this bill creates a guest worker program that would allow foreign workers to come here in the future to perform jobs that Americans will not do. The number of guest-workers is capped at 400,000 per year, but will adjust up or down with market demands. Under this bill, a guest worker can work in the United States for a total of six years.
Unlike some guest worker proposals, this one allows for a path to permanent residence in the United States. At any point during a guest-worker's six-year period, an employer can petition for him or her to become a legal permanent resident. The worker also can petition on his own after four years.
Such a guest worker program is not only good for the American economy, it is also good for our national security. By creating broad, legal channels for foreign workers to enter the United States and perform jobs that Americans won't do, we can eliminate the cause of illegal immigration. Again, this bill does just that.
Finally, the bill takes a realistic approach to the millions of undocumented workers currently in the country. We cannot begin to enforce our laws, meet the needs of our businesses, protect our workers, and keep our Nation safe from terrorists until we know who is in our country and why.
Mass deportation will simply not work. It would be too costly, too ineffective, and would either force 3.3 million American children -- children who were born here and are citizens -- to leave the country and separate them from their illegal immigrant parents. The bill that I support takes a more realistic and humane approach to the problem.
The bill I support provides incentives for these individuals to come out of the shadows. For those who have been here more than five years, it proposes a long path to citizenship. For those with shorter ties to the country, the bill requires them to leave the United States, but permits them to re-enter under the guest worker program.
Critics call this amnesty. In truth, however, this bill differs from amnesty in almost every way. Under an amnesty approach, all 11-12 million illegal immigrants would receive automatic citizenship, without having to prove their entitlement to the benefits of United States citizenship.
Our bill does nothing of the kind. It would only give a direct path to citizenship to those who have lived in the United States for the past 5 years. Those individuals would have to come forward, pay a $2000 fine, pass a criminal background check, pay their back taxes, register for military service, learn English, and then hold a job for 6 more years. At the end of this additional 6-year period, these individuals would go to the back of the line for citizenship. Only after a minimum of 5 more years of continued employment could these individuals become citizens.
In the fastest cases, it would take 11 years of working hard and playing by the rules for an individual to become an American citizen. And in many cases, it would take much longer. To me, this is not amnesty. It is earning your right to live the American dream.
Two other provisions of the comprehensive immigration bill are worth noting. First, the bill includes Ag Jobs -- a provision that provides a long-term solution to the labor issues currently confronted by the agricultural industry. Today, up to 75% of America's farm work force is undocumented. In some cases, operators have to shut down because they cannot find a legal labor supply. In other cases, operators loose crops as they struggle with an immigration system that provides them with neither the workers they need nor the ease to get them. The problem has gotten so bad that for the first time, we are on the verge of importing more food than we grow.
Ag Jobs is the solution. I am an original co-sponsor of this bill and am proud that we have included it in the comprehensive immigration reform package now pending in the Senate.
This bill does several important things. It permanently reforms the H-2A visa program -- the visa program used by agricultural workers -- streamlining the process to make it easier to use and more efficient. It also would create a one-time only earned adjustment program so that employers could retain trusted, tax-paying employees with a proven work history. This would bring hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers out of the shadows. Finally, by ensuring that industry gets the workers its needs to survive, Ag Jobs would guarantee that we continue to get the safe, stable supply of food that we need.
The comprehensive reform package also includes a provision known as the DREAM Act. Every year, approximately 65,000 immigrant students graduate from high schools around our Nation. Most of these students were brought to the United States as young children. They have lived here most of their lives. They speak our language, know our customs, and share our values. Nonetheless, they are illegal immigrants, subject to deportation.
The DREAM Act gives the best and brightest of these young men and woman a chance to pursue the American dream. For those who entered the United States before the age of 16, have lived here at least five years, have played by the rules, and have been accepted to an institution of higher learning, the DREAM Act creates a path to permanent residence in the United States. To me, the DREAM Act acknowledges what is a fundamental American principle -- that by working hard, playing by the rules, and seeking to better yourself through education, you are, in many respects, already American.
To have truly comprehensive and workable immigration reform, we cannot forget our American values. The comprehensive immigration reform bill that I support is not perfect. But, it is an honest, realistic, humane, and fair approach to the problem of illegal immigration. In my opinion, this bill presents our best chance to secure our borders, meet the needs of our economy, and guarantee that the American dream remains alive and well for those who seek a better life and are willing to work for it.
Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to mention two other very important issues that I have been working on in the U.S. Senate.
First, I want to talk about what is going on in the Darfur region of Sudan. I know you are all aware of the atrocities that have been on-going. What is occurring today in Darfur is genocide. Tens of thousands have died, hundreds of thousands are currently in peril, and millions more have lost their homes and their livelihoods.
Ten years ago, we failed to act when close to a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda. We cannot go back now and change that, but we can do something different today. While we are not responsible for the genocide, we will be responsible if we do not do something now to prevent the children and men and women from dying.
Hundreds of thousands are now in shantytowns around the regional capitals or in refugee camps in eastern Chad. The conditions are quickly deteriorating because security continues to decline. The United States currently is contributing approximately 27% of total food aid needed in Darfur and has contributed 88% of what has been received to date by the World Food Program. Malnutrition and disease are our biggest enemies in a crisis like this. The United States must continue to do more to help the people of Darfur in the face of starvation. I have continued to ask my colleagues in the Senate to join me in pressing for a U.N. security resolution authorizing peacekeeping troops to enforce the cease-fire in Darfur and ensure, by force if necessary, that humanitarian aid is not obstructed. The world must pay attention.
We need to set the precedent that we failed to set in Rwanda -- that the U.S. Government will be watching for ethnic cleansing and genocide, and no matter where it is found, we will respond, and those responsible will be held accountable.
We simply cannot tolerate crimes against humanity, and we must speak out. If we fail in this effort, we doom not only the people of Darfur, but also the victims of future conflicts. We need to make "never again" a promise of the U.S. Government that is enforced by our actions.
I am currently working with my colleagues in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the President's emergency supplemental appropriations request, which includes more than $500 million for emergency humanitarian and peacekeeping needs, including food aid in Sudan.
A majority of the money requested in the proposal would go to the Darfur region of Sudan. Recently, in Committee, I voted for an amendment that passed that will add an additional $50 million to the Senate version of the Supplemental Appropriations Act for peacekeeping troops in Darfur. Also included in the Supplemental is a large amount for food aid assistance for Sudan that should allow the United States to provide 50% of the food needs for all of Sudan. As the bill moves forward in the Senate, I will work with my colleagues to maintain the funding levels of this request. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.
The last thing I would like to mention is my work on the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. The purpose of this law, which I introduced with my colleague, the late Senator Patrick Moynihan -- was to make public previously classified information about a terrible part of history -- the history of Nazi Germany and the relationship of the U.S. government with Nazi war criminals in the aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War. Undeniably, the Nazi era was one of the darkest chapters in human existence, and there was a natural tendency to try to avoid focusing on any part of it. We passed this law because we understood that we owe it to all those who suffered and died in the death camps and to their families to bring the whole truth to light.
Our law created the Interagency Working Group, also known as the IWG. The Working Group took on the task of locating, identifying, and recommending documents for declassification, as long as the declassification posed no threat to national security. They worked closely with the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Army, and a number of other agencies, to examine and evaluate an enormous number of documents. In fact, since 1998, the Interagency Working Group has coordinated the single largest declassification effort in American history. After years of work and the declassification of over 8 million documents, the historians were able to create a book titled, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis. This book now provides us with 15 chapters of insight into the Holocaust and the post-World War II era -- insight into what federal government officials knew and when they knew it.
This book showed that this project has been a great success and that the IWG has been very effective at their task. However, the volume of information they generated was so great, they needed more time. So last year, working with the IWG and the national archives and the CIA, we were able to reauthorize the bill for another 2 years, and since then have made exceptionally good progress. The CIA has gone back and looked at all of their files again, and expanded their search, and disclosed a great deal of new and important historical information about this terrible time. My office continues to work with the archives and the IWG to publicly release some of that information soon. We hope to do that in the very near future, so that we can share this important information with the public and with other historians.
Again, thank you for inviting me to be here today. I look forward to working with you on many more issues in the days ahead.