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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, for the benefit of my colleagues, I would like to point out that we spent the better part of yesterday negotiating with Senator Kyl and Senator Cornyn, along with Senator Kennedy and others, a group of us. We have been trying to modify the original Kyl-Cornyn amendment so that it would be broadly acceptable. I think we have succeeded, thanks to the goodwill of all parties concerned.

Fundamentally, the purpose, which we are all in agreement with, is we don't want people who are convicted felons or criminals guilty of crimes to be eligible for citizenship in this country. We have enough problems without opening up that avenue. Yet, at the same time, we didn't want to go too far to exclude people from eligibility for citizenship who, frankly, may have committed incidental crimes or the crime was associated with their attempt to enter this country.

For example, in order to obtain asylum, when people flee oppressive and repressive regimes in which their lives are at risk, and they had to use a bogus or counterfeit document in order to expedite their entrance into this country, of course, we don't think that should make them ineligible for citizenship or application for citizenship.

I think we have reached a careful balance. There are categories of people under conditions of extreme hardship or danger who are seeking asylum and would be exempted, but at the same time the thrust of the Kyl-Cornyn amendment, which is the prevention of people who have committed felonies and numbers of misdemeanors and other crimes would not be eligible for a path to citizenship as outlined in the legislation that would apply to the others who have not committed crimes.

I am aware there is some concern about this on both sides of this issue. I want to assure everyone that this is the product of a long, arduous series of negotiations and discussions among all involved in this issue.

I hope there is an understanding that we have come up with what most of us think is a reasonable compromise to address very legitimate concerns on both sides. People who are fleeing oppression may have used a bogus document, and on the other side of the coin, obviously, someone who has committed serious crimes or a series of misdemeanors we would not want to have them eligible for citizenship.

I thank Senators Kyl, Cornyn, Kennedy, and others who have actively negotiated and come up with what we agree is a reasonable compromise.

By the way, that is the trademark of the progress of this legislation. That gives me optimism that we will be able to successfully conclude it in a reasonable period of time.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I appreciate the remarks of my friend from Louisiana. Of course, it is not amnesty. Of course, it is not amnesty. I urge my colleagues, as well as specifically my colleague from Louisiana--next time up, I am going to bring a dictionary out here to confirm the definition of the word ``amnesty.'' The definition of the word ``amnesty'' is forgiveness. We did that in the 1980s and it didn't work. And to call the process that we require under this legislation amnesty, frankly, distorts the debate and is an unfair interpretation of it. I might add that the President of the United States, in a very powerful statement to the American people, called it what it is, and that is earned citizenship.

Now, I understand why the opponents of what we are trying to do would call it amnesty. That is a great idea. Call it amnesty. Call it a banana, if you want to. But the fact is that it is earned citizenship. The reason why the opponents of this legislation keep calling it amnesty is because they know that in poll after poll after poll, the majority of the American people say let them earn their citizenship. And when it is explained to the American people what we are requiring: A criminal background check, payment of back taxes, payment of a $2,000 fine, 5 or 6 years before getting in line behind everyone else in order to get a green card and then another 5 years or more, depending on how this legislation comes out, before eligibility for citizenship, it is a perversion of the word ``amnesty.'' Frankly, I am growing a little weary of it. I am growing a little weary of it. We ought to be debating this issue on its merits and only on the merits and not by labeling it something it is not.

Again, the definition of amnesty is forgiveness--forgiveness. We are not forgiving anything. We are trying to find the best option--the best option--for an untenable situation bred by 40 or 50 years of failed Government policies.

What are the options we have with these 11 million or 12 million people? What are the options? One is the status quo. No one believes that the status quo is acceptable, to have 11 million or 12 million people washing around America's society with no protection of our laws, no accountability, no identity. It is terrible for America and our society. I believe the sponsors of this amendment and those of us who vehemently oppose it, because basically it guts the entire proposal, including the fact it is in direct contradiction to the leader of our party, the position of the President of the United States on it--but having said that, the status quo, I think my friend from Louisiana would agree, is unacceptable.

So what is the other option? The other option is to round up 11 million people and find some way to transport them back to the country from which they came. Many of them have been here since yesterday. Some of them have been here 50 or 60 years. Some of them have children who are fighting in Iraq. I am not interested--I wonder if the Senator from Louisiana is interested--in calling a soldier in Iraq and saying: By the way, while you are fighting today, we are deporting your parents. I don't think we want to do that. I don't think we want to do that.

And by the way, the columnist George Will pointed out the other day it would take some 200,000 buses from San Diego to Alaska in order to transport these people at least back to Mexico, and then I don't know how you get them back to other places.

So here we are with the option of the status quo, rounding up 11 million or 12 million people, or making it very clear that because they have broken our laws, they must pay a very severe penalty--a very severe penalty. And according to the Hagel-Martinez compromise, those people who have been here less than 5 years will have to go back. And in the case of 2 to 5 years, they will have to go back to a port of embarkation. If they have been here since January 1, 2004, then they have to go back completely--completely. If they have been here more than 5 years, then obviously we have given them a way to earn citizenship.

We passed an amendment that we supported that was the Kyl-Cornyn amendment, supported by me and Senator Graham and Senator Kennedy and others, that would prevent felons from ever being on the path to citizenship. So what does that say? What this proposal now says is anyone who came here innocently, who came here to work, which is the reason why the overwhelming majority of them did, will have a chance to earn their citizenship. And every time--every time--that the word ``amnesty'' is mentioned, I am going to try to get back on the floor and refute that because the description in no way fits the word.

So here we are now with a comprehensive approach to immigration reform which, probably, according to at least most polls, the American people are, overall, supportive of, and a President of the United States who gave what I think is one of the finest speeches of his presidency on this issue, and we are now considering an amendment which would fundamentally gut the entire proposal.

I want to quote from the President, again:

It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes that there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law: To pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I have described is not amnesty. It is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

I could not say it better than what the President of the United States says.

Fundamentally, Americans are decent, humane, wonderful people, and they recognize that these are human beings. They recognize that 99 percent of these people came here because they couldn't work, feed their families and themselves where they came from. As former President John F. Kennedy wrote, we are a nation of immigrants. We are all a nation of immigrants. I urge my colleagues to take a look at the words that were written back in the early 1960s by then-President Kennedy and that apply to the world today. It has a unique and very timely application. I intend to read from it as we proceed with the consideration of this bill.

I understand that there are differing viewpoints about how to handle this issue of illegal immigration. There is no State that has been more burdened with the consequences of illegal immigration than mine.

We have broken borders. We have shootouts on our freeways. We have safe houses where people are jammed in, in the most inhumane conditions. We have the coyotes who take someone across the border and say: Tucson is right over the hill. And more and more people every year are dying in the desert. We understand that. That's why we understand that there has to be a comprehensive approach to this issue and only a comprehensive approach will reach the kind of resolution to this issue which has plagued our Nation and, frankly, my State of Arizona, for a long period of time.

I hope my colleagues will understand that this is basically an eviscerating amendment we are considering. Have no doubt about it. If you agree with the President of the United States and the majority of Americans--poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that we should allow people who are here illegally, after a certain period of time, to earn their citizenship--then you will vote against this amendment. If you believe that the only answer to our immigration problem is to build a bigger wall, then I would argue you are not totally aware of the conditions of the human heart and that is that all people, wherever they are, who are created equal, have the same ambitions for themselves and their families and their children and their grandchildren that we did and our forebears did. Our forebears, whether they came with the Mayflower or whether they came yesterday, all have the same yearnings to breathe free.

I hope my colleagues will understand the implications of this amendment. I hope my colleagues on this side of the aisle will understand the implications for the Republican Party of this kind of an amendment. Because what this is saying to millions and millions of people who have come here is: I am sorry, you are leaving.

I hope we can appeal to the better angels of our nature and turn down this amendment and move forward with a comprehensive solution to this terrible problem that plagues our Nation.

I believe my time has expired.

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AMENDMENT NO. 3965, AS MODIFIED

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for 1 minute on the amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Without objection, it is so ordered.

The Senator from Arizona is recognized for 1 minute.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I wish to tell my colleagues that we had some good-faith negotiations with Senator Cornyn. I am sorry I was unable to talk to him before this vote. I know he had a previous engagement down at the White House. But the Kennedy amendment will probably be a side-by-side since there are still areas of the Cornyn amendment we have difficulty agreeing to.

So I wish I could have talked with Senator Cornyn since I think our differences are minimal, but we still have not resolved them.

Mr. President, I yield back the remainder of my time.

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