COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 17, 2006)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Nebraska for his excellent presentation. He laid out as effectively as one could the reasons against this amendment. Effectively, the Vitter amendment undermines the whole concept of a comprehensive immigration bill. But having said that, it is not a constructive or positive solution to the challenges we are facing with the 11 million or 12 million undocumented individuals who are here at the present time.
First of all, our bill says if you are going to be able to earn citizenship, you have to pay a penalty. So you have to pay the penalty. You have to be continuously employed. You have to meet a security background check. You must learn English. You must learn U.S. History. You must pay all back taxes, and then you get in the back of the line of all of the applicants waiting for green cards. Effectively, it takes 11 years for them to be able to earn citizenship. That is the earned legalization program.
For those who say this is 1986, they are either distorting the record or haven't read it clearly. This is what we are talking about for those 11 million or 12 million people: They have to earn it--the end of the line, pay the penalty, work hard.
We have seen some of them join the Armed Forces of our country. That is the earned legalization.
What is Senator Vitter's answer? Do you know what is going to happen? You are going to have the 11 million or 12 million individuals continue to be exploited in the workplace. You are going to drive down the wages and, therefore, undermine working conditions for Americans. They are going to be exploited. They are going to be threatened in the workplace: If you do not do this job that I am asking you to do, I am going to call the immigration service and have you deported.
They are threatened. That is happening every single day all across this country to these individuals.
Third, if you are a woman you are going to suffer exploitation, you are going to suffer abuse, and you are going to suffer sexual harassment. That is the record. Those are the things that are happening, and at the end of the day you are going to have a two-tiered society. That is something that we, as Americans, have avoided. We take pride that we are a singular society and we struggle to create equality for all the people of our society.
If you accept the Vitter amendment, you are going to have a two-tiered society; that is, a permanent underclass. That is the United States of America. That is going to be the result if we are going to follow the recommendations. There is even the suggestion it was going to be for deportation.
We have heard different approaches to these 12 million. Our friends in the House of Representatives have effectively wanted to criminalize every 1 of these 12 million. We are going to criminalize them and stain them for the rest of their lives.
We have rejected that.
We have, on the one hand, people prepared to play by the rules. By and large, these are the people who are devoted to their families, who want to work hard, who want to play by the rules. There are 70,000 permanent residents now serving in the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world, willing to do so. Many of them have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are prepared to do so. They want to be part of the American dream, as our forebears from other nationalities have been part of the American dream. They want to participate. We are saying to them, that is the choice: a permanent subclass, permanent underclass, permanent exploitation of 11 million or 12 million, or have them earn their way, go to the back of the line, show they are going to be good citizens, learn English, pay their back taxes, and demonstrate they are committed to the American dream.
That is the choice we have made. That is the choice which is clearly in the interest of our country. That would be altered and changed and dramatically undermined with the Vitter amendment. I hope it is not accepted.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Illinois for bringing this to the attention of the Senate. I rise in strong support of the amendment. One of the dynamics of a comprehensive approach is legality and fairness. What we want to make sure is that when jobs are advertised for Americans first, Americans should be able to take advantage of the opportunity. But if they are going to go, by and large, to Hispanic individuals who come here, they ought to be treated at fair wages. There are protections that are included in the bill at the present time. The amendment offered by the Senator from Illinois addresses that issue and strengthens it. I hope we will find a way to accept it.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, we have been ready to go, urging relatively short time agreements. We have a whole series of proposals from that side and virtually none from here. This has been sort of a jump ball. We are trying to adopt to that. We have a Democratic amendment that we are prepared to go to. I am more than glad to work out with the floor manager as to time limits. The Cornyn amendment we had not expected would come up. It reaches the heart of the issue, and our side needs at least an hour for it. I know the Inhofe amendment has been a matter that has been discussed. We were trying to work out a time agreement for consideration of a side-by-side. There has been a good deal of discussion and desire to try to work out a relatively limited amount of time. We are not interested in prolonging that discussion and debate. I think people would like some time to try to figure that out. I think when they have that, we could have a relatively short period of time for the consideration of it. I am familiar with the Ensign amendment. Senator Vitter and Senator Cornyn have amendments. We are prepared to have a short time agreement.
Our concern is that we have a whole series of Republican amendments, and we are not having Democratic amendments. We want to try to work this thing through. We have had a short time. I have every intention of suggesting to our side that we have short times. But we need to at least try to work out with the floor manager some opportunity for the consideration of our side.
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, do I understand the Senator from Massachusetts to mean he would be prepared to go, if we revert to the original schedule, with Senator Inhofe and take the Inhofe amendment now under a time agreement?
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I am glad to do the Inhofe amendment. I understand there is going to be a side-by-side, but I can't enter into a time agreement on that until that thing is finished. I know what the Senator's amendment is. I know people want to debate it. But in terms of limiting the time, until we have the side-by-side, I cannot enter into a time agreement. When we have a side-by-side, we would enter into a short time agreement--I think an hour or an hour and half evenly divided. There isn't any desire to prolong this. We are going to be on this bill--I understand there are 16 more amendments on that side which are serious amendments. We are going to be on this legislation. We made good progress today. I am glad to make some progress. That happens to be the reality on this. Maybe later in the afternoon we could get a short time agreement. But until we work out the side-by-side language on it, I would not be able to enter into a time agreement at this time on the Inhofe amendment.
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Mr. KENNEDY. I yield such time as I might use.
We will look at exactly who these individuals are who are going to come into the United States and what the process is.
First, we will find out that an employer needs a particular kind of function to be able to continue their business--maybe it is related to the employment of other individuals. They search around to try, for some 60 days, to see if there is an American prepared to take that job at that salary. They cannot find an American prepared to take that job, and they still need to have that particular function filled. So they find out there is a willing person from overseas prepared to take that particular job, get paid the particular wages mentioned for that particular profile, and that individual then comes to the United States and works for that particular employer.
Under the current legislation, we are saying that after a period of 4 years--or even before the 4-year-period--if the employer wants to petition for a green card for that particular employee, they can go ahead and do that. That is in the law at the present time.
Senator Cornyn's amendment does not do that. We provide after 4 years that if the individual wants to make a petition for that particular job, they ought to be entitled to do so. They will still have to wait the 5 years in order to become a citizen. That is a total of 9 years to be able to become a citizen. Senator Cornyn does not want that particular right for that particular worker.
One of the things we have seen over the period of years, going back to the Bracero issue in question where we had individuals who came into the United States and were extraordinarily exploited--they were exploited all the way through by unscrupulous employers because those particular workers did not have any rights in order to be able to protect themselves. In the 1960s, we got rid of the Bracero because it was such a shameful aspect in this country's employment history.
We want to avoid the same circumstance with this new legislation. We have tried to learn from 1986, when we had amnesty. We also should have had the prosecution of employers employing individuals who should not have been employed, but that was never enforced.
Now we have the earned citizenship. Now we have protections for workers to come in here.
Now, we have strengthened border security. We have learned from the past. One of the important experiences of learning from the past is not to permit these workers to be exploited. One of the best ways to ensure that is to give them--at least after 4 years of working in the United States--the opportunity of getting on the path for a green card and eventually citizenship.
Now, the Senator from Texas does not want that. He wants to leave all of the power with the employer. Well, I do not buy that. The employer starts out saying: Look, I need a worker. I can't get a worker. I really need you. You come on in here. I will really look out after you. But I want to tell you something: unless you are going to work those extra hours--and I might not pay you overtime--unless you are going to do this or unless you are going to do that, I will never petition for you. And you are not going to be able to petition for yourself.
So I think it is an issue about whether we are going to respect individuals and have as much respect for employees as we have for the employers.
It is interesting that under this legislation, if an employee comes in, and the employer likes that person, they can go ahead and make the petition now for the green card. They have the power to do that in the first year, the second year, the third year, and the fourth year. So we are just swinging all of this power into the hands of the employers.
If you accept the Cornyn amendment, you are effectively leaving people high and dry on that. I do not think that is what we are trying to do.
We are trying to have fairness in the legislation. We are trying to have legality, strong border security. We are trying to have an employer-employee relationship where the employer is going to know that employee, has the documents and, therefore, will not go out and hire other employees who are here illegally and give them depressed wages, which will depress the wages on Americans and American workers, which is the current case.
We are saying we want to stop the exploitation of both those individuals and what is happening to American workers. But we want to at least say that after 4 years, where this individual has filled an important slot that no American worker was prepared to fill, and they want to be a part of the whole American dream, play by the rules, pay their taxes, do what any citizen would do in the United States but the employer said: No, I am not going to do it, and then they have to go back to their country, it leaves all the power with the employer and denies the employee respect, which I think will invite further kinds of exploitation.
We do not want to go back to the Bracero period. And this is starting us back down that road. I think it is the wrong way to resolve this particular issue. I hope the amendment will not be accepted.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I have difficulty following the logic of my good friend from Texas because American workers are protected when the temporary worker is protected.
Now, let me give you a possible factual situation: An employer has one of these temporary workers. They have gone out and petitioned and can't find an American to do this job. They can't find an American to do the job. Then they have the foreigner who comes in and works for them, and works for them for 4 years.
Now, under our proposal, after the 4-year period, if they have paid their taxes, if they have not gotten into trouble with the law the rest of the way, they can petition for a green card. Then, if they follow all the procedures, pass the naturalization exam, they can become a citizen 5 years after that--9 years.
Now, this is what Mr. Cornyn, the Senator from Texas says: Look, after the 4 years, we are going to take away the right of that person--unless the employer is going to petition for them, unless the employer is going to do it.
Now, you tell me what is going to happen in a lot of the workplaces. The employee says: Look, Mr. Employer, when are you going to petition for me? I have worked for you for 4 years. Under the old bill, they used to be able to say I could petition. But they passed the Cornyn amendment, and it says, no. I am completely dependent upon you.
Well, the employer says: Don't ask for a raise. Take a wage cut. Take a wage cut for a couple of years. Don't complain about unfair working conditions. Don't complain about it. Don't complain about working a little longer, working Saturdays, maybe a few hours on Sunday. If you complain about it, I am not going to petition for you. You are going to be left high and dry.
You tell me how that protects American workers. Once you get the exploitation of the temporary worker, we see what happens, as we have seen today: Employers are employing the undocumented and they are paying them a good deal less. That is an adverse impact and effect on American wages. If you raise those wages and give them the protections we have under our legislation, that is going to protect American workers.
I fail to understand--when you give the whole deck of cards to the employer, and tell the employer he can do anything he wants with that employee--how that employee is protected and how an American worker is protected. I just do not get it. I just do not see it. It defies history. It defies the history of the old employment. It can work very well for that particular employer because he has that employee right by the throat because if that employee complains, does not do what the employer says, that person is on their way back to whatever country they came from, or they will disappear into the community. That is not good. That is what we are trying to avoid--exploitation.
I think this is what we have tried to do throughout the bill both in terms of the exploitation of workers, in terms of the legal system, the legal structure, and in terms of the border security, and the others. I have difficulty in following the rationale and the reasoning that if you give one person in the employer-employee relationship all of the cards, that somehow inures to the benefit of the employee. It never has in the history of the relationship between workers and employers, and it will not. And it will not if that is the outcome of the Cornyn amendment.
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Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts whether there is a requirement that an employer sponsor a guest worker when they first enter the country under the H-2C program?
Mr. KENNEDY. The answer to that is affirmative, yes.
Mr. CORNYN. I would ask, if I may, Mr. President, if the Senator will yield for one more question, whether it is true that, for example, high-skilled workers, H-1B workers--people with math, science, engineering degrees, and the like--whether there is a requirement that there be an employer who actually sponsors those workers before they can receive one of those types of visas?
Mr. KENNEDY. The answer is affirmative, yes.
Mr. CORNYN. I thank the Senator very much.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it is a very fundamental reason why. You are talking about the H-1B. You are talking about the most highly skilled, highly educated, and highly competent individuals in the world--H-1B--going on to universities, going into the high-tech areas, individuals for which the world is their oyster. They do not suffer the kind of exploitation, the kind of humiliation that other workers suffer. These workers are taking jobs that American workers will not take.
There is a big difference between that and going to the top companies of America and working for the CEO, when you have all the education, the professional degrees. Those individuals are not the ones being exploited. They never have been, and they are not today. It is an entirely different situation.
We are talking about the tough, difficult work that no American will take. We are talking about the history of these kinds of jobs. We have seen it. We have read about it. We have experienced it. I did, certainly, in the early 1960s, going across the Southwest in the Bracero Program. Exploitation is one of the sad aspects of American employment history. We do not want to go there.
The H-2Bs in my State are doing very well at universities and colleges and enormously successful businesses. The idea behind the H-2Bs was getting the very able and gifted people. As history has shown, that results in the hiring of additional people because of their abilities. They end up, as a result of these programs, adding key elements of success to various businesses and employment expands. Generally, those are good jobs with good benefits and good retirement. That is an entirely different situation. I am glad we were able to clear that up.
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