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Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise, obviously, in strong opposition to the amendment. The Senator from New Mexico just made my arguments for me. He wants us to be like other countries in the world--maybe France, maybe Germany, maybe those countries where there has been no assimilation, no ability to become part of the society and therefore they have ended up with serious situations--riots, car burnings. It is clear he wants to be like other countries in the world.

He also made my argument in that he pointed out there are lots of ways for highly skilled workers, highly educated people to come in. There is virtually no restraint on them. So he is going to focus on the lower skilled workers. Those are the ones on whom we are going to put the cap. Right.

The overwhelming number of people who have come to this country have started out as low-skilled workers, I remind my colleague from New Mexico, and have worked their way up the economic ladder. If you are rich and educated and highly skilled, come on in. There is no problem with you coming to the United States of America. But if you are low skilled, we are going to make sure that not only you but your children are not admitted.

My parents had three children. I am glad we didn't have that kind of proposal for my family--either I or my sister or my brother may have stayed someplace else, if my parents were immigrants. This is against family. This is against everything that America stands for.

I point out to my colleagues, this is just one in a series of amendments that basically would restrict people's ability to come to this country to not only work but also, over time, raise families and become part of our society. The Bingaman amendment clearly discriminates against people who are low skilled. He wants us to be like every other country in the world. I tell the Senator from New Mexico, I don't want America to be like every other country in the world. He made my argument against his own amendment. I don't want us to be like that.

Mr. BINGAMAN addressed the Chair.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I believe I have the floor. If the Senator from New Mexico--by the way, this amendment is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and the majority of the unions and certainly by every major Hispanic and immigrant group in the United States of America. The Senator from New Mexico may prevail. But lately these amendments have, obviously--they have a tenor and an effect that I don't think is healthy for this country and I don't think is good for America.

I yield the remainder of my time.

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I yield myself such time as I may use.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona is recognized.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, here we go again. We have before us another amendment that says legal workers under this bill must play by our rules--by our laws--but they will not be allowed to live by those same rules.

I know that my colleagues know that illegal immigrants are ineligible for the earned-income tax credit. The legislation before us does not change that fact. But this amendment incredibly--incredibly--would deny the earned-income tax credit to taxpayers who will be working in this country legally as a result of this legislation. Remarkable.

I want to point out again, it would deny an important tax credit to some low-income workers who have legal status who are playing by the rules, meeting all the requirements of the legislation, who might otherwise be eligible for the earned-income tax credit.

Some things are within a certain area that I can probably understand the rationale behind it and legitimately respect and argue against. But what is the rationale behind saying people who have attained a legal status here, who are living by all our other laws and rules and are paying taxes--sales taxes, Social Security, et cetera, every other tax--are going to be denied a tax credit that is available to all other persons? We are not saying in the legislation that anyone who is here illegally would make themselves available to that. We are only talking about people who are here in a legal status.

The legislation is designed, rightly, to ensure that legalized workers and new guest workers would largely be taxed in the same manner as U.S. citizens. If they have attained a legal status, then clearly they should pay the taxes. They would pay payroll taxes, income taxes, excise taxes. They would pay back taxes for the period of time they had been working in this country prior to the enactment of this bill. Payment of back taxes is a very important part of this bill.

The CBO and Joint Tax Committee estimate that bringing these legal immigrants into the Federal tax system would substantially increase Federal revenue collections overall. It is patently unfair to make them abide by our tax rules yet deny any legal workers equal treatment under these same rules.

I am having a hard time understanding amendments as this which would really impose an indefensible double standard on legalized workers. What is next? Are we going to say work-authorized immigrants have to ride in the back of the bus? Some of these amendments are sending a very troubling message to the American public about what direction we want our country to go. We need to be going forward and not backward.

I wonder, do some of my colleagues really think there is an underground movement afoot plotting and scheming plans for how foreign workers can gain legal work status solely so they can freeload off of the taxpayers? These people are here to work, and they are doing jobs that most of us do not have the will to do. These are workers. They are not risking their lives to come into this country with the goal of freeloading off of us. They are here to earn a wage for the betterment of themselves and their families, the same reason our forebears came here to this country. They aren't looking for a handout. They are looking for a chance, a chance for a better life. And they are willing to work harder than most of us to have just a few of the opportunities most of us take for granted.

This amendment, if adopted, would result in highly inconsistent treatment of legal workers--legal workers. On the one hand, they would be subject to income and payroll taxes in the same manner as other workers, but on the other, they would be denied the use of a key element of the U.S. Tax Code that can mean the difference of whether or not food gets put on a child's table.

About 98 percent of the earned-income tax credit goes to working families with children. Census data shows that the EITC lifts more children out of poverty than any other Federal program. This amendment to deny the EITC to legalized workers would harm children, including many children who are U.S. citizens. Many of the children in these low-income families are citizens who live in families that experience hunger and other hardships.

This amendment, if adopted, would mean that a large number of children would be thrust into, or deeper into, poverty. An Urban Institute study found that 56 percent of young, low-income children of immigrant parents live in families that experience hunger or other food-related problems. It seems to me there is an issue of humanity here on this issue.

We have spent a week and a half debating amendments to this bill. Most of the amendments that were designed to alter substantially the comprehensive approach to immigration reform have failed. But they were debated on and voted on. I think that has been a good showing for the Senate. I think we have shown we can debate honestly and openly and reach conclusions. Some of these issues have been complex and some fairly simple. We have been conducting business the way the place is meant to have it conducted.

I hope that after all this effort, we will not now adopt such a questionable amendment to a bill that provides a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system--a solution that is based on sound judgment, honesty, common sense, and compassion.

Mr. President, I really, on this one, would like to see not just victory in this vote but a significant signal that we would not engage in this kind of treatment of people who have come to this country and are in a legal status.

I urge my colleagues to defeat this amendment.

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I ask the Senator for 3 minutes.

Mr. SPECTER. Yes, I yield 3 minutes to the Senator from Arizona.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona is recognized.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, as I understand the remarks of the Senator from Alabama, these people are not mistreated, as others in our society have been mistreated. Wouldn't an objective observer view mistreatment as giving someone legal status in the United States, forcing them to earn citizenship, a whole program to bring people out of the shadows, and yet say you are ineligible for perhaps the most important tax incentive for the poorest of Americans, called the earned income tax credit? I call that mistreatment, Mr. President. I would call that mistreatment.

We are going to make you pay a fine, we are going to do a background check, we are going to make you work for 6 years before you can get a green card and, yet, while you are doing that--and most of you are low-income people--we are going to deprive you of the benefit that was absolutely designed to help low-income families. That is what it was all about. If you have a lot of children, I am sorry, but this benefit that was specifically designed for low-income people, which is the majority of the people we are talking about, just as all of our forefathers who came here were usually at the lowest wrung of the ladder, and we are going to say you cannot have that benefit.

Why? Why is that? Then what we are really saying is that we are going to give you legal status, but not really, because under a Republican administration, a way to try to help low-income families was designed, instead of a handout to give them a credit, instead of welfare to give them some extra income, but we are not going to give that to you. We may cause your children to go hungry because you are low-income people. I don't get it.

It is mistreatment by any objective view. It is mistreatment. As the Senator from Alabama said, this is an important issue. Maybe for the first time since we have debated this on the floor I agree with him. I totally agree that this is an important issue. It has a lot to do with what kind of country we are.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, after several weeks of extensive debate and consideration of numerous and complicated amendments, the Senate is about to move to final passage of S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. This legislation addresses comprehensively one of the most important and complex issues facing our country. Our Nation's immigration system is broken. I don't think there was one Member of the Senate to argue that fact. Without enactment of comprehensive immigration reform as provided for under this bill, our Nation's security will remain vulnerable.

That is why we must pass this bill and reach a meaningful final product through conference deliberations. Our failure to produce a final comprehensive measure is an unacceptable proposition.

I want to first thank the President for his leadership on this issue. The President's speech to the Nation last week, which I thought was inspired, was greeted by 74 percent of the American people overnight favorably, including his absolute determination to see the Congress send him a bill which has a comprehensive approach to the issue which we as a Congress and a Federal Government have ignored for too long.

I also commend the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle for their efforts to ensure that the Senate address this important issue and give us more than adequate time for a thorough debate.

I think this is a proud moment for the Senate, as we have conducted good work and returned to orderly traditions of the legislative process as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

I also again recognize Chairman Specter for his work in leading us to this point in the legislative process. He and all the members of the Judiciary Committee deserve our appreciation for the considerable effort they have taken on this issue during this Congress.

Of course, I commend Senator Kennedy, who is perhaps the leading expert on this difficult issue. He and I spent many months working to develop a comprehensive, reasonable, workable legislative proposal, much of which is contained in the bill before us.

I also thank Senators Brownback and Lieberman and Graham and Salazar, Martinez, Obama and DeWine for their shared commitment to this issue, in working to ensure this bill moves successfully intact through the legislative process.

Throughout this debate we were reminded that immigration is a national security issue, and it is. It is also a matter of life and death for many living along the border. We have hundreds of people flowing across our borders every day, coming here only in search of better lives for themselves and their families. They come to fill the vacant jobs at businesses and farms that struggle with real labor shortages that impact our economy negatively.

This Nation is calling for our borders to be secure, for an overhaul of our immigration system, and that it be done in a humane and comprehensive fashion. Vote after vote after vote taken in this body reaffirms that fact.

The new policies as provided for in this legislation will increase border security and provide for a new temporary worker program to enable foreign workers to work legally in this country when there are jobs that Americans will not fill, and will acknowledge and address in a humanitarian and compassionate way the current undocumented population.

As many have noted, there are over 11 million people in America today who came here illegally. They live in our cities and towns and rural communities. They harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants, and clean our houses. They came as others before them came, to grasp the lowest rung of the American ladder of opportunity, to work the jobs others won't, and by virtue of their own industry and dreams to rise and build better lives for their families and a better America.

Some Americans believe we must find all these millions, round them up, and send them back to the country they came from. I don't know how you do that, and I don't know why you would want to. Yes, in this post-9/11 era America must enforce its borders. There are people who wish to come here to do us harm, and we must vigilantly guard against them, spend whatever it takes, devote as much manpower to the task as necessary. But we must also find some way to separate those who have come here for the same reasons every immigrant has come here from those who are driven here by their hate for us and our ideals.

We must concentrate our resources on the latter and persuade the former to come out from the shadows. We won't be able to persuade them if all we offer is a guarded escort back to the place of hopelessness and injustice that they have fled.

Why not say to those undocumented workers who are working the jobs the rest of us refuse: Come out from the shadows, earn your citizenship in this country. You broke the law to come here, so you must go to the back of the line, pay a fine, stay employed, learn our language, pay your taxes, obey our laws, and earn the right to be an American.

SSgt Riayen Tejada immigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic. He came with two dreams, he said, to become an American citizen and to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. He willingly accepted the obligations of American citizenship before he possessed all the rights of an American. Staff Sergeant Tejada, from Washington Heights by way of the Dominican Republic, father of two young daughters, died in an ambush on May 14, 2004. He had never fulfilled his first dream, to become a naturalized American citizen. But he loved this country so much that he gave his life to defend her.

Right now, at this very moment, there are fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers whose parents are not yet American citizens but who have dreamed the dream that their sons and daughters risked their lives to defend. They should make us proud to be Americans. These people have come for the very same reason immigrants have always come to America. They came to grasp the lowest rung of the ladder, and they intend to rise. Let them rise. Let them rise. We will be better for it.

For America--blessed, bountiful, beautiful America--is still the land of hope and opportunity, the land of the immigrant's dreams. Long may she remain so.

I yield the remainder of my time.

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