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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, I yield myself 12 minutes.

Madam President, we have the Dorgan amendment that is before us and will be acted on at 5:45 pm. It effectively eliminates the temporary worker program that provides for 400,000 visas a year. Let's understand where we are. It is important to look at the total legislation to understand each part of it.

First of all, Madam President, we have very tough border security proposals. That has been talked about and will have a greater opportunity to talk about those enormously important provisions.

Secondly, it has very important interior enforcement proposals. That is very important. It does not exist today. It didn't exist in the 1986 Act. I opposed the 1986 Act. President Reagan signed the Act and amnesty was part of it. But, the 1986 Act was a different proposal and legislation and has no relevancy whatever with this. So, this legislation has tough border security and tough interior enforcement provisions.

The legislation does have an impact on chain migration, which will be an issue to debate and discuss later. The legislation does include a temporary worker program. There are provisions that many in this body felt were extremely important. They are included in this legislation. We've also included in this legislation assurance to the 12 million undocumented immigrants that are here that they will be safe and secure and not deported like a number of families were deported in my own state of Massachusetts in the city of New Bedford.

The legislation also eliminates the backlog. Some families have been waiting 20 years to be reunited with their families will now be reunited over eight years. That is enormously important. It has the AgJobs bill. I listened carefully to my good friend from California being opposed to temporary workers, with the exception of temporary workers in agriculture. We have an AgJobs bill for farmworkers who probably have the most difficult backbreaking job in America. This bill gives them the opportunity to emerge from the shadows and into the sunlight. This is enormously important. Many of us remember the extraordinary work of Cesar Chavez, who was a leader on the issue of farmworker rights. This bill gives the workers the respect they deserve. This amendment would deny many families the opportunity to see their children of undocumented workers get help and assistance after the children have worked hard, played by the rules, graduated from school but would be unable to continue their education.

This bill is a real sign of hope for many families. These are the concepts in the temporary worker program, which are the target of the Senator
from North Dakota. He wants to get rid of the temporary worker program. We believe, as the Senator from Florida pointed out, even if you have a secure border--we are hopeful of having secure borders--it won't stop illegal immigration.

As the Governor of Arizona who probably knows as much about this as any other member of the United States Senate, has pointed out, you can build the fence down there, but if it is 49 feet high, they will have a 50 foot ladder. Talk to the Arizona governor. The fact of the matter is, some workers will come here illegally, or legally, one way or the other they come in. That is where the temporary worker program comes in. We say if we close this down, if we eliminate this program, you will have those individuals that will crawl across the desert and continue to die as they do now. Or you can say, come through the front door and you will be given the opportunity to work for a period of time in the United States--two years--and return.

Who are these people we are talking about? If an employer wants a temporary worker, what does that employer have to do? First of all, that employer has to advertise at the local unemployment office. Second, they have to advertise at their workplace. Third, they have to advertise in the newspaper. Fourth, they have to offer the job at the prevailing wage to any American. All of that applies. Prevailing wage. Even if the employer is not paying the prevailing wage to the others, he still has to pay it to the new employee and if they do more they have to pay to the guest worker what they pay to the other workers. If they pay an average of $10 at the facility, they have to pay $10 here.

Also they cannot have guest workers in high unemployment areas as well. Now, that is the situation. Now, what do they get when they actually arrive in here? What kind of protections do they have? This is what they will have. If they are guest workers, they are treated equally under U.S. labor laws. They are not treated that way today.

They are not treated that way today, but under our legislation they will be. The employers provide workmen's compensation. So they are provided by protections under OSHA. If they have an accident they get workman's compensation. The employers with the history of worker abuse cannot participate in the program. And there are strict penalties for the employers that break the rules. Now, what is happening today? What is happening today?

We have listened to the Senator from North Dakota. Let's keep it as it is today. Let's look at the program today. Look what happens to undocumented workers that were exploited. This is what is happening today in America. This is what happens today. That is what the Senator from North Dakota wants. He wants to continue what we are doing today.

Here is the New Bedford example. Workers rights were trampled on. They were fined for going to the bathroom, denied overtime pay, docked 15 minutes pay for each minutes they were late, they would be fired for talking while on the clock, forced to ration on toilet paper.

Why? Because they were undocumented. Without this program, temporary workers will come here and be exploited. That is the history of immigration. Read history. It is sad. That is what has happened. There is exploitation. That is what we are trying to deal with. That is what we are trying to deal with.

One in 10 workers is injured every year by sharp hooks, knives, exhausting assembly line speeds or painful damage from repetitive motions. Workers are subject to chlorine mist, lead to bloody noses, vomiting and headache. Undocumented workers don't report their injuries because they live in fear they will lose their jobs and be deported. That is what the problem is. That is what we are attempting to eliminate. And the idea that you just write an amendment and eliminate that is reaching for the stars. It just ain't the way it is.

It isn't me that is saying this. But you take the Governor Napolitano and others who have studied it and lived it, they understand it. So that is what the alternative is. Either we are going to have a program that is limited. Might not be the program that I like but, it is the program that is in there. Those workers are going to come on in here. They are going to have protections. If you close and try and slam that door, it isn't going to work. It is not going to work. That is what we have seen over a period of time. They are going to come in as long as the magnet of the American economy is there. That is what is happening. And the idea that you just say, oh, we're offering an amendment and just going to eliminate this and then everything will be all set, everything will be all worked out, everything will just be fine. It just defies logic, understanding, experience and the history of this issue. Under this program, those that come in here will have the kind of worker protections that they should.

And finally, we won't have the situation that we have now where you have the undocumented workers come in here. They drive the wages down because they'll work for virtually nothing. And that drives American wages down.

You want more of that? I don't. You want more of that? I don't. I don't. So I would hope that this amendment will not pass.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, what we are trying to do in this legislation is have secure borders. Secure borders, not open borders. Secure borders.

Part of having a secure border is making sure the people who are going to come in are going to come in legally. The idea that you can have a secure border and close it completely is something that has never happened before and will not happen now.

The idea that you eliminate completely the guest worker program means what? It means you are going to have border guards who are going to be chasing after landscapers out in the middle of the desert and racing after people who might be working in gardens or as bartenders in the future.

You want your border guards to be going after terrorists and smugglers. How do you do that? You give a pathway for people to come here legally. When they come here legally they get the protections of the labor laws. If you do not do that, you think you can eliminate this program? You are going to have people who are going to come in illegally and they are going to be exploited day in and day out. When they are exploited day in and day out, it is going to depress wages. That is the way it has been. That is the way it is today.

That is the difference. Maybe you don't like this particular guest worker program. It is better than many others. Maybe you would like to shape it somewhat differently. That is the issue plain and square, plain and square. We are trying to take illegality out of this system: illegality at the border, illegality at the workplace, illegality in exploiting the undocumented, and illegality from the people who are here, if they are going to pay their fines, work hard, go to end of the line. We are trying to reduce illegality.

If there is anybody in this Senate who believes you can just say, no, we are going to close that border, 1,800 miles, and that is it--I would like the chicken pluckers to pay $10 or $15 an hour. They do not do it. They are not going to do it. Who are you trying to kid? Who is the Senator from North Dakota trying to fool?

These are the realities, the economic realities. No one has fought for increasing the minimum wage more than I have. But you have got realties that employers are not going to pay it. They are going to exploit people if you can get them here undocumented.

So that is the issue, Mr. President. I believe we have a reasonable program that makes sense. I think it makes sense from a law enforcement point of view. I think it makes sense in terms of protecting the wages of American workers under this program.

We are going to make sure that all of those who are coming here with the guest worker program are going to get the prevailing wage, they are going to be protected by OSHA, if they get hurt on the job they are going to get the workers' compensation. They are going to get those worker protections. If they are working on construction sites, they are going to be covered by Davis-Bacon.

You can either do it legally, or you can do it with the undocumented. That is not just the Senator from Massachusetts, that is Governor Napolitano who knows something as the Governor of a border State who has pointed this out time in and time out, Mr. President.

So I would hope this amendment would not be accepted.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the Senator from Texas raised probably four or five points that I know of in the course of these discussions. We are familiar with the general subject matter.

If I could have the attention of my colleagues, he had raised probably four or five issues that related to the title II. I listened to him this morning at the breakfast, and he raised a point on title II. So if he wants to, we are prepared to move ahead with the Senator's amendments. We are familiar with the general area. I know there are going to be drafting issues, but we are glad to accommodate that. We don't want the technical aspects to slow the process.

So we are familiar with those subject matters. The Senator could get a hard look maybe over tonight about the particular areas and then talk with us tomorrow, and we will make sure we have the time and that we are prepared to go ahead. We are more than ready to be here. We had a good afternoon. We enjoyed it. We started on it at a quarter to 3 and worked until 6:15. We are prepared to go this evening or tomorrow or tomorrow night or the following night. We are not trying to rush anybody, but we are prepared to do business.

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