COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM -- (Senate - September 25, 2006)
Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I come to the floor of the Senate today to talk about the importance of immigration reform in a comprehensive manner. We are in the last week of this legislative session before the November elections. It is obvious to me, in terms of what is going on in the country, that the leadership of the Senate, the Congress, and the White House has decided to allow politics to triumph over the very fundamental national purposes for which we have tried to work together with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.
It is my hope that those speaking for principled immigration reform stand up and say that we are not going to let politics triumph over national security, that we are not going to let politics triumph over the rule of law, which is a central tenet of our Nation, basic to the stability of our Nation, and that we are not going to let politics triumph over the economic and human and moral realities with which we deal in immigration.
As we move forward in the days ahead, dealing with this fence legislation, legislation that would create a fence across Arizona and Texas and Mexico and the possibility of a fence between the United States and Canada, I hope the voices of reason that brought Republicans and Democrats together on the floor of this Senate to say we needed comprehensive immigration reform, once again will say we reject piecemeal legislation that deals with creating a fence only because we know that will not be the answer for the comprehensive immigration reform we need.
When I look at the map which has come out of the House of Representatives which would create a fence which would essentially follow the entire border of Arizona and large pieces of the Texas border, it seems to me what we are doing here in Washington is we are telling those States that we know better here in Washington where the fence ought to be located and we will authorize this fence to be built only in these particulars locations. We are, in fact, not listening to the Department of Homeland Security and to our Border Patrol officers who know there are places where it is appropriate for us to put a fence. Indeed, in our legislation here in the Senate, what we did is we authorized the construction of a fence, but we also recognized there was latitude to be given to those experts who are in charge of making sure we create a secure border.
When I look at what we are trying to do in this debate which will take place with respect to the Secure Fence Act on the floor this year, I would like us to look back and see what was being said around the country with respect to immigration reform just a few months ago when we were debating immigration reform here on the floor of the Senate.
Our Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Chertoff, said this about the fence:
Fencing has its place in some areas, but as a total solution, I don't think it's a good solution.
Secretary Chertoff, on February 9, 2006, also said the following:
When you're dealing with the desert, for example, we don't advocate putting a fence in the desert because it's more efficient for us to intercept people when they're in the desert at a place of our own choosing as opposed to being forced to guard the entire fence, right up against the fence.
From our friend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, speaking about the fence, back in those days: ``I think that's contrary to our traditions,'' he said, noting that ``99.9 percent'' of illegal immigrants ``come across to seek a better life for their families. .....'' This is from Attorney General Gonzales.
He continued and said:
I don't know if that would make much sense. We've got a 2,000-mile border. Because of natural geography, we don't need a fence ..... along certain portions of that border. Obviously, we believe it does make sense to have fencing along certain areas of our border. We do have several hundred miles of fencing currently, but the objective here is to make sure we're being smart in securing our border.
Commissioner W. Ralph Basham from Customs and Border Protection said:
It doesn't make sense, it's not practical.
We are in the last week of the legislative session, doing our business prior to the time we go out for elections. So what has happened here? What has happened here is people have decided to ride this horse of immigration reform, with all the divisiveness it has created around the country, to try to gain a political advantage in these November elections. It would be my hope that Democrats and Republicans of this body, who stood with the President in calling for comprehensive immigration reform, would stand by those principles and say: We are going to push forward for immigration reform that really works for our country because it addresses all aspects of the immigration issue we face in America.
We as a Senate did that several months ago. I was very proud to have worked with people such as Senator McCain, Senator Graham, Senator Durbin, Senator Kennedy, and a whole host of other people who were involved in putting together what became a comprehensive immigration reform package. It was a law-and-order bill that we debated here on the floor for weeks and was ultimately adopted by a significant bipartisan group of Senators. It was a law-and-order bill because it dealt in a comprehensive way with the issue of immigration. It dealt in a comprehensive way with the recognition that we have a national security crisis on our hands that requires us to deal with immigration reform in a comprehensive way.
The components of the legislative which we subsequently shepherded through the Senate included border security, strengthening our border. It included immigration law enforcement so we make sure that we as a nation uphold our tradition of being a nation of laws; that we enforce our immigration laws here in our country.
It also includes huge registration penalties applying against those who have broken the law and have come to this country illegally.
The law and order bill deserves the support of the Senate. It is my hope as we move forward in the debate on immigration this week that we return to that legislation and move that legislation as an amendment to the legislation which has been introduced in this body.
Let me again quickly walk through to refresh my colleagues' memory about the components of this legislation which we felt so urgently was needed to deal with national security and the economic and human reality relating to the immigration issue.
First, we all want our borders secure. We recognize we can't have a secure nation if we can't deal with the threats we face with homeland security unless we secure the border. We recognize the United States of America as a sovereign nation has a sovereign right to protect its borders. We need to make sure we are protecting our borders.
We included in our legislation many aspects of a cross-border security solution. They included 12,000 new Border Patrol agents which we would add to our Border Patrol effort to make sure we have the right manpower to address the border security issue.
In that legislation through an amendment that was sponsored by our friend from Alabama, we created additional fences that would be established along the border, some 370 miles of fences that had been established and constructed in critical locations along the border.
We provided new criminal penalties for construction of border tunnels to address what has happened in places where there are currently fences across borders; where people have created tunnels to dig under those fences to come to the United States. We added new checkpoints and points of entry throughout the entire border. We expanded the exit-entry security system at all land borders and airports.
Our legislation dealt in a comprehensive way moving forward to make sure we were creating a secure border. That was a key component of legislation we are dealing with.
Beyond securing our borders, which is very essential as we put together this effort on comprehensive immigration reform, we also recognized that we as a nation must enforce our immigration laws. So we included in our legislation significant provisions to ensure we are enforcing those laws.
We added 5,000 new investigators to help us enforce our laws. We established in that legislation 20 new detention facilities so we can effectively process those who are caught here in our country illegally. We included provisions in our legislation that would reimburse States for detaining and imprisoning criminal aliens. That is an issue which has affected local and State governments throughout our country.
We included in our legislation requirements for a faster deportation process. We increased penalties for gang members, for money laundering, and human trafficking. We increased document fraud detection, and we created new fraudproof immigration documents for people who are here in this country with biometric identifiers.
Finally, we expanded authority to remove suspected terrorists from our country.
Looking at what we did in coming up with an immigration enforcement package in our country, we said we were going to ensure that we as a nation of laws would have a legal system in place that would in fact be enforceable and that we would put the resources behind that enforcement.
We also dealt with another issue; that is, an issue that has caused so much controversy around this country. Essentially, it had to do with the question what do you do with 11 million or 12 million human beings currently residing in our country. We felt as a group of Democrats and Republicans working on this legislation that we needed to come up with a realistic and humane way of approaching the 12 million people who are here illegally in our country. These are the people who probably have cleaned the hotel rooms and motel rooms where most Americans stay. These are the people who are working at construction sites in each one of the our States around the country. These are the people who are the backbone of the agricultural workforce in places such as Idaho, Colorado, and throughout our great Nation.
So we decided to come up with a program where we would deal with these 12 million people in an honest, realistic, and straightforward manner. We said we would require them to pay a fine. They have broken the law. They will be punished. They have broken the law and they will be punished by the requirements that they pay a fine for their illegal conduct. We require that they register with the U.S. Government. That is not a requirement for any U.S. citizen, but we require these people to step forward, to come out of the shadows and to register themselves with the U.S. Government.
We require them to pay additional registration fees. We require them to learn English. We require them to learn American history and government. We require them to pass medical exams. And we require them to be continuously employed with a valid temporary visa.
We came up with a program that the President himself has talked about in positive terms, where essentially we would bring these people to come out of the shadows. We require them to go to the back of the line. We require them to pay a penalty. We require them to learn English, and we require them to learn about American history as a realistic way of approaching the reality of 12 million human beings who live here in our country today.
Let me come back and talk a little bit about the piecemeal approach--this political approach which is being talked about here in the Congress today. It is in fact a piecemeal approach because all of those who have studied this issue recognize that unless we deal with immigration issues in a comprehensive way, it will not work. Many of us in this Chamber have had many conversations with the President of the United States about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. On August 3 of this year, in a public statement, the President said:
I'm going to talk today about comprehensive immigration reform. I say comprehensive because unless you have all five pieces working together it's not going to work at all.
This is the President of the United States saying it is not going to work at all unless we do this in a comprehensive manner.
In another statement, he said the following:
We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish these five objectives.
That was the President of our country.
He said in another statement on May 15 of 2006 the following:
Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree. It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground.
That is from the President's Presidential address of May 15, 2006.
On May 15, on that same day, he said the following:
An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all. Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.
That is what the President of the United States has asked us as a Congress to do. That was what Democrats and Republicans in this Chamber came together to do several months ago.
It would be my hope as we consider the legislation which we will be debating this week that we take the statements of the President, the statements that have been made by members of his administration, and statements made here on the floor, and that we address this issue of immigration reform in a manner that is truly going to work as opposed to addressing it in a piecemeal manner as has been suggested by the legislation which we will be considering.
I conclude by asking my colleagues in the Senate today to make sure as we move forward to not let politics triumph over the national security issue of the broken borders that we face today; that we as a Senate do not let politics triumph over the rule of law which makes us have the kind of country we can all be very proud of because we abide by the rule of law; that we as a country make sure we stand up for the human and moral issues that are very much on stage in this debate over immigration reform. Those issues should take precedence over a political agenda which is obviously unfolding with this legislation that has been brought to the floor of the Senate today.
Finally, I ask the White House, President Bush, to end the silence on this issue. President Bush has been working on this issue for a long time. He is a former Governor of a border State. He knows what is at stake on this issue. I hope the White House can provide this body and the House of Representatives with the kind of guidance they were providing us when we were dealing with the issue some months ago.