SECURE FENCE ACT OF 2006--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - September 21, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the Secure Fence Act. The bill before us will certainly do some good. It will authorize some badly needed funding for better fences and better security along our borders, and that should help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country. But if we think that putting up a few more miles of fence is by any means the whole answer to our immigration problems, then I believe we are seriously kidding ourselves.
This bill, from my perspective, is an election-year, political solution to a real policy challenge that goes far beyond November. It is great for sound bites and ad campaigns, but as an answer to the problem of illegal immigration, it is unfinished at best.
Yes, we need tougher border security and stronger enforcement measures. Yes, we need more resources for Customs and Border agents and more detention beds. Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate agree on these points. But immigrants sneaking in through unguarded holes in our border are only part of the problem.
As a host of former Bush immigration officials and Members of Congress said in today's Washington Post, we must ``acknowledge that as much as half of the illegal-immigration problem is driven by the hiring of people who enter the United States through official border points but use fraudulent documents or overstay visas.''
This serves as a reminder that for the last 15 years, our immigration strategy has consisted of throwing more money at the border. We have tripled the size of the Border Patrol and we strengthened fences. But even as investments in border security grew, the size of the undocumented population grew as well. So we need to approach the immigration challenge from a different perspective.
This is why for months Democrats and Republicans have been working together to pass a comprehensive immigration bill out of this Congress because we know that in addition to greater border security, we also need greater sanctions on employers who illegally hire people in this country. We need to make it easier for those employers to identify who is legally eligible to work and who is not. And we need to figure out how we plan to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already here, many of whom have woven themselves into the fabric of our communities, many of whom have children who are U.S. citizens, many of whom employers depend on. Until we do, no one should be able to look a voter in the face and honestly tell them that we have solved our immigration problem.
A model for compromise on this issue is in the Senate bill that was passed out of this Chamber. In the new electronic employment verification system section of that bill that I helped write with Senator Grassley and Senator Kennedy, we agreed to postpone the new guest worker program until 2 years of funding is made available for improved workplace enforcement. We could extend that framework and work together to first ensure the money is in place to strengthen enforcement at the border and then allow the new guest worker program to kick in. We can do all of that in one bill, but we are not.
So while this bill will probably pass, it should be seen only as one step in the much greater challenge of reforming our immigration system. Meeting that challenge will require passing measures to discourage people from overstaying their visas in the country and to help employers check the legal status of the workers applying for jobs.
It seems it was just yesterday that we were having celebratory press conferences and the President and the Senate leadership were promising to pass a bill that would secure our borders and take a tough but realistic approach to the undocumented immigrants who are already here.
Today that promise looks empty and that cooperation seems like a thing of the past. But we owe it to the American people to finish the job we are starting today. And we owe it to all those immigrants who have come to this country with nothing more than a willingness to work and a hope for a better life. Like so many of our own parents and grandparents, they have shown the courage to leave their homes and seek out a new destiny of their own making. The least we can do is show the courage to help them make that destiny a reality in a way that is safe, legal, and achievable. So when we actually start debating this bill, I hope the majority leader will permit consideration of a wide range of amendments.
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