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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 - Part 1 -

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Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 17, 2006)

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of this amendment. First, let me congratulate my colleague from Alabama for putting together this very essential amendment. I am proud to be an original cosponsor, and I want to strongly support it.

I also want to suggest that based on the discussion we just heard involving the chairman of the Budget Committee and the Senator from Massachusetts, everyone in this Chamber, based on their statements, should support this amendment. Based on what the Senator from Massachusetts just said, he should embrace this amendment because, if you look at the details of what this amendment does, it is perfectly consistent with those statements, and it is perfectly consistent with what the President said on Monday night. It is utterly consistent with what Secretary Chertoff says he wants and needs as a crucial element of border security. It is not the only element, not the only silver bullet, there is no magic wand, but it is a crucial element of border security.

Unfortunately, the underlying bill does not provide enough authorization and demand for fencing in this regard. The underlying bill, particularly section 106, only calls for a very limited and modest repair and construction of fencing along very limited parts of the southern border of Arizona. That is basically fencing that largely already exists in the Tucson and Yuma sections of Arizona.

What this amendment would do would be to expand that provision in a very reasonable and cost-effective way. What this amendment would say is that the Secretary of Homeland Security would construct at least 270 miles of triple-layered fence, including the miles of fence already built in San Diego, Tucson, and Yuma, and 500 miles of vehicle barriers at strategic locations.

Again, I underscore that this is not building a wall or a fence across the entire Mexican border. This is not the cost cited by the Senator from Massachusetts. This is something far more focused, that will be a great force multiplier as we put more agents at the border, and that is an absolutely critical part of truly defending the border.

As the chairman of the Budget Committee said, in highly urban areas there is simply no way around the need for a fence. To avoid a fence in highly populated areas would literally require a border agent every few feet to monitor the border because you are talking about a border running through the middle, essentially, of an urban neighborhood. That is an impossible enforcement situation without some sort of physical barrier. These 370 miles would go into those highly populated areas.

I underscore that this is exactly consistent with what virtually everybody has been talking about. Monday night the President talked about border security. He wasn't quite as strong on border security as I would have liked. He wasn't quite as focused on border security, first, before we move on to other elements of this bill, as I would have liked, but he explicitly mentioned the need for significant fencing for those highly populated areas. This amendment simply does that.

The President's own Secretary, Mike Chertoff, has met with Members of this body, and he specifically talked about exactly the same need and specifically talked about 370 miles. That is where this number in this amendment comes from. This number didn't come from out of the blue. It wasn't just a wild guess. It wasn't just a pretty number. It came from discussions with Secretary Chertoff.

The chairman of the Budget Committee, when asked by the Senator from Massachusetts would he support fencing, said we absolutely need it as a piece of our enforcement puzzle for highly populated areas--for urban neighborhoods.

That is exactly what this amendment addresses. Again, the 370 miles is exactly focused on that type of need--highly populated areas where to patrol the border without any physical structure would literally require a border agent every several feet, which is completely impractical and cost prohibitive.

I think this is an absolutely essential amendment to the bill. Really, this is the sort of amendment that will test how serious folks really are about enforcement.

This whole immigration debate is pretty interesting. We have wildly divergent views and strong passions on the issue from one end of the spectrum to the other. Yet if you listen to speakers on this floor, no one is in favor of amnesty and everyone is in favor of border security. Of course, it depends on how you define ``amnesty'' and how you define ``border security.''

In terms of border security, this amendment is a simple test on whether you are really serious in what you say. This is a gut check that the American people can understand very simply. If border security means anything, it surely means, among many other items, this 370-mile fence. If a Member of the Senate votes against this really quite narrowly tailored, limited in some ways, modest amendment, I think the American people will get it. They will surely know that Member isn't serious in any way about border security.

In closing, let me thank the Senator from Alabama again for this very necessary amendment. If border security is to mean anything, if it is to possibly work--and I have serious reservations about whether the plan in this underlying bill will be allowed to work, will be enforced, if the appropriations will happen to make it work, but if it is to have a chance to work, surely it has to include this modest 370-mile fence, the sort of fencing President Bush specifically talked about and the number of miles his Secretary of Homeland Security specifically mentioned in meetings with Members of this body.

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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I bring before the Senate an important amendment, I believe, which goes to the heart of so many American concerns about the bill before us.

I must say, in the beginning discussion of this amendment, that I have grave concerns about this bill. I think it is a mistake in many aspects. I think it ignores history and ignores very specific, concrete experience. Not too long ago, in 1986, Congress passed similar measures, albeit on a much smaller scale, which ultimately and clearly failed to solve the immigration problem.

I am very fearful that we are repeating history, only on a much broader, much bigger, much more dangerous scale. My amendment goes to the heart of those concerns, goes to the heart of the matter, goes to the absolute heart of what so many Americans find most objectionable about the bill on the floor. That is what I would characterize what tens of millions of Americans characterize as amnesty provisions in this bill.

In introducing this amendment, let me thank the many coauthors I have who are in strong support of it: Senators GRASSLEY, CHAMBLISS, and SANTORUM. Also, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Coburn be added to this list of original cosponsors.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. VITTER. All of us join together with tens of millions of Americans to simply say we cannot have amnesty provisions in this bill. We cannot have anything approaching amnesty in this measure. So my amendment would very clearly, very simply, withdraw those provisions from the bill.

Madam President, as I noted while speaking on another amendment about an hour ago, this is an interesting debate. The country, including the Senate, is widely divided on the question in many respects. Passions run deep from one end of the argument to the other. Yet to listen to the debate, particularly on the Senate floor in the midst of a fundamental disagreement, it is interesting that nobody says they are for amnesty, and everybody says they are for enforcement.

But, of course, the devil is in the details. Of course, it depends on what you mean by amnesty, what you mean by enforcement. And what I mean by amnesty certainly covers many provisions of the underlying bill, which my amendment would strike. More importantly, what tens of millions of Americans know through common sense, basic reasoning is amnesty is included in this underlying bill and we must take it out.

Maybe we can begin the discussion with what is amnesty. Well, the President, in his speech 2 nights ago, said that he is not for amnesty and ``they''--meaning illegal aliens--``should not be given an automatic path to citizenship.'' What is an automatic path to citizenship? The President himself, again, 2 nights ago, pointed to this distinction: ``that middle ground''--the one he is advocating--``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.''

So what the President points to, in terms of why the provisions in this bill are not amnesty, is that distinction between folks who crossed the border illegally very recently and those who have been here for some time. I think it is very important, if we think about that distinction, to look at the details of the bill.

I encourage my colleagues to actually read this bill. The devil is in the details. If that were ever true, it is true in terms of this legislation. It is important to read the bill and understand the details. Yes, this bill does make a distinction between those who have been in the country 5 years or longer and those who have been in the country less than 5 years, and some other distinctions, 2 years and between 2 and 5 years. But again, the devil is in the details.

How does an illegal immigrant prove that he has been in the country over 5 years? You would assume the proof required is specific documentation which has been verified by the Government or other authentication sources. Those documents are certainly accepted, but they are not required, because if an illegal immigrant doesn't have those sources of documents--objective evidence--he or she can do something else. He or she can get a piece of paper, declare that he or she has been in the country over 5 years, sign his or her name to it, and that is it. That is all that is required.

Well, if the President's argument that this is not amnesty in large part hinges on this big distinction that we are not giving a path to citizenship for those who have been in the country a shorter period of time, should it not matter what documentary evidence is required? Doesn't it make a farce of the whole distinction if that immigrant can simply sign a piece of paper declaring otherwise?

That obliterates the entire distinction. That means, in fact, that we are making available this fairly automatic path to citizenship to virtually everyone in the country illegally.

The President also points to four requirements: This is not amnesty because there is a penalty the immigrant has to pay because they have to pay their taxes, because they have to learn English, and because they have to be in a job for a number of years.

Again, I say to my fellow Senators and everyone watching this debate, the devil is in the details. Let's look at this bill. Let's look at what it requires.

No. 1, a penalty. It is true, the underlying bill means a person has to pay $2,000--$2,000--which is less, in some cases far less, than many legal immigrants pay to go through the legal process. Is it a penalty when the amount of money required is the same or, in many cases, less than a person who is following all the rules, doing everything we ask of them, following the law, living by the law, becoming a legal immigrant and a full citizen through the legal process?

No. 2, pay all their taxes. Well, not all their taxes. A person doesn't have to pay all of their back taxes. They have to pay a certain number of years; they do not have to go back for the entire length of time that person was in the country. Again, they are being treated better than the folks who have lived by the rules from the word go than the folks who are citizens through the legal immigration process who have had to pay taxes every step of the way. Those folks who live by the rules have to pay all their taxes. These folks do not have to pay all their back taxes by any stretch of the imagination. The devil is in the details.

No. 3, learn English. Well, not necessarily learn English. The actual requirement can be met simply by being enrolled in an approved English language and history program. Again, the requirement can be met simply by being enrolled in a program with no test at the end of the program about proficiency or anything else.

And No. 4, work in a job for a number of years. Well, not the full period for a number of years, only 60 percent of the time for a handful of years.

Again, the devil is in the details, and I suggest that when the American people look at those details and ask themselves, is this amnesty, is this a fairly automatic path to citizenship, the answer will clearly be yes.

What does this sort of amnesty program do? We can debate about that, we can bring up hypotheticals, we can say I think it is going to do this, may do that, but the sure answer is to study history--and not ancient history, but recent history, going back only to 1986 because the last time Congress acted on this matter in a major way, it put together a package strikingly similar to this general package before us, which included an amnesty provision for agricultural workers.

One of the most interesting exercises I performed in thinking about this issue, in getting ready for this floor debate, was to go back to that time period, the mid-1980s, and read some of the arguments made in this Chamber, including the arguments of the folks who were for that immigration reform proposal of 1986.

The arguments they made are strikingly similar to the arguments being made by the proponents today: We need to do something comprehensive; it can't be enforcement only; we need to do this provision for earned citizenship, once, this one time, and then the problem will be solved forever because we will have border security and will have dealt with illegal immigrants then in our country.

What is the bottom line on that experiment doing exactly what we are debating doing again? The bottom line is not very hopeful in terms of solving the problem once and for all. The bottom line is back then the flow of illegal aliens was 140,000 per year, and now the flow is 700,000 per year. So it didn't exactly stop the problem.

The bottom line is back then the number of illegal aliens in the country was perhaps about 3 million, and today, by conservative estimates, it is 12 million. It didn't exactly solve the problem.

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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, there have been significant studies since 1986 that have looked specifically at the impact of what Congress did then. What do these studies show?

A 2000 report by the Center for Immigration Studies states:

INS estimates show that the 1986 amnesty almost certainly increased illegal immigration, as the relatives of newly legalized illegals came to the United States to join their family members.

Again, these are INS statistics, not some think tank on the conservative side. These INS statistics show that even though 2.7 million illegal aliens were granted lawful citizenship through the amnesty program--and by the way, that was far more than anticipated--within 10 years, a new illegal alien population had replaced all of those and had grown to 5 million. That growth only continued.

Again, that growth today has gone from 140,000 illegal aliens streaming across the border per year back in 1986 to 700,000 per year today. That growth has been 3 million illegal aliens in the country going back to 1986 to at least 12 million today.

There was another study in 1992, 6 years after the agricultural amnesty program was passed. The Commission on Agricultural Workers issued a report to Congress--so a specific report to Congress that studied the effects, again, of the 1986 agricultural amnesty program. First, the Commission found that the number of workers amnestied under the bill had been severely underestimated. So the numbers that were talked about, in fact, the true numbers were well more than that.

Second, the Commission found that the agricultural worker amnesty only exacerbated existing problems:

Six years after IRCA was signed into law, the problems within the system of agricultural labor continued to exist. ..... In most areas, an increasing number of newly arriving unauthorized workers compete for available jobs, reducing the number of work hours available to all harvest workers and contributing to lower annual earnings. .....

Again, the bottom line is very clear. We had the same arguments back then as today: Let's do this once, the problem is solved forever; we will get tough with enforcement, we promise; really, we mean it. And what happened? That 140,000 per year increased to 700,000 per year. The problem of 3 million illegal aliens has increased to at least 12 million. We do need to study history and see what the impact of this amnesty program in this bill will be.

This threat is particularly grave, and I think it is absolutely certain that this will exacerbate the problem for the following simple reason: In terms of border security, everyone--everyone--on the floor of this body, everyone agrees that true border security cannot and will not happen overnight. The best case, if we are sincere about it, if we follow up this debate with adequate appropriations, the money, the manpower, the resources, the focus, the best case is that we will get a handle on our border in several years, perhaps 2 to 3 years, absolute minimum. But, of course, the other elements of this bill would be passed into law and would go into effect immediately. That is repeating the exact mistake of 1986. It would be one thing to consider an amnesty program down the road after we have acted on border security and proven that we have executed meaningful border security.

I don't think I could be for it even in that circumstance. That would be one thing. But what this bill does is something far different and even far more dangerous. What this bill does is put that program into effect now, immediately, move forward with that amnesty track immediately, even though everyone agrees, best case, we will only have meaningful border security in several years. So we establish the magnet to draw more illegal aliens into the country before anyone pretends that we have adequate border security or workplace security.

That is an even clearer reason that this is a big mistake and repeating the mistakes of the past, particularly in the era around 1986, on a much grander and, therefore, more troublesome scale.

Another point I wish to make is the overall numbers these provisions will lead to because I think there has been a lot of fuzzy math and a lack of attention to detail on this question. Again, the devil is in the details. Let's read this bill. Let's look at this bill and understand the full consequences of this bill, including the amnesty program.

The number folks toss around most commonly on the floor of the Senate, as well as in the wider debate around the country, is 12 million illegal aliens are currently in this country. Most experts seem to think that is a pretty minimum number. It could be significantly above that. Again, we need to look at the bill, and we need to understand the details because that is not the total number who may be eligible for citizenship.

The bill is very liberal and very broad in granting this citizenship path to an extended definition of family members of these folks. So in fact, as a direct, immediate result of this bill, we could well have about 30 million folks on that citizenship path, getting on that path very quickly.

Over an extended number of years, that number will be far larger. Estimates, for instance, by Robert Rector over a 20-year period after enactment of this underlying bill is that it would mean a minimum of 103 million new folks gaining citizenship, possibly much higher. Again, the devil is in the details. Let's look hard at the numbers. Let's add it up. We are not talking about 12 million, we are talking about 30 million immediately. We are talking about huge numbers, 100 million or more over 20 years.

Finally, the argument that is most often put up against avoiding this sort of amnesty program is that we can't make felons of all these millions of illegal aliens in the country. We can't round them up and deport them. It is impractical. It may not be a good idea, even if we could do it. President Bush made this specific argument 2 nights ago. Many of my colleagues on the Senate floor have made the same argument.

The truth is that is not the alternative. That is a straw man, an easy argument to push aside and defeat. That is not the practical alternative at all. The practical alternative to rushing toward an amnesty program is to do meaningful things with regard to enforcement and other measures in the country that on their own can decrease the illegal alien population in this country over time.

Let me mention six items in particular: Secure the borders through Border Patrol agents, increase fencing, substantially increase detention space and do that before we do anything else.

Some provisions are in this bill, but it is not being done before we move on to other aspects of the bill.

No. 2: Implement strong and serious worksite enforcement measures and, again, do that before other aspects of the bill are implemented.

No. 3: Eliminate document fraud through the use of biometrics, immigration documents, and secure Social Security cards.

No. 4: Reform existing laws to reduce the incentive to work illegally by providing the IRS with increased resources to investigate and sanction both employers and illegal aliens for submitting fraudulent tax returns, requiring the Social Security Administration to share information with DHS when no match letters are sent to employers, and barring illegal workers from counting work performed illegally toward Social Security.

No. 5: Encourage State and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws themselves by giving them authority and by requiring the Feds to reimburse them for expenses directly related to that enforcement, and enhancing coordination and information sharing between the State and local law enforcement and Federal immigration authorities.

No. 6: Provide the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice with the necessary resources to perform their jobs.

Madam President, these six things, without an amnesty program, would, in fact, lower the population of illegal aliens in this country over time. Why would it lower it? Because it would remove the incentives for those folks to stay here. It would remove the mechanism by which they can successfully stay in this country and gain employment.

So again, it is a straw man to talk about making all of these people felons. My amendment doesn't do that. We are not proposing that on the floor of the Senate. It is a straw man to talk about rounding up 12 million people around the country. It is a completely false argument to suggest that the only alternative to essentially amnesty is to have to do that and deport all 12 million of these people.

The practical alternative, which we can absolutely do, is avoid amnesty while implementing steps such as these six things. And that will provide real border security and real workplace security by demanding absolute requirements that ensure that folks getting jobs are legal immigrants, not illegals. That is the practical alternative which, over time, can dramatically reduce the illegal population in the country.

I don't know of any single aspect of this bill before us on the floor of the Senate that has Americans more concerned than these amnesty provisions. It goes to the heart of this debate. It goes to the heart of Americans' concerns that, once again, we are talking a good game about enforcement, but we are not demanding that it happen before considering other aspects of the bill. It goes to the heart of our experience in 1986, when that agricultural worker amnesty program clearly--clearly--was a huge part of the failure of that attempt to get our hands around illegal immigration. It was a huge part of the flow across our border, ballooning from 170,000 per year to 700,000 per year, and a huge part of the illegal population in our country skyrocketing from about 3 million to over 12 million.

So this is an important amendment that goes to the heart of so many Americans' concerns about the bill which are reflected in townhall meetings and discussions I have all across Louisiana. It is also reflected in every major national public opinion poll on the subject. Over and over again, Americans make very clear the huge majority want enforcement. There is a legitimate debate about a temporary worker program, but a huge majority have fundamental problems with these provisions which they know, using common sense, particularly when they understand the details of the bill, amount to absolute amnesty.

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