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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise to speak today on the occasion of National Hunger Awareness Day.

Hunger and poverty are among the great moral challenges confronting our society. Hunger and poverty require us all to respond--because our society can be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. If there is a child out there who has done everything she has been asked and still has to say no to the college of her dreams, that makes a difference in our lives, even if it is not our child. If there is a senior citizen who has to go bag groceries because some company broke their promise about his pension, that matters to us, even if it is not our grandparent. If there is a veteran who has been wounded in this war, and ends up back here on the streets picking through a dumpster for food, that diminishes the patriotism of every American.

This week the Food Research and Action Center, FRAC, has released its annual study: ``State of the States: 2007.'' This important research highlights levels of hunger, poverty and the use of federal nutrition programs nationally and in each State.

This report and its findings underscore why we must continue the push in Congress to strengthen proven anti-hunger measures such as the Food Stamp Program. We have made progress over the last few decades in combating extreme hunger in our communities. But the work is not over. In Illinois, for example, more than 150,000 households are hungry, and many more families live at the margins and are at risk of becoming hungry. We can do better. That is why I have joined my friend Dick Durbin in pushing to strengthen antihunger measures in this year's farm bill, and I will continue to support vital programs that can reduce hunger in our communities. The Food Stamp Program, for example, helped an average of 26.7 million Americans each month last year, while on average the USDA has estimated that every Food Stamp dollar generates approximately $1.80 in economic activity. And for many families, Food Stamp support is vital during their transition from TANF to employment. This is the kind of nutrition and antipoverty program Congress should be enhancing and investing in.

I am also proud to be a cosponsor of S. 1172, the Hunger Free Communities Act, which was introduced by Senator Durbin and enjoys strong bipartisan support. This measure would improve and strengthen Hunger-Free community grants that aide our frontline antihunger organizations, as well as establishing much needed, hunger-focused research efforts within USDA and setting national goals for reducing hunger.

Other Federal nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, Women, Infants and Children, WIC, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, CSFP, offer critical support to some of our Nation's neediest citizens. After all, how can we expect our children to be productive and attentive at school when they haven't had breakfast or lunch?

I have learned from my time in Washington that hunger is one of those issues that every politician likes to talk about. What is harder, it seems, is to follow through and take substantive steps to eradicate hunger in our communities. That is why I am grateful for the close support and collaboration of our many friends and outside groups that are at the frontline of combating hunger and raising the profile of this issue every day. They hold us accountable for ensuring our deeds match our words.

I hope that my colleagues will continue to join in this important moral endeavor of addressing the most basic needs of our brothers and sisters--and strengthening our Federal nutrition programs.

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, this week, the Senate is debating how to reform our Nation's immigration policies, and while this is a contentious debate, there is one point I think all sides agree upon--U.S. citizenship is a prized possession. The most fundamental right afforded to us as U.S. citizens is the right to vote. I am disturbed that there is an amendment being offered on this bill that seeks to limit citizens' access to that right.

Senator McConnell has offered an amendment that requires U.S. citizens to show identification before they can exercise the most important right afforded them by the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of this bill argue that this identification is necessary to combat voter fraud. In fact, before the last elections in 2006 we heard a great deal about the threat of voter fraud.

This administration staked a lot on that so-called threat. We have learned in recent months that such a threat just did not exist. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said it best, when, in an April 17, 2007 editorial, the paper called this whole ``voter fraud'' issue a ``snipe hunt'': ``In a snipe hunt, gullible kids are taken out to the woods, handed sticks and gunny sacks and told track down the elusive snipe. Meanwhile, their pals, who know a snipe is a bird of marsh and shore and generally found nowhere near the woods, yuck it up.''

Well, in this snipe hunt, the Senate is supposed to fall prey to the ruse that there are folks out there just lining up on election day to fraudulently cast their vote and we in the Senate and in Congress need to get our sticks and gunny sacks ready, so we can snare some of these fraudulent voters. Well, let me tell you, I am not going to fall for it.

Because the facts say something different. A 5-year study by the Election Assistance Commission shows that voter fraud is almost non-existent. A report from the Missouri Secretary of State shows that no one in the State tried to vote with a fake ID in 2006. The Carter-Baker commission said that in 2002-2004 fraudulent votes made up .000003 percent of the votes cast. That is a lot of zeros. Let me say it a different way. Out of almost 200 million votes that were cast during these elections, 52 were fraudulent. To put that into some context, you are statistically more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent vote in a Federal election.

The Department of Justice, which in 2002 created a voter fraud task force, has admitted that only 86 people were convicted of voter fraud-related crimes in the last 5 years and only 24 convictions during the last 3 years--a rate of 8 per year.

So, because 24 people nationwide in the last years may have voted despite their ineligibility to do so, we here in the Senate are supposed to pass a bill requiring all citizens to show ID when they vote.

That would be a mistake, and you only have to look to the State of Georgia to see why.

Georgia's photo ID requirement was a poll tax for the 21st century. It was a law that required some of the poorest in our country--those who probably don't have access to transportation--to possibly travel great distances and pay up to $35 just for the privilege of making their voice heard.

We have to remember this is a group that is disproportionately poor and without easy access to all the documents necessary for a government-issued ID. So even if this ID card were completely free, how easy would it be for an 85-year-old grandmother to find her birth certificate? Who would drive the destitute all the way to the nearest Federal building to get one of these cards? While the McConnell amendment authorizes ``such sums as may be necessary'' to pay for these ID cards, it is a frightening proposal to condition the right to vote on the appropriations process.

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf coast, our country awakened to the plight of the most vulnerable Americans--the ones who, when the storm hit, couldn't just hop in their SUVs, fill up with $100 worth of gas, put some bottled water in the trunk, drive off with their credit card in hand, and check into the nearest hotel until the calamity passed. We learned that, when we pass laws and make policy in this country, our government too often forgets these Americans--that we too often ignore their needs.

Now, here is an amendment doing that again. This time, by limiting access to one of our most fundamental and constitutional-protected rights: the right to vote.

I would ask that all my colleagues reject the amendment so we can move on to the important business at hand.


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