COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 06, 2007)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, just for the benefit of the Members, we have tried to establish a way of moving along today. We are going to consider the Cornyn amendment, and then there is an amendment that I will place at the desk. We will have a 2-hour time allocation equally divided, though I am not sure we will take all the time, and then we will have an opportunity to vote on that measure.
We are trying to set up a series of votes through the morning, through the afternoon, and through the evening. What we are going to try to do is to give Members as much time as possible on these items, rotating back and forth through the course of the day, and we will work with our colleagues to try to accommodate their schedules. We have a rigorous program, and we will announce that.
We have talked with the floor managers, Senator Specter, Senator Kyl, and others, on these measures, and we will proceed in that way. So Members need to understand that we will have a busy and full day, and we will start off with the amendment of the Senator from Texas, No. 1184, as I understand.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Illinois for raising that issue. I think our language makes it extremely clear. I think there is a real question. We are looking through the language of the Senator from Texas about whether that would necessarily define that individual as an aggravated felon and therefore would deny the judge the opportunity to make a humanitarian finding on it, but we can come back to that.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will make a comment. I see my friend from Rhode Island. I would like to make a brief comment on the amendment of Senator Cornyn and a brief comment on our amendment. Then I hope the Senator from Rhode Island will speak to it.
It is always interesting to listen, when we are talking about the immigration bill, to those who go back to the 1986 bill. I remember it very clearly. I voted against it. That was an amnesty. That was a real amnesty. We hear a great deal in the public about what is amnesty, what is not amnesty. That was amnesty. This legislation is not amnesty. That effectively said those people who were undocumented, who came here, were forgiven. They followed the basic recommendations of a report by the distinguished president of Notre Dame, the Hessberg Report. I remember it clearly.
There were enforcement provisions in there. They were completely inadequate. I might remind my friend from Texas, from 1986 to 1992, we had a Republican administration, a Republican President, and they didn't enforce it, as they have not enforced the recent legislation. They have had three investigations in terms of investigating undocumented aliens--three. They are the great defenders of the American border? Great defenders about immigration reform?
We always have to go through the little dance about the 1986 bill and the enforcement. I wish, during that period of time--1986, 1987, 1988, 1989--I wish all during those years we had the enforcement. But we did not. So we are where we are today. The real question is, is this legislation that we have now the downpayment on national security, on security internally? Does it provide the opportunity for those who are here to pay the fine, go to the back of the line, demonstrate a good working relationship and be able to emerge out of the shadows--the AgJOBS bill, the DREAM Act, and other provisions of the temporary worker program?
With regards to the Cornyn amendment, we have an immigration program in this legislation that is strong, practical, and fair. One of the essential elements is to bring the 12 million men, women, and children--hard-working families--out of the shadows into the sunlight of America. We know we are not going to conduct massive roundups and deport 12 million people. We don't have the means to do it. It would disrupt our economy, inflict untold hardships on millions of hard-working people. It is estimated it would cost more than $250 billion. We would have buses all the way from Los Angeles to New York and back to trying to do this, if it were even possible.
But the Cornyn amendment would make vast numbers of these families ineligible for our program. We are trying to deal with a key element of the program and that deals with the families who are here. It would keep them in the shadows, where employers abuse and underpay them. That hurts the immigrants, but it hurts American workers, too, by depressing wages.
That is what we see that is out there now, with undocumented--the 12 million with a work record which is even better, in terms of percentages, than native born Americans, people who are willing to work and want to work hard. But there is exploitation of those individuals because every one of them knows all the boss has to do is go down and call the immigration service.
Work 80 hours a week.
Well, I don't want to.
Well, I'm going to call the immigration service and you're deported.
They do that. That individuals are exploited in this country is well understood. We are trying to free ourselves from that kind of a condition. But the Cornyn amendment would still make vast numbers of these families ineligible for our programs, keep them in the shadows where employers abuse and underpay them, which hurts the immigrants but it hurts American workers, too, by depressing their wages.
The Cornyn amendment does this by classifying an array of common garden variety immigration offenses as crimes that would make them ineligible for the program. For example, the Cornyn amendment says that if you come here, have been ordered out of the country by immigration authorities, but if you fail to leave or you come back, you are ineligible. That is exactly what has been going on with our broken immigration system; people have come to work, employers want them to come, and they have benefitted our economy.
Immigration officers may find them and order them home, but our employers beg them to come back. Our broken borders make that possible.
Cornyn says: If you have used false identification, you may be found inadmissible and may be deported. But in our broken system, the people who have wanted to work have been forced to use the false identification. That is the reality of where we are today. Cornyn says he wants to be tough on gang members, sex offenders, individuals convicted of domestic violence. So do we. We have addressed any provisions not covered by the current law. Our amendment goes even further than the bipartisan compromise bill.
He wants to exclude gang members. Our amendment does that too. Nobody who has engaged in illegal activity as part of a criminal gang will be allowed to enter or stay in this country. He says we should bar sex offenders from coming here. Our amendment does that. Any convicted sex offender who fails to register will not be allowed back in the country; if already here, then those offenders will face deportation.
Cornyn says immigrants who commit acts of domestic violence or endanger their families should be punished. Our amendment does that. He says drunk drivers should be deported. Our amendment does that. Any immigrant with one felony conviction for drunk driving will not be allowed to enter this country. If convicted here, then the drunk driver will be deported.
He says there should be consequences for individuals engaging in fraud. Our amendment does that. Our amendment punishes anyone who commits perjury or makes false statements when seeking immigration benefits. If any person lies on their application, then this individual will be prosecuted and subject to criminal penalties.
He says we should go after immigrants convicted of firearms offenses. Our amendment does that, too. Who are the people we want to apply under our program? Who are the people the Cornyn amendment would condemn to the shadows of abuse? We know that the vast majority of the families who have come over here are hard-working people who care for their children, go to church, and contribute to their communities.
In America, we respect hard work. Hard work built America. So our program says: If your only offense is that you came here to work, you came here to provide for your family, we will proceed in a way that you can atone for that offense and earn the right to stay and work legally. If you are a criminal, then we will arrest you. If you are a threat to our national security, a terrorist, then we will lock you up. If you try to cheat your way into the program through fraud, we will deport you. But if you came here to work and build a life, then you can stay. But first you have to meet the tough requirements: You have to pay the $5,000 fine, show a steady work history, learn English, get to the back of the line to get your green card, behind all those who have been waiting legally to get theirs.
The Cornyn amendment creates harmful barriers for refugees fleeing persecution. In America, we have had a long and proud tradition of providing refuge to people who have faced persecution and oppression in their lands, whose lives are at risk because they stood up for their beliefs.
We took in refugees from Cuba and from Vietnam as they fled communism. We have helped people from Somalia and Bosnia and other areas of conflict and oppression. Now we are beginning to help people whose lives are at risk because they helped our troops in Iraq.
But often these persecuted refugees have no choice but to cooperate with their oppressors in order to save their families' lives and enable their escape. The Cornyn amendment says: If you do that, if you provide what is called material support to these oppressors and terrorist groups, then we are not going to rescue you from the hands of your oppressors. You have to take your chances and hope your oppressors do not persecute you or even kill you or your family.
Consider the case of Helene from Sierra Leone, Revolutionary United Front rebels attacked her home, hacked one of her family members to death with a machete; they set her son on fire, leaving him near dead with severe burns. They held her family captive, raping her and her daughter and forcing them to cook, forcing her to cook and wash their clothes.
The Cornyn amendment would bar legitimate refugees who were forced to assist their oppressors under duress. Under the Cornyn amendment, Helene would be ineligible to come to America as a refugee because she cooked for the rebels and washed their clothes. Under the Cornyn amendment, she and her family are ineligible because they provided material support for a terrorist group.
If that is not bad enough, the Cornyn amendment says she can be excluded based on secret evidence, evidence that neither she nor anyone else outside the Government can see. She may never know why she was excluded. The Cornyn amendment even bars her from going to court to explain her situation and appeal the denial of her case. The decision of the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General is final.
Helene would never get her day in court to explain the tragic circumstances of her case. The door to freedom in America would be closed shut, end of the discussion, you go back into the hands of your persecutors.
Madam President, surely by now, we have learned that closed proceedings conducted by executive branch officials based on secret evidence without any possibility of court review are inconsistent with American traditions and inconsistent with the search for justice; let's not go down that road again.
The amendment makes all of its changes retroactive. They apply to the past and future conduct. The Cornyn amendment would change the rules in midstream. That is frowned on in American jurisprudence; it is unconstitutional in criminal law and disfavored elsewhere. People whose conduct would not have affected their immigration status at a time it was committed, will suddenly suffer severe consequence. The retroactivity provisions simply bring home the punitive nature of this amendment. It is not designed to contribute to creation of a tough but fair and practical system of immigration, it is designed to be harshly punitive.
This amendment would exclude hundreds of thousands from benefits of this bill and undermine the bipartisan compromise that members of this body worked so long and so hard to produce. We will have an opportunity to vote for an alternative, the amendment I have offered. The amendment expands the already tough criminal gang provisions contained in the bill.
If you are associated with a gang, and that gang is known to be engaged in violent crimes, drug crimes, crimes involving firearms or explosives, alien smuggling or trafficking, you are not going to qualify for benefits. If you are associated with a gang and the gang has been engaged in crimes of violence, including murder, arson, possession, kidnapping, bank robbery, sexual exploitation, abuse of children, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, burglary, racketeering, among other crimes, you are not going to be entitled to receive lawful status in this country, and you are not going to qualify for benefits.
This amendment expands the already tough grounds of inadmissibility and the criminal penalties in the current immigration law. We target essentially the same provisions as Senator Cornyn but in many instances go further. This amendment bars the admission of sex offenders who don't register as required and makes them subject to deportation as well.
It ensures that wife beaters, child abusers, stalkers, and others who prey on the vulnerable are inadmissible to the United States. It ensures that a drunk driver who is sentenced to 1 year of prison cannot be admitted to the United States and can be removed as well. Our drunk driving provisions, which require only one felony conviction, are even more restrictive than Senator Cornyn's, which requires three convictions before a drunk driver becomes inadmissible. We increase the penalties for illegal entry. We ensure that immigration fraud is subject to perjury charges. We toughen the penalties for firearm offenses. We are tough, but we are practical too. That is where this side by side differs from Senator Cornyn. His provisions are bright-line rules. He turns many of these criminal offenses into aggravated felonies. That is ``immigration speak'' for: You will never, ever be forgiven.
For many offenses, such as murder, that is more than a reasonable consequence. Murderers should not become U.S. citizens. Under the current law, they can never become a citizen. But most immigrants are not murderers, they are people who have entered the United States illegally. Under the Cornyn amendment, they could be aggravated felons too.
As a practical matter, Senator Cornyn does not want us to distinguish between murder and illegal entry; but that is not practical, nor does it reflect our criminal justice system. So it is true that we build in some small but important waivers that in extraordinary circumstances would give someone a second chance, not murderers but someone who had long ago made a mistake.
This week, I received a letter about a young man named Adrian, a former gang member in Massachusetts who has turned his life around. Adrian went from a life of juvenile delinquency to that of a dedicated student; one who works full time now in hopes of going to college. Adrian's principal and his teachers praise him for his hard work, his commitment to family, his newfound motivation to go to college. They want him to have a chance to stay in this country.
The author of the letter then says: ``It is a very, very hard thing to leave the gang life behind. There are other Adrians out there as well who have made the same decision regardless of difficulty. Is the message this country wants to send them, that what they have done is unforgivable regardless of whatever changes they may have courageously made? Wouldn't the country gain by having an incentive in law that might attract young people to leave gang life and move their lives forward a very different way? Wouldn't it be helpful to the country to have a waiver that a person could apply for if they can prove they have left a gang and provided evidence on how they have moved on?''
Every change in our immigration law represents a statement about whom we are as a country. Are we a country that takes individual circumstances into account or are we a country that punishes with no regard for individual circumstances? We can be tough on crime and yet retain a level of discretion in our immigration laws? This is the crux of the difference between what I am suggesting to the Senate and what Senator Cornyn has proposed.
That a measure of discretion is every bit as much a tool of law enforcement as the strictest ban. I see my friend who has been waiting here. I yield time.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I listened carefully to the Senator's presentation. I have come to a different conclusion. The Senator said a ``no'' vote means we are really not for dealing with this issue. We have a bipartisan group that has worked long and hard. The Senator from Texas was involved in a lot of the discussions. As we pointed out previously, we wanted to have tough law enforcement internally. We wanted recognition that those 12.5 million people here were going to be able to be secure, they weren't going to be deported, they were going to go to the end of the line, they would have to go through the earned legalization program, bring families together again, set up a program in terms of a temporary worker program. I don't know what 90 percent the Senator agrees with because I haven't heard much.
What is important is what his amendment does and what its impact would be.
We ought to come back at the conclusion of this debate to the point that was raised at the beginning because after all the rhetoric, after all is said and done, listen to the example that was given by my friend from Illinois.
Senator Durbin describes a mother of four U.S. citizens, married to a U.S. citizen, who is herself undocumented. She left the country to visit her sick mother. She was apprehended after she snuck back in. That means she has reentered the United States at least twice, and under the Cornyn amendment on page 2, she could be convicted of illegal reentry. That would make her an aggregated felon. Even if she is not convicted, the Cornyn amendment makes her ineligible for the Z program.
On page 10 of the amendment, he eliminates the waiver for final orders available in the bill. This is a waiver for hardship to family, and he eliminates it. No harm, the Senator says, because she can get a different waiver as the wife of a U.S. citizen. That didn't stop DHS from deporting her.
So why should people come out of the shadows? Why should they come out of the shadows if they are here with false papers, undocumented? Why should they come out of the shadows when they have seen what has happened to a mother of four citizens married to an American citizen?
That is what we are basically talking about. That is undermining the basic core because we are talking about 12 1/2 million people who are here, who came here to work in order to provide for their families, and they have been trying to do that for their families. More often than not, they probably went back to their countries of origin and came back in again. Probably more often than not they had false papers in order to be able to get their jobs. That in and of itself, under the Cornyn amendment, would effectively exclude them from participating in this program and would subject them to deportation. End of story. End of story because that undermines, obviously, the essential aspect of this legislation.
The rest of the Cornyn amendment--which I mentioned earlier with the list of the amendments that we have put through--covers the bars, the criminal gang members, including the new provisions of gang members engaged in gun crimes. Sex offenders are covered by the comprehensive Adam Walsh Act. The sex offenders are not going to get Z visas.
The Senator from Texas can say, under our language, under his interpretation, they will, but they would not. End of story. They would not.
On the provisions regarding drunk-driving convictions and individuals convicted of domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, and other serious crimes, we increase the penalties for perjury, fraud, and firearm offenses.
It is important that after all is said and done--and we gave the illustration earlier about the questions of material support--the terrorists are out.
One thing about managing a bill, for those of us who have been here, we understand it; that there is always the possibility and the likelihood people will misrepresent what is in the bill and then differ with it. It is an old technique. I have even used it myself. But we ought to understand when we see it that it is just a technique that is being used.
So with all respect to my friend and colleague, and I have a good deal of respect for him, the effect of the underlying Cornyn amendment would effectively exclude from the Z visa program any immigrant who had been or will be convicted of using false documents. That is the problem today. Because of our broken immigration system, almost every hard-working immigrant in the country has been forced at one time or another to use false documents to get a job. These people have come here to work. They have been lured by the employers offering work. They are the very people this program is designed to bring out of the shadows. The Cornyn amendment will ensure they cannot come forward. Indeed, if they did come forward, they could be subject to prosecution and mandatory deportation for using a fake Social Security card.
I believe we have addressed many of the concerns the Members have had on dealing with some of these other issues and questions with the Kennedy amendment, and I would hope the Members would vote in favor of that and against the Cornyn amendment.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, with regard to Senator Durbin, he could come back and speak to this issue, this was a mother of four U.S. citizens, herself undocumented, who left the country to visit her sick mother and was apprehended after she snuck back in. She had entered and reentered the U.S. twice. She had false documents, and she has been effectively deported.
The Senator says, well, she had rights to appeal, rights to do this and to do that. This is the real impact. This is the real impact of the Cornyn amendment. This is what the Cornyn amendment is all about. We know the people who have come in here. Why do they come in here? They come to work. Why do they come to work? Because the job is there. They are devoted to their families, devoted to their work and faith, in many instances devoted to this country--with 70,000 of them working in the Armed Forces of the United States. But in order to be able to do that, somewhere along the way they get the false papers. That is what the facts are. The great majority have them.
Under the Cornyn amendment, it says those individuals are subject to deportation. He thinks all 12 1/2 million people are all going to volunteer and come out and say, well, by the way, Senator Cornyn gave us assurance that somebody down there in DHS can give me a waiver and let me stay. Come on. Come on. We believe that? That is going to be sufficient assurance to get these people to come out of the shadows so that they are not going to continue to be exploited? I don't believe that.
I have a lot of respect for my friend. I know what he is attempting to do in order to deal with some of these other issues, and we have attempted to address that. But the fact remains his amendment undermines the basic core of this--recognizing that people here are undocumented, and the ones who are undocumented, by and large, have these false papers. That is a part of the reality.
The question is: Are we going to say to those individuals: Look, you came here and are undocumented. You are going to pay a fine, and you are going to have to demonstrate that you are going to work, and you are going to show that you are going to be a good citizen. And in 8 years, after all the other people who have been waiting in line, after all of that period, when you are able to pay the fine, demonstrate that you have worked all that time, and have been a good citizen trying to make a difference in terms of going into the country, that then you will be able to at least start--start--on the potential road to citizenship.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I expect that Senator DeMint will come to the floor to address his amendment, but in the next 5 minutes that we have before he does so, I would say his amendment is basically saying there will be no adjustment in status unless all these individuals are going to be able to buy into the high-deductible HSAs, health savings accounts, and that because of the fact that immigrants are a burden on the health care system, that they should be required to do this additional kind of work to meet their responsibilities under this legislation.
There are a couple factors I wish to mention. First of all, if you take the fact that you have 12 million of these individuals, the 12 million who are the undocumentable, they are going to, as part of their fine, pay $500 per individual. That comes to some $6 billion--$6 billion--that can go for support for various health care offsets into local communities. That is not an insignificant amount of resources. We anticipated this possibility, No. 1.
No. 2, we ought to make an examination of what happens to these undocumented individuals. What is the utilization by the undocumented? We know they are basically healthier, they are younger, and the various information and statistics we see says there is not an overutilization of the health services.
I have statistics for undocumented immigrants in one of the border States, this is in Texas, and I will read this and include the appropriate part in the Record. The Comptroller's office estimates the absence of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas would have been a loss to their gross State product of $17 billion. Also, the Comptroller's office estimates State revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the State spends on services, with the difference being $424 million. That is today, one State--Texas--in the utilization of services.
So we find this population where there has not been an overutilization of services, and we have provisions in the current legislation to deal with this problem and deal with it generously. But the Senator from South Carolina wants to insist on a high-deductible program.
Let us look at the average high-deductible program. The average annual deductible for a high-deductible plan required under the DeMint amendment is $1,900 for an individual and $4,000 for a family. The average annual premium for the plan: $2,700 for an individual and $7,900 for a family. The total average cost for an individual would be $4,600 and $11,000 for a family. That is for the average individual and family. This includes the fees and also the deductibility.
We have the various studies that have been done, the reports, and this information is from the Los Angeles Times. It points out that plans with high deductibles of $1,000 or higher monthly premiums that can be less than $100, as Senator DeMint provides, are a good fit for healthy people with some financial resources. The median annual income of those using the high-deductible plans is $75,000. This is a fit for $75,000. Although the lower premiums make plans attractive, cash-strapped families run the risk of being unable to afford the deductibles.
Those are the facts. So the effect of the DeMint amendment is another way of denying the 12 million undocumented from being able to participate in the other provisions of the legislation, which we have very carefully crafted. They have to pay a high fine, they have to pay the State a set-aside, they are going to have to pay the fees as they move along. These are not insignificant. We are talking about thousands and thousands of dollars which have been worked out carefully and considered.
This kind of additional burden will say to men and women whose average income may be $10,000 or $11,000 that they are not going to be able to do it. Take those individual Americans who are making $10,000 and $11,000 and look at how many of them are able to afford health insurance. Virtually none. We know about that in Massachusetts because Massachusetts has passed a very effective program to bring those individuals in and to help and assist those individuals.
So the idea that we are going to put this in as a requirement is another way of saying to those individuals, look, we might like other provisions of the legislation, but this is a way of effectively barring you from being able to participate in this program. That undermines the object of a very important aspect of this whole endeavor. Therefore, I hope the amendment will be defeated.
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Mr. KENNEDY. I yield such time as I might use.
On the Cornyn amendment, the issue is basically confidentiality. Why is confidentiality important? What we are trying to do with this proposal is to say to the 12.5 million who are living here, the undocumented as well as those in agricultural jobs: Come out of the shadows, and if you are going to meet the other requirements of the bill--paying fines, go to the end of the line, demonstrate solid work achievement and accomplishment--you will eventually be able to get in line after the backlog is completed for a green card and citizenship. We are saying to the individuals: If you are undocumented today, we want you to register.
There is a question with regard to people who are undocumented today. If I go down and say my name is--maybe an undocumented Irish person, say his name is Halloran, and he goes in and says: I am Halloran and live on Linden Street. I am undocumented, my wife is undocumented, and my children are undocumented. We want these people to come out of the shadows and register to begin this process, right? Right. We have to make sure those people are going to have a certain amount of confidentiality, that they are not thinking they are just going to sign in and register and report to be deported. That is what the Cornyn amendment effectively does, is report to deport because he eliminates all kinds of protections of confidentiality.
We provide levels of protection of confidentiality for individuals, but not if they have been involved in any criminal activity and any fraudulent activity.
The Senator from Texas mentions the 1986 act. He has been mentioning the 1986 act time and time again. I responded that President Reagan signed that act. Republicans were in charge at that time, and they administered that act from 1986 to 1992. I voted against that legislation for many of the reasons that have been outlined. That is a different time.
If they want to talk about what President Reagan and what the Republicans did at that time, they can be my guest. But the fact is, as we do know, there were incidents where fraud was committed during that program in the submission of various agricultural documents, and fraud was committed. That is all outlined in a 1988 report which has been quoted here. But that has been the document. We have not seen other documents about similar kinds of fraudulent activities.
As a result, what did we do with this legislation? We did a number of things because of what happened in 1986.
We provide additional protections and requirements in these areas of identification. We provide a number of protections in this legislation, and I will include those at the conclusion of my statement.
Secondly, we have included in this legislation that if the DHS believes fraud has been committed, they can move ahead and deport. Do my colleagues understand? If the Department of Homeland Security thinks fraud has been committed by these individuals, they can move ahead and deport. That has been included. We have also included random audits of these various programs.
The point that has been made that in 1986 there were irregularities we accept and agree. The fact that the 1986 act was not well managed, we agree. Was there fraud in a number of these affidavits? We say, yes, and that is why we took action in this legislation to address it. And I will include those particular citations.
I will run through these points very quickly. If the applicant is inadmissible for criminal reasons or an alien smuggler, that information is turned over to the local law enforcement and police. If there has been a conviction of a crime, criminal activity, smuggling, marriage fraud, all of that information is turned over to the police. If there is any indication of any kind of intelligence activity, it is turned over to the Department of Homeland Security.
We have written into this legislation protections so we are not going to have abuses of confidentiality. But--but, Mr. President--when we are talking about other kinds of activities--for example, if they fail the English test, or because there is a certain amount of work requirement time, there is an issue as to whether they completed the work requirement, we protect their confidentiality. If they fail the English test, we protect their confidentiality. If there is a technical registration issue, we protect their confidentiality.
This is enormously important because if we do not protect their confidentiality, they are not going to register. It is as clear and simple as that.
This represents a very careful balance that was worked out. I respect the Senator from Texas on this issue, but it is important that we have guarantees for individuals if we expect them to register as this system is being set up because it is going to transition. We know parts of this system are not going to go into effect until we have border security, and if we expect individuals to participate in that system, we have to guarantee their confidentiality. We do so. It is enormously important. This system isn't going to function unless we do.
If the Cornyn amendment is adopted, the bottom line is this system will not function, and it will not work because as individuals in this community are wondering whether they ought to sign up for this system, by and large they are going to check with perhaps their local parish, maybe their local priest, maybe a nonprofit organization, social service organizations, community organizations in which they have confidence and trust, and those individuals are going to know whether there is confidentiality or not. Those individuals upon whom they rely in the local community, extended members of their family, nonprofit organizations, church organizations, unless they are able to give the assurance to these individuals that their confidentiality is going to be protected, we are not going to have people involved, and we are not going to have success with this legislation.
As I mentioned, in the incidence of fraud, we have addressed those extensively with provisions in the legislation. If there are incidents of fraud, criminal activity, terrorist activity, any of the other kinds of issues that involve criminality, of course, that protection is effectively out the window. We provide confidentiality, but limited in a very important way. It is enormously important to the success of the program.
Mr. President, I anticipate that we are going to have presentations by my friend and colleague from Alabama sometime with regard to the earned-income tax credit. I have comments in response to that amendment. I know there will be an alternative amendment that will be offered in that area. I will address the Senate when we have that particular proposal.
Eventually, we are going to have the Lieberman amendment, which is a very thoughtful amendment. We will have opportunity to address it at that time.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will be brief in response to the Sessions amendment. We are talking about the earned-income tax credit. That was developed in the 1970s. Why was the earned-income tax credit developed? Because of the increased number of children living in poverty.
We have, as this chart shows, in the United States more children who live in poverty than any other country in the world. This amendment would say to legal immigrants that you are not eligible for the earned-income tax credit that benefits children.
If we look at the report from the CRS, it shows that over 98 percent of the earned-income tax credit goes to families with children. That was its purpose, that is where it is focused, that was the reason for it, and this is the need.
Why in the world would we want to take benefits away from needy children? Who are the workers of the earned-income tax credit? Their average income is less than $20,000 a year. This is phased out at about $30,000 to $33,000 a year. This is the low-income individuals who are, what? Are they on welfare or are they out working? They are working. They have children. They are legal. Why take the benefits away from the children, the neediest children, most of whom are living in poverty?
We don't take the earned-income tax credit away from people who go to jail and commit murder. We don't take away the earned-income tax credit from people who have defrauded the Government. We don't take the earned tax credit away from burglars, child molesters, and the rest of the individuals who commit crimes. But this amendment wants to take it from one particular group and that is legal workers.
Who are those legal workers? They are trying to provide for their families, pay the penalties, show that they are working, and go to the end of the line. Many of these children are American children. They are not undocumented. They are American children because they were born here.
I find it difficult to understand, when we are talking about individuals who are working, who want to work, will work, are trying to make a better future for themselves and their families and particularly for their children, why they should be the only class of working people in the United States who ought to be penalized. That is what the Sessions amendment would do. That is wrong and it is not fair and it should not be accepted.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, the Cornyn amendment attacks the whole issue of confidentiality for these undocumented aliens. If the Cornyn amendment is adopted, there are no individuals who are going to register for any of these programs--none--because all their information will be available.
This is a report-to-deport amendment. How are you going to convince individuals to come in and register for the Z visa program or any of the programs if they know all of their information is going to go to the Immigration Service and every other agency?
With regard to criminality, with regard to terrorism, with regard to all the fraud and all the abuse, we have put in here careful protections. Those kinds of protections are supported by Jon Kyl, by other Republican Members, and by all of us here.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, who is eligible for the earned-income tax credit? Legal workers. They work. Who are the beneficiaries of the earned-income tax credit? Ninety-eight percent of it goes to poor children. What country in the world has the greatest percent of poor children? The United States of America. Ninety-eight percent of the benefits of the earned tax credit go to poor children, and many of them are American children.
In the history of the Internal Revenue Code, we have never excluded a class. We have treated everyone equally. The Sessions amendment for the first time in the history of the United States of America is going to say: Workers who are here legally are going to be denied the earned-income tax credit that can benefit their children who are looking for a better future.
I hope the Sessions amendment will be defeated.
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