Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: May 25, 2006
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006

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Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I think this has been a very good debate. Why is the Chamber opposed? Why are the groups backing the bill opposed? Do they want just anybody and everybody? Some probably do. I don't believe that is what motivates the authors of the bill.

We are trying to marry up needs, and the numbers we are picking do change because of the politics and because of projected needs.

What I would say to my good friend from New Mexico is, if you think you are helping, you are not. I am not questioning your motives. I will never question the motive of any Senator who votes differently than I do because they are all intelligent people, and I don't claim to know more about any particular area than any other of my colleagues. But what we are doing is trying to create order out of chaos because we live in a chaotic world when it comes to immigration. The numbers change every time the bill changes.

Hagel and Martinez was a new proposal, a new idea that broke people into different groups. The 2-to-5 year group of people was treated differently. Senator Bingaman was right, we tried to exclude that. Whether it is 290,000 or 600,000--whatever, what I don't want to do is artificially deny my country the ability to assimilate hard-working people I think we need.

The fundamental disagreement between me and the Heritage Foundation and Senator Bingaman is I believe that immigration is going to be regulated by the needs of our economy. When our economy gets to the point that we can't tolerate more people, the numbers are going to change. The Heritage Foundation assumed escalations in numbers apart from supply and demand. To my good friend from New Mexico, the 11 million to 12 million--whatever number it is--have already been assimilated into our workforce without damage to our workforce because we have historically low unemployment, and the economy is humming, from a Republican sound bite point of view. This is about as good as it will ever get.

When you change the formula, when you introduce the family element of having to choose between family status and work status in a different kind of way than the base bill, then you are going to create a chaotic political event, a chaotic assimilation event.

What I am trying to urge my colleagues to do is let us not create disorder in a way that just doesn't reflect what we want to be as a society. We need the workers. I think we need more than 290,000. But when you start looking at counting the children and family members and they are not workers, you are hurting our business community, and you are putting a burden down the road on people. That just really makes me feel uncomfortable.

I respect Senator Bingaman's approach to this problem. He has limited the number of people that can come in. I fundamentally disagree with him. I think 5 years from now we are going to need more people, not less. Japan is our model in this regard. The Japanese demographics have changed. There are more older people there than younger people. They have a closed society. They don't assimilate people from outside their culture, and their gross domestic product has slowed down. Their workforce needs are being unmet.

Whatever number we pick--and we can all talk about what the right number is--to make this change at this stage in the proceedings to introduce family status versus work status is a new concept, something we haven't all thought about and worked through before. That does more harm than good.

I hope we can march forward, work with the numbers based on what we think the economic needs of the country will be in a way that is fair to people.

We have changed the bill fundamentally from Hagel-Martinez. We are trying to accommodate business needs; we are trying to accommodate the needs of our society in terms of people violating the law.

But this idea that we are going to flood America with people who can't add value to America, my colleagues, is contrary to what this bill is about.

If you come here under this bill, whether you are a future flow or you are with the 11 million, you will have to prove to us over time that you are worthy of staying here. You will have to earn your way into working in this country and staying in this country. You are not getting anything for free. As a matter of fact, the future flow people and the 11 million people are going to be asked to do more than any generation that has ever come to this country.

I think there is a point in time where we need to stop and try to have assimilation rules that bring about order, not chaos.

I hope that we will reject this attempt to change the bill in the eleventh hour because it will create political and economic chaos.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. GRAHAM. This amendment is important in this regard. When is it enough? When does the punishment fit the crime and when does it go too far? What role should tax policy play in punishing a violation of the law, whether it be a misdemeanor or a felony? I can tell you the role the Tax Code plays when it comes to felonies. If you are a drug dealer and you have been convicted and you are on probation or in jail, once you get out or off probation, you are not denied the earned-income tax credit. If you are a convicted child molester, the Tax Code doesn't change because of your crime.

I would argue that for the crime we are dealing with, coming across the border illegally, jumping in line, a nonviolent offense, we need to have some reasonable punishment and not go too far. If we change the Tax Code because they violated our law, then how do we look people in the eye in the category of illegal immigrants and tell them that they are being punished through the Tax Code in a way a rapist, murderer, or drug dealer is not? That is not proportional.

It is a misdemeanor under our law to cross the border illegally with no specified crime, a maximum of 6 months in prison. I have been a prosecutor. Senator Sessions has been a prosecutor. I can assure you, there are people who do really bad things that don't have to go through what the illegal immigrants are going to go through to earn their way back into our good graces. They have to pay a fine consistent with a misdemeanor offense. They have to learn English. If you have committed a felony outside of immigration law, you are not eligible to get in the program. If you have committed three misdemeanors outside of immigration violations, you are not eligible to get in the program. If you fail the English test, if you are out of work for over 45 days, you are subject to being deported.

What is left will be hard-working people who are trying to pay their debt back to society and, on top of all that, have to pay all of our taxes. And they should. It would be great if everybody working in America paid their fair share of taxes. It would be unfair, after you try to pay your debt to society by making it right after violating the immigration laws, which is a misdemeanor, to throw on top of that Tax Code treatment that no other felon would get.

There is a point in time here where we are going to not just punish people for a violation of the law but declare war on who they are. I don't want to cross that line as a nation.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I thank the Senator for yielding. I don't know how to say it other than just to say it. We are beginning to take tax policy focusing on one group of people and tying it to criminal behavior disproportionate to the crime, and we are beginning to set the stage for a different kind of America. Not only is it ill-conceived, it is dangerous. You can rape someone, you can murder someone, you can be a convicted child molester, and our tax laws allow you to get a refund.

What kind of crime are we talking about here? Coming across the border illegally, breaking in line to try to get ahead, because here you can do really well and on the other side of the border you do really poorly. I am sorry people did that. They need to pay for their crime of coming across the border, which is a misdemeanor with no specific fine set, with a 6-month cap on punishment.

But what are we going to do to those people who come here and we have allowed them to sit here--not sit here, work here, for our benefit, doing things we don't want to do for years--we are going to say to the children who are American citizens, You are an American citizen as much as I am, but when it comes to your parents who came across that border for you and your future, we are not going to just punish them, we are going to take the whole Tax Code and turn it upside down and do to your parents what we don't do to a drug dealer or a rapist or a murderer.

To my good friend from Nevada: Enough is enough. You have gone way too far. We need to get a grip on who we are as people. Punishment, yes. Revenge, no.

You want to talk about fairness? I have been a prosecutor, I have been a defense attorney, and I know you have to pay your debt, but this is a place where you can start over--at least it used to be. It is a place where you have a chance to right your wrongs. Under this bill, you do pay a fine; you do go through a very long process to earn your way back into our good graces. It is a misdemeanor. You pay a fine. You have to learn English. If you are out of work for over 45 days, off you go. If you commit a felony or misdemeanor unrelated to immigration, off you go. We need the workers. We don't need bad people. We need good people.

Every now and then, good people do bad things. At least I have found it to be so. Count me in that category. I hope you will forgive me if I do a bad thing, because I have done plenty of bad things. It is because people have seen the good in me, allowed me to start over and do right. That is why I am in the Senate today, because people saw in me some things I didn't deserve to have seen. So yes, let's give them punishment, make them do right, make them learn our language, make them pay taxes and pay a fine, make sure they don't commit crimes. But once you pay taxes, let's don't turn the Tax Code upside down just to kick you around after you have done what we have asked you to do.

Please vote no. I yield back.

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Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, my very good friend from Nevada is driven by what he thinks is fair and right. I have a totally different view. Here is what I think is fair and right: Punish people appropriate to the crime; don't take tax policy and connect it to criminal law.

What we are saying people right now is: pay your taxes, learn English, pay a fine. But let's not come up with tax policy for one group of people who are now legal and say: You have to pay, but you don't get what anybody else in the country legally gets, and we have made you legal.

What damage are we going to do? We are going to take the tax law and turn it upside down and focus on one group and kick them around after they do everything else that everybody else has to do. That is not the best of this country. That is not consistent with the punishment versus the crime. Why would we ask somebody to pay their taxes and then say: Thanks for the money; you don't get any other benefits in the Tax Code. Rapists, murderers, and thieves go to jail, but they get refunds if the Tax Code says so. The only people who are not going to get a refund after they pay the taxes is this group of people working hard? That is not right.

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