COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006
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Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I appreciate the statement of the Senator from Colorado. I thank the Senator from South Carolina, the Presiding Officer. I thank Senator Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for the untiring efforts he made on the bill and the courtesies he has shown to me. I thank leader HARRY REID for accommodating us and allowing us to come to the floor and have a debate. I particularly thank LINDSEY GRAHAM and JOHN MCCAIN for seeing to it that all of us who had amendments to offer had a chance to negotiate the time to do that. I especially thank my staff, in particular, Mike Quiello, for the work he has done on this issue over a long period of time.
Mr. President, to set the stage for my remarks on my amendment, let me, first of all, tell you a little bit about myself. I am a product of the legal immigration system of the United States. My grandfather came here in 1903 and went through Ellis Island. There is nobody who has greater respect for the hope and opportunity and the laws of our country than do I. I was in the construction industry, and I know the great contribution the workers made to construction and to tourism and to hospitality services and to agriculture.
I, also, know the issue before us is now the most important issue domestically before the United States. When I ran for the Senate in 2003 and 2004, the most commonly asked question after Iraq was: What are you going to do about illegal immigration? In the first speech on any issue I made as a Senator, I made the statement that I thought illegal immigration was the No. 1 domestic issue in this country.
I rise to tell you my mind has not been changed. I think neither have the minds been changed of the American people because you have seen the intensity of the interest of all Americans in border security and immigration.
My amendment is very simple. It says that before any provision of this Immigration Act could grant legal status to someone who is here illegally is in effect, the Secretary of Homeland Security must certify to the President and the Congress that every provision for border security and enforcement contained in title I and section 233 of title II is in place, funded, and is operational.
There is a simple reason for that. In 1986, this Congress, under President Ronald Reagan, passed a border security and amnesty bill for the 3 million illegal aliens who were in this country. We enforced the border and granted amnesty. And 20 years later, there are 11 million to 13 million illegal aliens who have come because of the promise of this country and its opportunity but also because we have given a wink and a nod to the security of our borders.
I want to emphasize that I am not just talking about something I am thinking about or that I read. I have been to our border. I took a codel with Senator Coleman in February. We went to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and saw the unmanned aerial vehicle working and identifying those coming across the border and sealing a 150-mile stretch. In San Diego, at the border with Juarez, we saw where the barriers at Smugglers' Gulch have effectively stopped the people coming through that gully and immigrating illegally into this country. We went up and down the border and saw the bits and pieces of security that worked. We also saw the over 1,500 miles of the border that are not secure--the 1,500 miles that have allowed people to come here either through smuggling or through their own volition or by paying bribes to get here, to get into our workforce, to overcrowd our schools, to stretch the services in our emergency rooms and put great pressure on our civil justice system.
It is time that we seal the border and secure it so that the promise of legal immigration works and illegally entering this country is not the preferred way to cross on our southern border.
I commend the President for his remarks last night. The President last night said, in order, the five important things we must do. The first thing the President said is to secure the border. With this amendment, with our commitment and with the President's commitment, securing the border will take place. Then we can grant a program to those who are here illegally, with the sincere knowledge that we know no more are coming. If we grant programs and status to those who are here illegally and look the other way, the next time we bring this up in 10 or 15 years, it will not be 12 million, it will be 24 million and, worst of all, we will have lost control.
Last night, the President said we are a nation of laws. And we are a nation of laws. I submit to you that when laws are enforced, and they are enforced soundly, laws are obeyed and they are respected. We have not enforced our border and, therefore, its security is not respected.
So I call on all of our colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, everybody who is interested in a comprehensive reform of our immigration policy and our immigration system, to think what comes first. And what comes first is securing the border. After that, the American people would be willing to work with us on programs to grant status. But in the absence of securing the border and making that commitment, we are not going to have the cooperation of the American people. We are not going to have comprehensive reform, and a growing problem in this country will grow even greater.
My last point is there may be some who say you cannot secure the border or it is going to take too long. Listen, this country put a man on the Moon in 9 years, and we responded to the terrorist attacks within 3 weeks. This country can do anything it sets its mind to do. We know how to do it. In incremental places, we do it now. It is time we put in the additional 6,000 border security agents, put the UAVs in the air, put the ground sensors on the ground, put the prosecuting officials along the border in those jurisdictions to see to it that the law is enforced and prosecuted, and it is time that we build the barriers in those areas that are easy smuggling corridors. We must make a commitment to ourselves and the American people.
The Senator from Colorado is going to offer an amendment side by side. I read the amendment. It gives the President the authority to authorize sections 4 and 6, which are the status sections, whenever it is in the best interest of the national security of the United States. That is well and good, but that has nothing to do with security on the border. If we don't adopt the Isakson amendment to secure the border, then we will have given a wink and a nod one more time to those who would come here illegally. We will have said to our local governments, school systems, emergency rooms, and law enforcement officers that we don't care.
Mr. President, I think we do care. I urge support for the Isakson amendment to the immigration bill. I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I think the distinguished Senators, Mr. Salazar and Mr. Kennedy, who are both Senators and lawyers and understand smoke and mirrors. I think they understand the enforcement of the law. The Isakson amendment calls for us to enforce the laws that have been brought about because of the lack of enforcement, which is why this bill is on the floor of the Senate now.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that Senators Chambliss, Cornyn, Alexander, Domenici, and Santorum be added as original sponsors of the Isakson amendment.
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Mr. ALEXANDER. Through the Chair, my question to the Senator from Georgia is this: I favor a comprehensive immigration bill. I would like to see border security. I would like to see legal status for students who study here, for skilled people who help win Nobel Prizes here and improve our economy. I would like to see a comprehensive immigration bill that includes help for people legally here to learn English and learn our history and unite us as Americans. But, Senator Isakson, am I correct that if we pass your amendment, it is still true, is it not, that we can pass a comprehensive immigration bill that includes all of these provisions I just described? The only difference is, as I understand it, that we may not adjust the legal status of those illegally here until the border is secure? Am I correct about that or am I wrong about that?
Mr. ISAKSON. The Senator is absolutely correct, and the premise is you don't want to create an attraction for more to come until the border is secure and we know we put an end to it.
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Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, the Senator from Massachusetts has made the most eloquent statement in favor of this amendment I have ever heard. He put on the record exactly what we raised in title I, section 133, to secure the border. I appreciate his comments.
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Mr. ISAKSON. Facts are stubborn figures. Senator Kennedy said we should learn from history. He served in 1986, when we passed a bill that promised border security that did not deliver and granted amnesty that did not deliver, and we ended up quadrupling the number of illegal aliens in the United States.
Facts are also stubborn because every word he said about the Isakson amendment is inaccurate. He did not discuss a single word of the 614 pages, except to say before you grant legal status to people here illegally, we must have border security so we do not repeat the tragedy of 1986.
In Deep South Georgia, we have an old saying: If you want to get the mud out of the spring, you have to get the hog out of the water. The hog in the water in this debate is those who have been trying to obfuscate everything we are trying to say.
Simply, we want the same thing. We want comprehensive reform. That begins with what the President said last night: Border security first. The President said last night that we can do it by 2008. Ask Congress for the money. This is an authorization. I want a commitment.
If we do not commit to the people of the United States of America--our school systems that are overcrowded, our health care and emergency rooms that are challenged, our civil justice system is challenged--and see to it that we get a border that is secure so we can manage our legal immigration in the future, history will be the teacher that we had in 1986.
Facts are stubborn things. The fact is, the Isakson amendment on this comprehensive reform says what the President said last night, that securing the border first is job one. I submit anything that anyone says that is the opposite means they want to repeat the tragedy of 1986.
I ask my colleagues to sincerely search their heart and soul for their constituents and vote in favor of this amendment. Let's have comprehensive reform that begins with a secure border.