COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 25, 2006)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am proud to cast my vote today in support of S. 2611, the immigration reform bill. This legislation has strong bipartisan support--something we don't see enough of these days in the Senate. Time and time again, amendments were offered and motions were made in order to derail this bill, yet time and time again, our strong bipartisan coalition stuck together to fend off every single attack. As a result, we're able to pass comprehensive immigration reform--reform that has a real chance of solving the immigration crisis that we face today.
The bill addresses what I consider to be the four cornerstones of successful immigration reform: (1) strengthening our Nation's borders; (2) providing a path to legalization for the approximately 11 million undocumented workers currently living and working in the United States; (3) addressing future flow needs by adjusting visa caps and creating an effective guestworker program with strong labor protections; and (4) implementing a reliable employment verification program. Thus, not only will this bill prevent people from illegally crossing our borders, it will eliminate incentive for coming illegally in the first place.
I am particularly happy that the bill included an amendment I offered to strengthen our border security. My amendment increases the number of border patrol agents by an additional 1,000 this year, bringing the total number of agents in fiscal year 2006 to 3,000. It also gives border State Governors the ability to request up to 1,000 more border patrol agents from the Secretary of Homeland Security in times of international border emergencies. We need more agents on the border, and we need to make sure they have the tools to get the job done. That is why my amendment provides more helicopters, power boats, patrol vehicles, GPS devices, encrypted 2-way radios, night vision equipment, high-quality border armor; and reliable and effective weapons.
The bill also includes my amendment to the performing artist visa, which will ensure that international artists will have their visa petitions processed in a timely manner. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, delays are making it increasingly difficult for international artists to appear in the United States. Currently nonprofit arts organizations confront uncertainty in gaining approval for visa petitions for foreign guest artists and inconsistent policies in processing artist visa petitions which result in delays, expense, and unwarranted requests for further evidence. USCIS practice compounds the growing risk that foreign guest artists will be unable to enter the U.S. in time for their engagements, causing financial burdens on nonprofit arts organizations, and potentially denying the American public the opportunity to experience international artistry due to delays and cancellations. My amendment requires the UCIS to review these visa applications in a timely fashion--and consistent with protocols that ensure our security would never be compromised.
Of course, the bill contains some things that I do not agree with. For example, I would prefer that the bill not include Senator Inhofe's English language amendment not because I do not believe that English should be our national language but because I think the amendment will have some unintended, negative consequences. I believe everyone who aspires to be a part of our country should learn English. I was proud to support Senator Salazar's amendment declaring English is our common language. Yet I felt compelled to oppose Senator Inhofe's amendment because it would prevent critical services--including health, public safety, or education services--from being provided in more than one language. I believe that in some instances it may be important for the government to communicate in a language other than English.
However, I accept these provisions as part of the compromise. Take the temporary worker provisions, for example. They represent a true compromise between the need to protect American workers and the need to meet the future labor demands of the U.S. marketplace. Thus, the bill allows a certain number of temporary workers into the country every year, but only after the employers seeking to hire them have made serious efforts to hire an American worker. The bill also includes significant labor protections to ensure that temporary workers receive the same wages, benefits, and working conditions as similarly-employed U.S. workers. Thus, the bill does everything possible to prevent temporary workers from becoming a secondary class of citizens or from depressing American worker wages.
Passing this immigration bill is just the first step. The House passed a punitive, enforcement-only immigration bill that I believe will exacerbate rather than ameliorate the immigration crisis. The House bill sparked protests across the country. Millions of people took to the streets to call for a comprehensive and humane approach to immigration reform. I hope that the House has heeded their calls. I hope that the President can rally support for a comprehensive solution. And I sincerely hope that the conference comes back with a bill I can support.
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