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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007-Continued

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I come to the floor tonight to speak about the new point system created in this bill--a proposal that will radically change the way we judge who is worthy of lawful entry into American society.

For decades, American citizens and legal permanent residents have been able to sponsor their family members for entry into our country. For decades, American businesses have been able to sponsor valued employees. The bill before us changes that policy--a policy that, while imperfect, has worked well, and this bill will now replace it with a new, untested, unexamined system to provide visas to immigrants who look good on paper but who may not have any familial or economic ties to our country.

I have serious concerns about this new experiment in social engineering, not only because of the lack of evidence that it will work but because the bill says the new point system cannot be changed for 14 years. For that reason, I come to the floor today, joined by Senators Menendez and Feingold, to offer amendment No. 1202 to sunset the point system after 5 years.

I am pleased that immigration experts, religious organizations, and immigrant advocacy organizations have all endorsed our amendment.

These groups have endorsed our amendment because the point system in this bill constitutes a radical shift in immigration policy, premised on the view that there is something wrong with family and employer-sponsored immigration. If this program were merely supplementing the current system rather than significantly replacing it, it would not have caused as much concern.

Religious organizations and immigrant advocacy groups have also endorsed my amendment because the decisions about what characteristics are deserving of points--and how points are allocated for those characteristics--were made without a single hearing or public examination.

They support the amendment because the new points system shifts us too far away from the value we place on family ties and moves us toward a class-based immigration system, where some people are welcome only as guest workers but never as full participants in our democracy. Indeed, the practical effect of the points system is to make it more difficult for Americans and legal permanent residents with family living in Latin America to bring them here.

Our current immigration system delivers the lion's share of green cards--about 63 percent--to family members of Americans and legal permanent residents, while roughly 16 percent of visas are allocated to employment-based categories. The bill before us would reduce visas allocated to the family system in order to dramatically increase the proportion of visas distributed based on economic points. Once implemented, these new economic points visas would then account for about 40 percent of all visas, while family visas would account for less than half of all visas, with the remainder going for humanitarian purposes.

Under the new system, just a few of the current family preferences would be retained in any recognizable form. Spouses and children of U.S. citizens would still be able to come, but parents of U.S. citizens would no longer be counted as immediate family. Thus, most parents seeking to join their children and grandchildren in the United States would be denied green cards.

The rest of the current family preferences--siblings, adult children, and many parents--would be eviscerated.

The new points system would also eliminate employment-based green cards altogether, forcing employers recruiting workers abroad to rely exclusively on short-term H-1B and Y visas. This proposal takes an admittedly problematic employment-based visa system and replaces it with a far more problematic temporary worker visa system.

The design of the points system leaves numerous questions unanswered. Beyond pushing workers from Latin America to the back of an endless line with no hope of ever reaching the front, the new points system leaves unspecified the crucial question of how migrants with sufficient points will be prioritized. Government bureaucrats would thus be left with unprecedented discretion to determine which immigrants have acceptable education, employment history, and work experience to merit admission into the country.

Taken together, the questionable design of this points program and the fundamental shift away from family preferences in the allocation of visas raises enough flags that we should not simply rubberstamp this proposal and allow it to go forward.

Let me be clear. Senators Menendez, Feingold, and myself are not proposing to strike the program from the bill, but this system should be revisited after a reasonable amount of time to determine whether it is working, how it can be improved, and whether we should return to the current family and employer-based system that has worked so well.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I ask for 1 additional minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we live in a global economy, and I do believe America will be strengthened if we welcome more immigrants who have mastered science and engineering. But we cannot weaken the very essence of what America is by turning our back on immigrants who want to reunite with their family members, or immigrants who have the willingness to work hard but might not have the right graduate degrees. That is not who we are as a country. Should those without graduate degrees who spoke Italian, Polish, or German instead of English have been turned back at Ellis Island, how many of our ancestors would have been able to enter the United States under this system?

Character and work ethic have long defined generations of immigrants to America. But these qualities are beyond the scope of this bill's points system. It tells us nothing about what people who have been without opportunity can achieve once they are here. It tells us nothing about the potential of their children to serve and to lead.

In short, the points system raises some serious concerns for me. I am willing to defer to those Senators who negotiated this provision and say we should give it a try, but I am not willing to say this untested system should be made virtually permanent. For that reason, I urge my colleagues to support to sunset this points system after 5 years so we can examine its effectiveness and necessity.

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I have a very simple response to what we just heard. I think it is important to consider the actual amendment before us as opposed to what appeared to be a broad-based discussion of the bill overall.

What this amendment specifically does is it says we will go forward with the proposal that has been advanced by this bipartisan group. It simply says we should examine after 5 years whether the program is working. The notion that somehow that guts the bill or destroys the bill is simply disingenuous and it is engaging in the sort of histrionics that is entirely inappropriate for this debate. This is a bill that says after 5 years, we will examine a point system in which we have had no hearings in the public. Nobody has had an opportunity to consider exactly how this was structured. It was structured behind closed doors. And the notion that after 5 years we can reexamine it to see if it is working properly, as opposed to locking it in for 14 years, that somehow destroys the bipartisan nature of this bill is simply untrue.

I ask all my colleagues to consider the nature of the actual amendment that is on the floor as opposed to the discussion that preceded mine.

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, this amendment is very simple. It sunsets after 5 years the points system that has been structured in this bill. I wish to emphasize that I think the authors of this legislation deserve credit for working diligently and coming up with a carefully balanced bill, but the points system we are transitioning to is a radical departure from the one we have had in the past. The question is, do we, after 5 years, take a look and see whether it is working properly? Is it one that is inhibiting families from unifying in this country? Is it something that is making it easier or harder for employers to operate effectively in a lawful fashion?

What this amendment simply says is that after 5 years, we will reexamine the bill.


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