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Department Of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - July 25, 2007)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, before the Senate, I understand, is a Graham amendment dealing with border security. Then there is a second-degree amendment that has been offered on top of that which effectively is where we are at the present time. I would like to make a few comments about this whole issue that has been brought up by Senator Graham in terms of the security aspects at the border.

Those of us who supported a comprehensive program on immigration reform supported strong border enforcement because we know there are 400,000 or 500,00 people who have come across the border, minimally, a year. We don't know their names. We don't know where they go. They disappear into American society. There is no question, on a matter dealing with homeland security, we have to be serious about dealing with our borders. We understand that.

That is why it is so interesting to me, when I saw we had that opportunity 2 years ago, we had a great deal of fuss on the other side about building a fence along the border and then, after they got their vote, the Republicans never funded that particular program.

When we had a chance a few weeks ago to do something on comprehensive border control, again the Republicans, the other side, voted no; they voted it down. Now we have the proposal to try to, I guess, make them politically OK among the voters. We know this issue of undocumented and illegal immigration is a complex one, is a difficult one.

We know the primary reason people come across the border down in the Southwest is because of the magnet of jobs in the United States. This amendment does nothing about the magnet of jobs. We should not delude ourselves, if we say we are going to support this particular proposal and then not deal with what is the basic cause of the hundreds of thousands of people who come here, and that is the magnet of jobs. This amendment doesn't deal with the magnet of jobs. Maybe it has a good political ring to it out there on the hustings, that we are doing something, but as we have seen time and time again, as long as we are not going to deal with the magnet of jobs, the efforts we have on the border--we can build the fences, people have ladders to go over them; or you can build fences and people will burrow and go underneath them--as long as you have the powerful magnet of jobs, the efforts will fail.

We are going to have a vote on this issue, although I, for one, believe having strong border security is a key aspect of having comprehensive reform. That is why a number of us are going to support an alternative to the Graham amendment, an alternative that recognizes, No. 1, this is a complex problem--we are for border security and control, to the extent we can--but, No. 2, that we have a situation affecting millions of Americans in agriculture and that is, if we are going to have border control we are going to have to be able to provide agricultural workers. That is why I hope the Senate will consider an amendment which will have the border control provisions but also have what is called the AgJOBS provisions that will address what is the need in agricultural America.

Without it, as we have heard so eloquently from Senator Feinstein, as we heard from Senator Larry Craig, we are going to have devastation in major parts of our country.

If you are going to have border security, you are going to have to have some way for these workers to get in. The AgJOBS bill is the bill that has had over 60 Members of the Senate who have been supporters of that program. That seems to me to begin to make a good deal of sense.

Recognize, in dealing with this whole issue in a comprehensive way, the most vulnerable people inside our borders, those individuals who are here and are undocumented in so many instances are young people, brought here through no fault of their own because their parents brought them here when they were under 16 years of age, who are here for more than 5 years, serving 2 years in the military, graduating from the high schools of this country--it is called the DREAM Act.

I see my friend and the principal spokesperson and sponsor of that, the Senator from Illinois, Senator Durbin, on the floor. He speaks so well to this issue. When we have the amendment before the Senate, I will review some of the great, important successes of many young individuals who came here undocumented and have worked long and hard and have graduated from high school, which is no mean feat when you have more than a 50-percent dropout rate among the Hispanic community. The fact that these individuals are here, want to be part of the American dream, want to contribute to our Nation--the DREAM Act gives them the hope and opportunity for the future, which so many who have come here as immigrants and as children, who want to be a part of the American dream, have felt.

This will be a proposal I hope we will have a chance to vote on. It will have the border security aspects included in the Graham proposal. It will recognize, if you are going to try to close the border, you are still going to have the great agribusiness in our country that is going to demand workers. We have a way of responding to that, a way about which Senator Feinstein and Senator Larry Craig have spoken to this body, a familiar path that makes a great deal of sense. That will be part of the proposal. Then we say to some of the most vulnerable individuals here, we recognize the challenges you are facing.

The proposal we are going to offer is a downpayment on a day where we might be able to come to a more comprehensive approach, which will be clearly in the interests of the Nation and in the interests of those who have come here and hopefully are looking forward to being a part of the American
dream--pay their fines, pay their dues but be a part of the American dream.

I also mention I was somewhat troubled by the provisions of the Graham amendment, which effectively will say, for those who have overstayed their visa--and we know that is about 46 percent of all the undocumented. You can't deal with the problem of the undocumented here in the United States and just close the border because almost half of those who are undocumented here come from overstays. So let's not confuse the American people and beat our chests and say we have taken a strong security position by dealing with the border and not dealing with the undocumented.

We have 12.5 million undocumented here. We simply do not have enough detention centers in which to detain them.

We want to deal with the terrorists. We want to deal with the drug smugglers. We want to deal with the hardened criminals. Rather than focusing our attention on those goals, we would divert precious resources to what? Jailing women and children, taking the overstays and putting them into detention? We have an undocumented problem and what are we going to do? This is not the solution. This whole scenario sounds like another plan like we had in Iraq: Al-Qaida in Afghanistan was the organization who attacked the United States and what did we do? We went into Iraq, wasting our resources. This amendment is focused on roundups and mass detention, rather than target the real threats which are terrorism and crimes. This amendment on the Homeland Security Appropriations bill is not the answer.

It seems to me an alternative approach makes a great deal of sense. This is a modest program. It is a well-thought-out program. It is a tried and tested program. It is a program where they have had hearings and the Senate is familiar with it. Let's do what is necessary at the border. Let's do what is necessary to ensure that agriculture and those workers who have worked in the fields are going to have the respect and dignity they should have. That has bipartisan support. Let's insist we are going to include the DREAM Act, which has strong bipartisan support as well.

Let's move on and accept that concept. That includes the basic thrust of the amendment of the Senator from South Carolina. Then let's move ahead with the Homeland Security bill.

I know my friend from Connecticut wishes to address the Senate.

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Mr. KENNEDY. We would have an amendment that would have border security and AgJOBS and the DREAM Act together, put in together, so we will deal with border issues but also recognize, if you are going to have a strong border, if we are going to keep out agricultural workers, that we have a major agricultural industry here, and we ought to accept AgJOBS which, I think at last count, has 66 cosponsors, Republicans and Democrats. Also, we have an emergency with that particular proposal. Also, look at those who are the most vulnerable people in this country, and those are the children who have been brought here through no fault of their own, trying to be a part of our system. Many of them are in the Armed Forces of our country. It is called the DREAM Act. The Senator from Illinois has been a prime sponsor.

We think, with that combination, that will be much more responsive to the real challenges we are facing, both from a security point of view and from an economic point of view, an agricultural point of view and from a humane point of view.

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Mr. KENNEDY. We would have an amendment that would have border security and AgJOBS and the DREAM Act together, put in together, so we will deal with border issues but also recognize, if you are going to have a strong border, if we are going to keep out agricultural workers, that we have a major agricultural industry here, and we ought to accept AgJOBS which, I think at last count, has 66 cosponsors, Republicans and Democrats. Also, we have an emergency with that particular proposal. Also, look at those who are the most vulnerable people in this country, and those are the children who have been brought here through no fault of their own, trying to be a part of our system. Many of them are in the Armed Forces of our country. It is called the DREAM Act. The Senator from Illinois has been a prime sponsor.

We think, with that combination, that will be much more responsive to the real challenges we are facing, both from a security point of view and from an economic point of view, an agricultural point of view and from a humane point of view.

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Mr. KENNEDY. This, I believe, is the downpayment. I remind my friend, and then I will yield the floor:

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 to the United States for economic reasons.

This is from the Coalition for Immigration Security. This is from a White House official charged with homeland security. This is a security issue, and we believe it is important.

The final point I mention to my friend from New Hampshire is a key aspect of the DREAM Act is to encourage these young people to serve in the military. At a time when we have critical needs in the military, the opportunities for these young people to serve in the military will give a very important boost to the Armed Forces of the country, and that obviously is dealing with the security of the Nation.

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