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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007--Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - May 21, 2007)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, I thank my friend and colleague from Colorado for his statement and his inspired leadership. We have worked on a number of different issues. I can recall the extraordinary leadership the Senator from Colorado provided last year when we debated comprehensive immigration reform. He brings to this issue a knowledge and understanding and perspective which is very special in terms of any issue, particularly this one. I have enjoyed working with him and look forward to continuing to do so. I hope our colleagues listened carefully to his message because he has demonstrated a thoughtfulness about this issue, as so many others have, a very strong, balanced judgment on these questions. I thank him, as always, for an excellent presentation and look forward to continuing to work closely with him as we move through the debate on whether we are going to take the opportunity to mend our broken immigration laws.

I thank the Senator from Colorado.

Madam President, today, we take up the solemn task of immigration reform--not just because we may but because we must.

Our security is threatened in the post-9/11 world by borders out of control.

Our values are tarnished when we allow 12 million human beings to live in the dark shadows of abuse as undocumented immigrants.

Our economy is harmed when our immigration system fails to protect the American dream of a good job and decent wages.

Our competitiveness in the global economy is at risk when our employers cannot find the able workers they need.

Our immigration system is adrift and urgently needs an overhaul from top to bottom.

The answers are not simple or easy. We cannot meet this challenge by simply building fences. We need comprehensive and commonsense solutions that meet the immigration needs of this century.

We begin this debate mindful that immigration issues are always controversial. There are strong views on every side of this question because the issue goes to the heart of who we are as a nation and as an American people.

But we should remember in this debate that we are writing the next chapter of American history. Immigrants made the America of today and will help make the America of the future.

I am reminded of this awesome responsibility each time I gaze from the windows of my office in Boston. I can see the Golden Stairs from Boston Harbor where all eight of my great-grandparents set foot on this great land for the first time. They walked up to Boston's Immigration Hall on their way to a better life for themselves and their families.

So many Americans can tell similar stories of ancestors who came from somewhere else. Some built our cities. Some toiled on our railroads. Some came in slavery--others to raise their families and live and worship in freedom.

That immigrant spirit of limitless possibility animates America even today.

Today, immigrants harvest our crops, care for our children, and own small businesses.

They serve with pride in our armed forces--70,000 in all. At this very moment, many are risking their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Immigrants contribute to scientific discovery, to culture and the arts. They help make our economy the most vibrant one on the planet.

Our strength, our diversity, our innovation, our music, our hard work, our love of country, our dedication to family, faith and community--these are the fruits of our immigrant heritage and the source of our national strength. They have made America the envy of the world.

As President John F. Kennedy so eloquently wrote, the secret of America is that we are ``a nation of people with the fresh memory of old traditions who dared to explore new frontiers, people eager to build lives for themselves in a spacious society that did not restrict their freedom of choice and action.''

Last week, we reached a historic agreement on a far reaching bipartisan immigration plan that lives up to this heritage. It involved hard negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, and it has the support of President Bush. Our plan is strong, realistic, and fair. It is a commonsense immigration policy for our times.

It is tough at the border. It doubles our Border Patrol from 14,000 agents to 28,000. It hires 800 new investigators and 800 antismuggling officers. It builds more fences and more detention centers, and provides more state-of-the-art, high-tech border enforcement equipment.

It is tough on employers who hire illegal immigrants in defiance of the law. Today, it is too easy for an employer to hire an undocumented worker and pay them substandard wages in sweatshop conditions. That hurts American workers. It depresses wages. It allows employers to avoid paying payroll taxes.

Our bill says no more worker abuse. Under our plan, employers must verify that they hire only legal workers. If they do not, they can be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $75,000 for subsequent offenses. They can even go to jail.

Our bill says that these tough enforcement measures must be in place first before we move forward with changes in future immigration. Future workers cannot come in until we have doubled the Border Patrol, built more fences, enhanced our equipment and technology along the border, and the employer verification system has begun. It is enforcement first and future workers later.

Our plan also addresses the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are in America today. They have something to contribute. They are men and women of dignity. They work hard every day. They care for their families. They revitalize decaying neighborhoods. They sit in our pews on Sundays.

We witnessed this recently in my own State of Massachusetts. An immigration raid in New Bedford disrupted the lives of scores of families who had laid down roots in the New Bedford community. Their children were in our schools, many of them born in America. They worked every day in a factory making equipment for our troops in Iraq.

We are not going to round up these 12 million men, women and children and send them home. That is not the American way. So our plan allows these families to earn the privilege of remaining here and working legally.

They have to pay a $5,000 fine over an 8-year period. They have to work and pay taxes. They have to learn English. They cannot be criminals or national security risks and they must obey our laws.

The heads of family must make a trip home for a day or two sometime in the next 8 years to submit their applications for a green card at an American consulate just like other immigrants applying to come here. Then they are guaranteed the right to come right back to America right away to rejoin their families while they wait for their green card applications to be considered.

Finally, they have to get in line for their green cards behind everyone else who has been waiting to come here legally.

If they meet these tests, they will be welcomed into the sunshine of America. They will have no fear in coming forward and joining the American family. They will not be deported. Instead, we welcome them as our neighbors and as our friends and as future citizens of this great land.

Our plan also continues to stress family reunification--a longstanding tradition under our immigration laws.

Today, if you are trying to bring your relatives here legally, you might have to wait 22 years to get visas for them. As a result of this backlog, 4 million family members of American citizens and legal immigrants are on the waiting list to come here. Our plan expedites the reunion of these families and eliminates the waiting list in 8 years.

In the future, our plan continues to make family reunion the highest priority. It says if you are an American citizen or a legal immigrant, you can bring your immediate family here to join you--your wife or husband, your minor children, and your parents.

Of the 1 million green cards we issue each year, two-thirds will be dedicated to reuniting these families.

But under our plan, more distant relatives will no longer have an automatic right to immigrate. They must first prove that they have the skills, education, and English abilities to contribute fully to our economic strength.

Finally, our plan recognizes that our economy will continue to need hardworking people who are willing to come here for a few years. We need nurses and home health care aides. We need farm workers and janitors and hotel workers. We need computer programmers and scientists and engineers. So our program will allow them to come as guest workers under a program with strong labor laws that protect American jobs and wages.

Our plan is a compromise. It involved give and take in the best traditions of the U.S. Senate. For each of us who crafted it, there are elements that we
strongly support and elements we believe could be improved. No one believes this is a perfect bill.

But after weeks of negotiations and years of debate, this bill accomplishes our core goals. It provides tough new enforcement at the border and the work site. It allows a realistic path to family security and eventual citizenship for millions of men, women, and children already here. And it provides a new system for allocating visas in the future that stresses family reunion and national economic needs.

I don't usually quote Republican Presidents, but President Reagan understood the integral role that immigration plays in our country's future. As he said so eloquently in one of his last speeches before leaving the White House:

We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people--our strength--from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe new life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

The world is watching to see how we respond to the current crisis. Let's not disappoint them.

I urge my colleagues to vote to proceed to this debate and to support our new plan.

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