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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 15, 2006)

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Mr. SPECTER. I thank the distinguished Democratic leader for his comments, and I thank him for his statements today suggesting a bipartisan approach to this very important piece of legislation.

The leader of the Democrats is accurate when he has characterized the work which Senator Leahy, the ranking member of the full committee, and I have done on this bill. It has been 16 months of cooperation on some of the tough issues, including moving ahead with bankruptcy reform, class action reform. Through very strenuous efforts, we were able to steer this Senate away from a confrontation and a filibuster in the so-called constitutional option. We moved through the confirmation of two Supreme Court Justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, which could have been very problematic.

We were able to work through the PATRIOT Act. We were able to work through the asbestos reform bill where there are still issues of controversy that I hope we will be able to address in the not too distant future. And then, as the distinguished leader of the Democrats commented, moving this immigration bill out of committee was a very strenuous effort on the final Monday, with a marathon session.

Now the bill is back in the Senate, and with the spirit of cooperation which the distinguished majority leader, Senator Frist, and the distinguished minority leader, Senator Reid, have articulated, we are in a position to go forward.

But we have a great deal of hard work to do.

As manager of the bill, along with Senator Leahy, it appears we will have some 30 amendments. That is a lot of amendments but a manageable number if we address them with time limits so the arguments can be made on both sides and we can proceed to votes.

There will be other business which will have to be considered at the same time this bill is on the floor. We have pending the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The prospects are there will be debate and an up-or-down vote, and that will have to be worked into our schedule.

The nomination of General Hayden is pending for Director of CIA. What the timetable will be there remains to be seen. But that is an important position, and it may be that action will be possible on that nomination up or down before we adjourn for the Memorial Day recess.

But the core work which we have to do will be the amendments on this immigration bill. I have discussed the timing of votes with the majority leader, who is prepared to back the managers of this bill on time limits on the votes. We have a 15-minute time limit on votes and a 5-minute grace period. It is our expectation we will be enforcing those limits rigorously. When we have stacked votes, as is our custom, we have 10-minute votes and 5-minute extensions. We will be enforcing those limits rigorously.

There have been some occasions when the votes have languished for very protracted periods of time. In the past, when we have rigorously enforced the time limits, it is something which I think meets with virtually unanimous approval among the Members. Even those who occasionally miss a vote appreciate the fact that they do not have to wait for 10, 15, or even more minutes after the vote is supposed to have ended until the next vote starts and the next debate starts. So everyone should be on notice that we intend to proceed in that manner.

We return to the debate on the immigration bill, after a period where we could not come to terms on the structuring of debate before the last recess. But now we are in a position to go forward.

This bill is an outgrowth of the core provisions of the McCain-Kennedy legislation, then reported out by the Judiciary Committee with substantial modifications, putting the so-called 11 million undocumented immigrants at the end of the line, making provisions for border enforcement, making provisions for employer enforcement, and making provisions for judicial reform.

Then we have had additional modifications made by the amendments offered by Senator Hagel and Senator Martinez, so that we now have an amalgam of legislation, trying to work through the ideas of many Senators on very hotly contested items, and items which are very emotional.

There have been questions raised about what will happen beyond a Senate-passed bill, which will be a comprehensive bill, which will include a guest worker provision, which has been advocated by President Bush, also advocated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, DENNIS HASTERT.

With that guest worker provision, and with other provisions, the Senate bill will be significantly different from the House bill.

We have worked cooperatively with Chairman Sensenbrenner in the past on complex legislation. With the good faith which I know will be present by both bodies, I believe we can craft, under our bicameral system, a legislative package in conference which will be acceptable to both the House and the Senate.

There have been those who have said they will reject any major changes in the Senate bill. I believe the core provisions in the Senate bill--finding an answer to the 11 million undocumented immigrants, an answer to their status, is indispensable on immigration reform.

We cannot create a fugitive class in America. We do need immigrants, guest workers to handle very important jobs in our economy. I believe within a broad ambit we can reach agreement with the House of Representatives.

We are looking at this large group of undocumented immigrants, estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center to be between 11 and 12 million individuals. We know these undocumented immigrants constitute almost 5 percent of our labor workforce. We know, according to the Center for American Progress, the total cost to, so-called, round up every illegal immigrant within the United States would be $200 billion to $230 billion over 5 years, without the capacity to house people once they are arrested and under very difficult circumstances.

The legislation we are considering today is not amnesty. That is a pejorative term, really a smear term used to denigrate the efforts at comprehensive immigration reform. This is not amnesty because amnesty means a pardon of those who have broken the law. That is not the case here. These undocumented immigrants will have to pay a fine. They will have to undergo a rigorous criminal background investigation to be sure we do not have a criminal element subject to staying in the United States and being on the citizenship track. They will have to learn English so they can integrate into our society. They will have to have a job for 6 years. They will then be at the end of the line.

When the comments are made about enforcing our borders, the first amendment which will be offered by the proponents of the bill will be a border security certification, which provides that:

The Secretary may not implement any program authorized by this Act or by any amendments made under this Act which grants legal status to any individual or adjusts the current status of any individual who enters or entered the United States in violation of Federal law unless the Secretary has submitted a written certification to the President and Congress that the border security measures authorized under title I and the increases in Federal detention space authorized under section 233 have been fully completed and are operational.

Now, this certification really is directed to those who have said we ought to have border security in place and employment sanctions in place before we consider what we do with the 11 million undocumented aliens, immigrants, or what we do on a guest worker program. Well, that is the cart-before-the-horse argument. This border security certification puts the horse in place before we move ahead to the cart and I think, when implemented, as implemented, will answer that point.

This bill, which we are laying down today, provides very material items on border enforcement. For example, it increases Border Patrol by 400 per year for 5 years;

authorizes technologies to create a so-called virtual fence along the southern border; authorizes physical barriers for highly trafficked parts of Arizona's border and California's border, and highly trafficked parts on other borders; provides for a study of a possible new fence along the southern border; and creates crimes for eluding immigration inspectors; and it ends the catch-and-release practice for other-than Mexicans.

We also have very substantial provisions on interior enforcement. It eliminates gang members from admissibility for citizenship and deports those gang members. It clarifies and strengthens alien smuggling laws with increased penalties. It provides criminal penalties for various immigration-related document fraud. It provides for 20 more alien detention facilities, with the capacity for 10,000.

In title III we have employment enforcement. One of the major failings of the 1986 legislation was the failure to have employment enforcement.

We have provisions for a guest worker program. We have provisions for family-based and employment-based green cards.

We have title VI: work authorization and legalization of undocumented individuals.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that, at the conclusion of my oral remarks, the full outline of S. 2611 be printed in the RECORD.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. SPECTER. We have created, under the work authorization and legalization of undocumented individuals, three separate categories: a category for those who have been in the United States for more than 5 years before April 5, 2006; a second category, category 2, for those who have been in the United States for less than 5 years before January 7, 2004, which does have a ``leave country and touch base'' requirement.

The Senator from Nevada, the leader of the Democrats, raised his concerns about this provision as to whether it ought to stay in the bill and said there will be amendments to remove it. It is a controversial provision. There is a real issue as to whether it accomplishes something which is worthwhile. But in cobbling together and crafting a bill, it has been necessary to put in provisions which are not universally accepted. And that is the nature of legislation, that there are accommodations, and everyone does not get everything they like. But we will subject this particular provision to very careful analysis and debate, and the will of the Senate will be worked on it.

There is a third category of those who entered the United States after January 7 of the year 2004.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the full text of my statement be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Immigration Floor Statement

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, today the Senate resumes the debate on immigration reform with S. 2611, featuring the compromise that was crafted by a group of Senators shortly before our last recess. This legislation will affect millions of individuals and will alter America's social and economic landscape. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, between 11 and 12 million individuals reside in the U.S. unlawfully, and illegal immigrants account for about 4.9 percent of the U.S. labor force. According to the Center for American Progress, the total cost to ``round up'' every illegal immigrant within the United States would be $206 to $230 billion over 5 years, a plan that neither is fiscally sound nor accomplishes the goal of bringing the country's undocumented workers out of the underground economy.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill that instantly conferred legal resident status to millions of illegal immigrants. However, the 1986 bill had several flaws. Most importantly, the legislation did not include comprehensive immigration reform that dealt with all facets of the immigration problem. Thus, it failed to meet American business's demand for increased legal immigration. We cannot afford to repeat the mistake of 20 years ago. Nor can we simply confer legal status to presently undocumented workers without asking for something in return. Amnesty, by definition, is a pardon or a free pass granted to a large group of individuals without any consideration in return for the amnesty granted. Requiring earned adjustments, as our bill does, is not amnesty; it is a system that enables undocumented immigrants, who are neither criminals nor terrorists, to earn legal status and to remain productive members of our society.

The 1986 immigration bill's failure to create a guest worker program to meet the needs of our employers meant the market would step in to accommodate those needs. Market forces created, de facto, an ``illegal guest worker'' program, whereby undocumented workers would enter the country illegally in order to obtain work. Employers benefited under this system because they obtained workers. Undocumented workers benefited because they secured jobs. But an ``illegal guest worker program'' is unacceptable. As the economic motivation to come to the U.S. remains strong, we should provide the avenues and incentives for U.S. employers and foreign workers to only use legal channels. The bill before the U.S. Senate makes it attractive for immigrants to use existing legal channels rather than so-called coyotes who illegally traffic foreign workers into the United States.

The compromise creates an earned adjustment program for longer-termed undocumented individuals who have deep roots within their communities. It allows for individuals who have been in the United States 5 years before April 5, 2001, to come out of the shadows and legalize their status. However, unlike the 1986 amnesty, which only had minimum requirements, our compromise has strict, objective requirements that must be met in order for the individual to legalize and adjust his status. The individual must undergo security and criminal background checks; must not be determined to be a criminal or a national security threat and deemed inadmissible; must have worked a minimum of 3 of the 5 years prior to April 5, 2001; and must continue to work for a minimum of 6 years after the date of enactment to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident. Most importantly, these individuals are required to ``get in the back of the line'' and cannot adjust their status to lawful permanent resident and get a green card until those waiting in the queue have their opportunity to receive their green card. The individual must also pay a fine of $2,000, pay all applicable back taxes as well as remain current liability, and must demonstrate knowledge of the English language and an understanding of American history and Government.

The compromise also creates a new status called ``Mandatory Departure and Reentry'' for individuals who have been in the U.S. and employed less than 5 years but before January 7, 2004. These individuals must come out of the shadows during the 3-year period after the date of enactment and must leave the U.S. and return to the country in a legal status. The crux of these provisions is that it encourages undocumented individuals to leave the United States and surrender their status as soon as possible, without separating families and without disrupting businesses. If departure occurs within the first year, the individual is not subject to any fines. If departure occurs within the second year, there is a $2,000 penalty, and if departure occurs within the last year of the program, the alien must pay a fine of $3,000. Individuals who entered after January 7, 2004, must immediately depart the U.S. and apply through the new visa category created in my bill, the new H-2C program for temporary workers. The total number of H-2C visas available will be 325,000 visas and will adjust, either up or down, according to the market demands. These individuals have lived in the shadows and outside the protection of law for too long. As such, out of fear and desperation, many are abused and discriminated against at the workplace and are afraid to come forward. The compromise achieves the goal by allowing these individuals to come forward.

Another flaw of the 1986 amnesty was that it did not provide for realistic enforcement. S. 2611 strengthens enforcement of immigration laws and provides the necessary resources for effective border and interior enforcement. S. 2611 provides employers with the tools they need to ensure their workforce is authorized, coupled with a commitment to provide the resources necessary to abate the flow of illegal immigrants into this country in the future.

The 1986 bill failed because it did not address our Nation's economic need for future guest workers. Immigration reform cannot only deal with the current illegal population or just provide tough border enforcement measures, but must also provide avenues for future immigrants to come to this country to labor and to enjoy the fruits of U.S. citizenship. We must require illegal aliens already in the U.S. to come forward, register, and undergo the necessary background checks to ensure our national security, and we must provide a legal avenue for future immigration to meet the future needs of our economy. As we return to the immigration debate, let us not repeat the mistakes of the past but build upon the growing consensus in America to allow immigration to help shape our future.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have talked long enough to have noted the arrival of the distinguished ranking member, who I know will shortly be seeking recognition. Before he does, let me repeat for him the comments made by the distinguished leader of the Democrats, complimenting the work Senator Leahy has done, complimenting the work which we have done jointly generally in the Judiciary Committee, and complimenting the work especially of the Judiciary Committee on this immigration bill.

Senator Leahy and I appeared together earlier today in a tribute to fallen police officers and commenting about the need for bulletproof jackets. He and I have worked together on a great many matters, with our collaboration having originated before either of us got to the Senate at the National District Attorneys convention in Philadelphia in 1969, when he was DA of Burlington and I was DA of Philadelphia. Our efforts on bipartisanship, I think, have been followed by other Senators, and I think it has been in the interest of the Senate and the country to have that kind of cooperation.

We will be handling the amendments one at a time. But we invite Senators who have amendments to be offered tomorrow to come to the floor this afternoon to debate those amendments. The chief of staff, the staff director, and general counsel, Michael O'Neill, has already been in touch with a number of those Senators, urging them to come down, following the comments of the distinguished ranking member, to start to talk about amendments so we can have abbreviated debate when we conclude the first amendment.

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, to start the debate, if I may, as I have referred to earlier, I send an amendment to the desk and will ask for its consideration when we debate the amendment further tomorrow and proceed to a vote. It is an amendment that has been summarized briefly which would require border security arrangements to be in place before we move ahead to the handling of the 11 million undocumented immigrants and the guest worker program.

I yield the floor for my distinguished ranking member.

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