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Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 07, 2007)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I am not sure we will need all of the 17 minutes. I think we had initially planned to vote close to the hour. I think that is very possible.

I thank Senator Coburn for raising these issues. These issues which are included in his amendment are not greatly dissimilar from the measures in terms of adding additional what we call ``triggers'' to the legislation.

Let me just go back a step and relate why we have real reservations about the Coburn amendment. When we examined the broken immigration system--and we have had scores of hearings in the immigration committee and the Judiciary Committee--what was offered on a number of different occasions said: We can solve our problem just by building a fence in the southwest border or just by having strong security in the southwest border. It is 1,800 miles down there, and we can fence off different areas and then use different kinds of technology, and that is going to solve the challenges we are facing with immigrants coming across the border.

As we continued on through the course of the hearings, we say that in and of itself will not work. As Governor Napolitano said, if we just put a fence down along the southwest border, you put a 40-foot fence in, there are going to be 41-foot ladders that are going to come over that.

What you need to do, as Governor Napolitano and others testified, including the Secretary of Homeland Security, who said: You need to have a comprehensive measure. You have to have a comprehensive measure if we are going to secure the borders. We need to have a comprehensive measure, which means we have to do all we possibly can to secure the borders by the latest in technology, and I will mention that in a moment. But, also, if we are going to secure those borders, we are going to have to recognize that there is going to be pressure even on those borders. So we have to organize and structure some kind of way for people to come in the front door. Otherwise, they are going to go over the back door, which means they are going to scale the various fences.

We say: No, we want to protect American workers. So we worked out an elaborate program to make sure that anyone who is going to come into the United States through the front door is not going to displace an American worker. We worked out a process and a system to make sure there are no American workers who want to take that job, there are only those who want to come in to be able to work in those areas. We have gone through that in the course of the debate.

But you need not only that--if you want to make sure you are not going to still have some leakage in there, you are going to have interior enforcement. You are going to have it in the employer situation. You have to have that. Otherwise, we are going to go back to what has been roundly criticized here, and legitimately so--1986. So you have to have important interior enforcement in the workplace. So we had to include those provisions in this legislation as well.

Then, if you are really going to have some kind of opportunity to make sure you are going to look out after the national security interests of the United States, you are going to have to know who is here, not that you are just going to have millions of people living in the shadows--we do not know their names, we do not know their addresses, we do not know where they are living--we have to bring them out. To bring them out, we cannot just do that, bring them out automatically, because they have broken the law. So we worked out a system where these individuals pay heavy fines, and effectively they will go to the back of the line. So anybody who has been trying to get in here legally will be able to do so before they will have any kind of opportunity to move ahead toward effectively normalizing their lives and moving on to the opportunity for a green card.

So it became very apparent that all of these elements work and work together, and if we accept the Coburn amendment, we are interrupting this whole kind of a process. What we have heard time and time again is that if you interrupt this process, then you have a breakdown in the whole kind of condition and you are going to be inundated with the undocumented aliens.

We want to stop the Border Patrol--highly trained, highly committed, highly dedicated individuals--from chasing after landscapers across the border. We want them to be looking after terrorists and the criminal element, right? Right. Therefore, you have to make sure you are going to have the other aspects of the security measures put in place. What does that mean? That means internal security. But the Coburn amendment suspends that program, suspends the interior security in terms of the employers hiring the undocumented aliens. With that, it is a continuation of a broken and a failed system.

I would just say finally that this proposal, in terms of our security interests, may not be perfect, but it does provide the 20,000 additional agents, it does provide 200 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, 70 ground-based radars and cameras, four unmanned aerial vehicles, detention rather than catch-and-release programs, and many other kind of features.

We have followed what has been recommended by the Department of Homeland Security to get the best security we could. But the idea that we are going to suspend some of those elements which have been intertwined--and as Secretary Chertoff said very eloquently: You need them all. I appreciate the fact that the good Senator from Oklahoma says: Well, let's hold certain parts back until we get everything in place. Our answer is: You better start getting everything in place if you really want to have a secure border.

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Mr. KENNEDY. If the Senator would yield on my time, that is the intention of the leadership. What we would like to do is try to work out these groups of amendments with the Republican leadership. We intend to do that as soon as we get to the beginning of the vote. Rather than make that judgment at this particular time, we would ask if the Senator would defer. We will work those out. Obviously, we are going to work them out with the Republican leaders because we have been instructed to cooperate, to work and do as much as we possibly can during the day. I know our leader has given those assurances to the Senator.

I am just reluctant to shortchange the process now. But I will certainly work with the Senator during the course of these votes here and do the best we can, and he, obviously, can preserve his rights for later in the morning.

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Mr. KENNEDY. And a dinner too. I thank my friend from Mississippi, and I commend him for a constructive and positive attitude. Those of us who know him and respect him know that he is a fierce fighter for his values, but he also is an institutionalist. He understands the responsibilities of this institution in dealing with the Nation's challenges.

How much time remains?

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brown). The Senator has 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, there are going to be few issues that come before the Senate that are more important than immigration reform. Our immigration system is broken. This is a national security issue. It is an internal kind of security issue. It is basically also a fairness and humane issue about how we are going to treat each other. It involves all of these factors. We are going to have a cloture petition that is going to be filed. There is no sense or expectation that it will be a defining moment because we have heard now that it will not be achieved. But we have every intention of continuing today, Democrats and Republicans, working all day long and into the early evening responding to some of the questions and issues that have to be raised. We will do our very best, as we did until midnight last night, all through yesterday, to give opportunities for Members to introduce amendments and get an expression by the Senate because the country expects us to take action.

I am convinced with the goodwill that has been expressed this morning, we have a real opportunity to see the beginning of a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, by late afternoon we will have a clear direction about where we are going.

I thank the leadership for all it has done. I hope the Senate will reject the Coburn amendment.

We will have the cloture rollcall now, and since we can certainly assume it will not be enacted, we will announce a series of votes, and we will continue to move forward on the legislation over the course of the day.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, for those who have been interested in this legislation, as all of us are, and for those who have been wondering about what has been going on through the course of the afternoon, I think they probably have been seeing the intermediate actions which have been taken, the requests that have been made by the majority leader, and the response. Even as the time is moving along, there are efforts to try to sort of find some common ground in consideration of additional Republican amendments, as well as some of the additional Democratic amendments. We made remarkable progress, I thought, yesterday afternoon and last evening. We were very hopeful that we could move, this afternoon, in a similar way to consider both the Republican and Democratic amendments. I know and expect we are going to have a proposal that is going to be made by the majority leader in the near future to see if we can't get back on track. I am very hopeful that will be the case.

We have had good debates, good discussions over the last couple of weeks, and I think we have made good progress. We know there are still a number of outstanding issues for our colleagues. We had hoped we would be able to address a number of those during the course of the afternoon but, as we saw when the leader made the requests, there were objections to proceeding in that way. We are not giving up, and the leader is preparing now to make some additional requests. I myself find that his plan is virtually irresistible, but we will have to find out whether our colleagues on the other side feel that way as well.

I thought I would take a moment and just review some of the essential aspects.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thought I would just review how we got here with this legislation and basically the highlights of it. I think it is fairly familiar to the Members, but I think it is always useful to have an understanding about the nature of the challenge we are facing, the dramatic challenge we are facing in terms of our borders, in terms of our national security, and to briefly review for our colleagues what we have tried to do with this legislation.

So often during the last days, these debates are focused like a laser on a very specific aspect, and we lost the central thrust and the purpose of this legislation and perhaps even the need for urgent action.

There is a need for urgent action, and the need is now, the need is today, the need is tonight because of the kinds of conditions that threaten our national security and result in the exploitation of human beings and even deaths out in the desert and leave many millions of undocumented in fear of their future, and the conditions which threaten to undermine agreements that have been made in the AgJOBS area and the lost opportunities that would result for many of those who might be eligible for the DREAM Act. So I thought I would try to put this into some proportion and take a few moments to review again where we are.

I think one of the most dramatic statistics we see, as reflected in this chart, is deaths due to unauthorized border crossings. If you look at the period of the last 5 years, you will see these numbers continue to go up, they continue to escalate. The fact is, there are 425 men, women, and children, including infants, who die every single year on the border. That is a dramatic figure under any set of circumstances. The numbers are going to continue if we fail to take any action. Those numbers are going to continue to escalate. They reflect the number of deaths at the border. They don't reflect the several hundred thousand individuals who are able to come across the border.

What happens when these undocumented come across the border is that more often than not we find that these individuals, as the rest of the undocumented population, undergo extraordinary exploitation.

We have a picture showing a situation that took place in my own State in New Bedford fairly recently, several weeks ago. It is fairly typical. There have been these types of raids on these types of places in other parts of the country. This is replicated in scores of places all over this country. We find these undocumented, now estimated to be 12.5 million, 13 million of them, who suffer the exploitation we saw in New Bedford, MA. This photograph illustrates what is going on in this plant. These workers' rights were trampled on. These individuals were fined for going to the bathroom, denied overtime pay, docked 15 minutes' pay for every minute they were late to work, fired for talking while on the clock, forced to ration toilet paper, which typically ran out before 9 a.m.

Then we look at another industry. You can look here at the undocumented workers in the meatpacking industry who are exploited. One in ten workers is injured each year by the sharp hooks and knives. They suffer exhausting assembly-line speeds and painful damage from repetitive motions. That is the old ergonomics issue. Workers are subjected to chlorine mists that lead to bloody noses, vomiting, and headaches. Undocumented workers don't report their injuries because they live in fear that they will lose their jobs and be deported.

The life of fear that is taking place is replicated in communities all over this country. We have these several hundred thousand individuals coming across the border. We don't know who they are. We don't know their names. They are living in different places in our country. They are subject to this kind of exploitation, and they pose a national security issue and a national security problem. We have the exploitation of these workers. We have the deaths that take place in the desert, and we also have a national security problem with hundreds of thousands of people coming across. So this issue is a national security issue. It is a national security problem.

This gives us some idea of what we have included in this legislation. We have increased the Border Patrol to 18,000 agents, and with the Gregg amendment, it is more than 20,000 now. It has the border barriers, including 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing. It includes radar and camera towers, UAVs. For detention and apprehension, it provides the resources to detain up to 27,000 noncitizens per day rather than arrest and release. This will be for detention and apprehension. We have important workplace enforcement tools and processing applications of Z status. The Department of Homeland Security will process the applications in terms of security. So we are coming to the issue of law enforcement and security--national security, protecting our borders, and law enforcement. We are going to develop a process.

This legislation is about respect for the law--law at the border, law in employment, and law for those individuals who are here and are undocumented. They are going to have to live with this law which ensures that they are going to suffer a penalty if they expect to stay here and live here.

We have a virtual lawlessness out there on the border which is a threat to our security and a lawlessness in so many areas of employment which is promoting the exploitation of the human condition.

We have this extraordinary atmosphere of fear by the 12 1/2 million individuals who live here; they are in fear because they are illegal. We are trying to legalize the process and get respect for the law and try to ensure our national security. So we do that, as I mentioned, at the border, which is important.

As I have mentioned during the course of these discussions, the one thing we have learned following hour after hour after hour of hearings on this matter is that just doing border protection is not enough. If you were able to put 1,800 miles of fencing along the Southwest border, as has been pointed out by Governor Napolitano, who is so familiar with this, along with others who have made their views very well known, you have to not only have a border, but no matter how tall your fence is going to be, the ladder will always be a little taller. You have to have strong law enforcement, but you are going to have to have internal employment enforcement as well, work site enforcement, as well as regularizing those here at the time. So we have the work site employment; employers must verify the identity of work authorization of all employees; there are increases in civil and criminal penalties against employers who hire unauthorized aliens knowingly, or with reckless disregard; and it includes measures to prevent identity theft and fraud.

It is dramatically different from the 1986 act. We here on the floor don't want to repeat 1986. That legislation was signed into law by President Reagan and enforced by a Republican administration from 1986 to 1992. I voted against that legislation for many of the reasons I am mentioning now. You had absolutely no workforce enforcement, none at all, virtually no requirements. We see the problems we had. We had abuse of that system.

We have in this legislation, as I pointed out previously, addressed those kinds of problems that lent themselves to fraud after 1986. We have tough enforcement in the workplace. We have inspectors, close to a thousand inspectors, who are going to go in and look at these employment sites and make sure the kinds of protections that are guaranteed under this legislation are respected. We are going to insist that with any kind of employment program, they are going to get the protections of the prevailing wage and those are not going to be taken by surveys that are done by the private sector; they will be done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We will have protections under OSHA, and workers compensation, and whistleblower protection is in this legislation for any individuals working in those sites. For the first time, whistleblower protections will be there for those individuals. We are going to have a thousand inspectors who will be inspecting the work sites to make sure that the rights of individuals who are going to come into this country will be preserved.

At the present time, we find out the differences. This chart shows how this process and system must work. If they are going to be in the temporary program, the employer must advertise before applying for a worker. The employer must hire any qualified American applicants before applying for a temporary worker. Temporary workers are restricted to areas with high unemployment, and employers cannot undercut American wages by paying less to temporary workers.

Now we know even for the temporary workers, they are to be treated under the labor laws, with those protections, and they are not now. The borders are broken. If we don't pass this legislation, that is going to continue. That is the alternative--the kind of exploitation that exists now in so many communities, the fear, the exploitation, the harassment, and the driving down of wages, which threatens American wages. All of that exists now.

So we are ensuring, again, respect for the law in coming into this country, the law at the border, the law at the work site, and the law in transition. This chart is a good explanation made by Secretary Chertoff:

Enforcement alone will not do the job of securing our borders. Enforcement at the border will only be successful in the long term if it is coupled with a more sensible approach to the 10 to 12 million illegal aliens in the country today, and the many more who will attempt to migrate into the United States for economic reasons.

That is what we have heard from the Department of Homeland Security time in and time out--that there has to be a comprehensive approach to this issue. We have to bring people out of the shadows. They are going to have to pay a penalty. We insist that they pay a penalty. Then, rather than let them go to the front of the list, they have to go to the end of the list in order to begin a process--if they are able to demonstrate the payment of the penalty, if they demonstrate they can learn and are willing to learn English, if they are able to demonstrate they have long work experience, and if they can demonstrate they are not involved in criminal activity. We know 70,000 permanent resident aliens are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since these wars started--70,000. So we know that so many of these families who are coming here--why do they come? Basically, what are their values? What are the values we consider positive in the United States? We admire people who work hard. That is an important factor. That is essential in terms of the
achievement of the American dream. We admire people who are devoted to family and their children.

We find so many of these undocumented, but why do they come here? It is because they want to have a better life for their children. How do we know that? Because there is more than $40 billion returned by these immigrants to the countries of Central and South America every single year. These are individuals who are making a total of $10,000, and $40 billion is returned to their countries. To whom? It is returned to their families and children. They work hard, they are devoted to their children and families and have an extraordinary dedication to their parents and grandparents, caring for them. Those are the positive qualities that all of us admire.

On the other hand, they have broken the law, so, therefore, they have to pay a penalty. Why did they break the law? It is because we have the magnet of the American economy drawing them here. That magnet doesn't pay any penalty. These people risk their lives to get in here. They suffer the risk of exploitation. And even through all of that, they return the resources back to their families. So it is the magnet of the American economy, but still we are making them pay--not the employer, the magnet, or the American economy, but they make an extraordinary contribution. Sure, there are some bad apples. But they make an extraordinary contribution--the immigrants--just as all of our parents and grandparents and forebears have made in terms of this country. This is what we have done. We have seen what happened at the border.

We have talked about what is happening in terms of the employment situation. We know what is going on, in terms of the kind of distinction between the past and present. Those individuals, the 12 1/2 million people who are here--this is the explanation of what we call the Z visa eligibility: They entered the United States before January 2007. They remained employed and continuously present and not a national security threat. There has to be a review. They have to register--the 18 months--to make sure they are registered and are not any national security threat. There can be no serious criminal record in or out of the United States. We have outlined that. We have gone into detail and explanation in earlier kinds of considerations of amendments. If they have committed serious crimes, they are out; they don't come back. We have explained that and we have gone through that time and time again through the course of this debate.

They have to pay the processing fees of $1,500; State impact assistance fee, $500; and a penalty of $1,000. All of that--some $3,000--is not even getting you down the road toward a green card and citizenship. The $500 from 12 million people--$6 billion--goes to States that have the great impact to help them in terms of offsetting any of their additional burdens, in terms of health care and education. That is not an insignificant amount of resources. We went through during yesterday's discussion and debate how, by and large, these individuals are healthier, and we also went into about how they had utilized the health care system, and it shows that is effectively an incidental additional kind of expense. They must comply with the Selective Service Act, submit fingerprints and undergo a background check, and they must get in the back of the line for a green card. That means, for all of those who have been waiting in line, about 4 million people who have relatives here and have petitioned for them to come into the United States many, without this legislation, would have virtually no opportunity to do so.

They will have that opportunity to come into the United States over an 8-year period. Then, after that 8-year period, these individuals we have discussed here could begin to move, and depending on their work record and their participation and sense of community, they could get on path toward a green card. Then it takes 5 more years to become a citizen. The earliest is maybe 13 or 14 years before they would be able to have that opportunity for citizenship. It is more distant than that for the majority of the people. All the time they have to behave and follow the law and pay the kinds of penalties that will be included.

Mr. President, other colleagues wish to address the Senate, so I will be brief. I give credit to our friend and colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, who reminded us about the opportunities we have in creating an educational pathway for the children of the undocumented. We know the children who come in here are coming in through the action of their parents. We understand that. It is through the actions of the parents. The DREAM Act students are eligible for Z visas and permanent residence if the student came in as a child under age 16 and has good moral character, or attends college or enlists in the military for 2 years. I know, as chairman of the Education Committee, the challenge we have in terms of having those students--Hispanic students and others from other cultures and traditions, in terms of the education experience. Having a good education opportunity for those children in this country is key to our national security, key to the success of our economy, and key to the success of the hopes and dreams of these children.

Too often, half of the children from the Hispanic tradition drop out before they are ever able to be successful. But we know that others who complete the educational system and graduate--in my home State of Massachusetts, we have seen so many in Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford, and other places who have children from undocumented families end up being valedictorians, class presidents, and extraordinary leaders. Then the opportunity comes for continued education and it is virtually closed down because they are denied that opportunity.

Under the DREAM Act, this gives them the opportunity for in-State help and assistance. That is what this bill is about, too. It is about hope in terms of the future. It is about hope. It is relieving the kinds of anxiety those 12 million or 13 million undocumented are experiencing this afternoon and will experience tonight when they have a knock on the door and wonder if ICE is coming there to arrest and deport them, separate their families, and send them back--even after they have been here for a number of years.

We don't hear much discussion about that. Everything seems to be pretty cut and dried around here. That is a major factor. How many of us have met some of these individuals, the undocumented? I did just 3 or 4 days ago, returning here at the airport. I talked to a person who has been here 28 years, as have his two brothers. The brothers have been able to get green cards, but he had not. He talked about the fear he and his family have at this time of being arrested and deported.

In this legislation is another extremely important provision. That is what we call the AgJOBS bill. I see the Senator from California here, Senator Feinstein, who has done an extraordinary job in helping to bring this part of the legislation before the Senate, with Senator Craig, whom I commend for his diligence.

They have been the real leaders in this proposal.

For many of us, to go back to the time of the Bracero Program--I can remember being a member of our committee in the early 1960s when we had hearings in southern Texas and also in California about the Bracero Program. Few times in our history did we have the kind of exploitation of individuals--slavery certainly; slavery, yes; slavery first--but after that, the Bracero exploitation was one of the darkest sides of American history in the exploitation of individuals.

There are a number of blemishes out there. We can talk about those--American Indians and others--but this was really one of the very worst. We took time to get rid of it, and we did get rid of that. Then we went through a long period of enormous tension between the workers and the growers. We all remember the extraordinary contribution of Cesar Chavez, the dignity he gave to so many of these farm workers. That kind of tension existed for years.

Now, finally, in recent years there has been an agreement between these two very strong groups who are committed in their own ways to their own views and philosophies. They have come together and have agreed on a pathway that will ensure success and give these workers the respect and dignity they have been denied. It is called the AgJOBS bill.

A great deal of credit goes to our colleague in the House, HOWARD BERMAN, who spent years working on this legislation. That legislation has had 65, 66 cosponsors, but we have been unable to get it before the Senate for ratification of that program. It is included in this legislation.

If this legislation passes, the message it sends to about 900,000 agricultural workers, who, again, have been exploited, and to their families, is the fact that over the next 8 years, they are going to have to work and continue to work hard. They can work in agriculture. They have some opportunity to work outside agriculture too. They have to play by the rules, demonstrate they are paying their taxes, work hard and pay the fines and penalties, but they have some opportunity to move forward after all these years, get a green card, and then 5 years later move forward. So it is an enormous period of hope for all those individuals.

This legislation is about dealing in a tough way with a tough problem at the border. We do that by taking the best advice, the best recommendations, the best suggestions from the best people who know about homeland security. We have done that and worked closely together. I don't think there are any differences on that point.

We need to have tough enforcement in the workplace, and we have achieved that. It can be improved further, but it has been achieved, and we have talked about it.

We have also provided a pathway for earned legalization after these individuals pay the fines, significant fines, in many ways, fines for an average family who makes about $10,000 to $12,000 a year, that represents years of work with their kinds of salaries. They have to go to the end of the line. They have to demonstrate good work experience. They have to earn, earn, earn, earn, earn the ability to adjust their relationship with our country.

We know these families. We have seen them in our churches. We have seen them in our shops. We have seen them in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, and they serve with great pride and dignity and they want to contribute and be a part of the American dream like everyone else. And we are giving them that opportunity.

If we vote no on this legislation, we are dampening and canceling that opportunity, and we are returning to the law of the jungle because that is what it is. It is a jungle on that border.

Every day we continue without this legislation, we have these well-trained, well-disciplined, highly motivated border guards chasing people across the desert who are landscapers. They ought to be looking for the terrorists, the smugglers, the lawbreakers. That is who they should be looking after. If we don't pass this legislation, they will continue to be looking out after the landscapers instead of the terrorists, instead of the smugglers, and instead of those who threaten the security of the people of this country.

That is it. Take your choice. Anyone can flyspeck this legislation. I am not accusing those who differ with me on particular proposals being necessarily flyspeckers, but sometimes we have to make a judgment. Sometimes we have to make a decision. Sometimes there has to be finality. We have debated this issue on the floor of the Senate for 2 weeks. We debated it last year for 2 weeks. We are not just coming at this legislation for the first time. We have debated just about every feature of this program, somewhat different from last year, but the themes are the same, the arguments are the same, the amendments are almost the same.

The only question is the will of this body and the will to make a judgment, a decision that we are going to clean up our borders, get a sense of law in terms of those borders and in the employment areas, get a respect for the law from those who have been undocumented; they are going to pay their price, give a sense of hope to the young people who can benefit, and give a sense of dignity and pride to those who work in the fields across this country in AgJOBS.

This is going to be an important vote this evening. If we are talking about a vote about America's future, this is it. This is it. This is it tonight. We can all find the excuses. We all can find the reasons to say no. We can all find different aspects of this legislation with which we differ, but underneath, this is a proposal that is deeply rooted in remedy, one of the great national challenges we have--broken borders and a broken immigration system.

This legislation is a downpayment that the American people are asking and demanding of the Senate of the United States that we move forward on. Let's not disappoint them.

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