Press Conference with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) Subject: Immigration Reform

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: March 30, 2006
Location: Washington, DC


PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA); SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT); SENATOR TED KENNEDY (D-MA); SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ); SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA); SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC); SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT); SENATOR KEN SALAZAR (D-CO); SENATOR MEL MARTINEZ (R-FL); AND SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL)
SUBJECT: IMMIGRATION REFORM

SEN. SPECTER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. About a half hour ago, the Judiciary Committee bill was substituted for the Frist bill, so we are now proceeding with respective amendments and looking to complete action on this legislation by the end of next week.

The committee bill addresses the major concerns on the need for immigration reform. There is now doubt that the border has been porous, and the committee bill takes very strong steps to correct that. We do not have the 700-mile House of Representatives wall, but have instead a virtual wall where we have drones, overhead satellites patrolling the area and a doubling of border agents, and we think that is very, very positive.

We have tough enforcement provisions where we project an identification card, which will be foolproof, so that employers who knowingly, willingly, intentionally hire immigrants who are in this country illegally will be subjected to very stiff penalties. Deterrence is very effective when it comes to white collar crime. When we have -- tackle the issue of the 11 million undocumented aliens, we have proceeded in what we believe to be a realistic way. It is not possible to issue warrants of arrest to take 11 million people into custody, to have beds to detain them, to have deportation proceedings, and then to expel them from the country.

So what we have done, drawing on the essential ingredients of the McCain-Kennedy bill, is to bring them forward. We do not want to create a fugitive class in America and an underclass in America, but the committee bill is not amnesty. The majority leader in introducing his bill yesterday categorized the committee bill as amnesty, and I said on the Senate floor that I would take the leader on head-on. The committee bill is not amnesty, and it is not amnesty because the undocumented aliens will have to pay a fine, they will have to pay back taxes, they will undergo a thorough background investigation, they will have to learn English, they will have to work for six years, and they will have to earn the status of staying in the country and the status of moving towards citizenship.

The McCain-Kennedy bill was modified by an important addition that the 11 million undocumented aliens would not be placed ahead of those who have been lawfully waiting outside of the country for an opportunity to come to the United States on visas and to ultimately gain citizenship, so that they are at the back of the line. And that is not amnesty.

There is an effort far and wide to try to degrade the committee bill by the smear of "amnesty," and it simply is not amnesty.

We have other provisions where we are encouraging Ph.Ds and highly skilled people to come to the country, increasing the visa applications. Bill Gates was in town, lobbying the committee -- pretty high-powered, high-priced lobbyist. But with what he has contributed, Bill Gates is a voice which will be listened to, and he is very much in favor of what we have secured.

The committee produced this bill by meeting the leaders' deadline to do it on Monday. And people came back early from their vacations, came back from their recesses, came back on Sunday and had a very long markup, the longest that I've been a party to, from 10:00 to 1:00 and from 2:00 to past 6:00, and produced a bill.

Where we found we were uncertain as to what to do on judicial review, we decided to not include that in the committee bill, but instead to have another hearing. It's unusual to have a hearing in the middle of floor action, but that's what we're doing, because there is a dispute as to whether there ought to be consolidation in the federal circuit on appeals or they ought to stay with the circuits. And we'll be resolving that and moving ahead to do our utmost to finish this bill in a timely fashion.

There's been tremendous cooperation from Senator Leahy, leading the Democrats. We had a little Gaston-and-Alphonse as to whether Senator Leahy would go ahead of Senator Kennedy, and Senator Kennedy won.

Senator Leahy is first. (Laughter.)

SEN. LEAHY: Thank you.

The tremendous cooperation the chairman speaks of, you see what he did to me. (Laughter.) It's -- twisted arms.

But in seriousness, this is a very, very important piece of legislation. And I -- like the chairman, I resent it when it's called an amnesty bill. We signed -- President Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986. This is not -- this is not that. This is a tough, fair bill. It protects the security of the United States. But it also speaks to reality.

When you have 11 to 12 million people undocumented in this country, there's a reality of what you do with it. You're not going to arrest them all and ship them somewhere else; that'd be impossible -- even if we wanted to. You're not going to make criminals of those who helped them. If somebody is running a food kitchen or emergency shelter or something of that nature, you're not going to make them criminals because they help a fellow human being. The humanity and the soul and the morality of our country is too great for that.

But we have worked extraordinarily hard. Republicans and Democrats have come together on this. I salute the chairman very, very much. I salute Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain and those who have worked on this, because we have brought together the interests. When you have labor, and business, faith groups, major Hispanic groups, others come together on this bill, you know we've done something right. Now, if we want to really be right, if we want to reflect the fact that the United States Senate should be the conscience of America, let's speak to our conscience, and we should pass the bill.

SEN. SPECTER: Senator Kennedy.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thanks, Arlen.

The United States of America is coming together in a very unique and special way. The way that we are addressing this issue, which is an over-arching issue, and that is, one that's dealing with broken borders and one that's dealing with economic progress and also one dealing with our values, we are coming together the way that the United States and the United States Congress and Senate came together when we passed the civil rights bills, when we passed the Medicare bills, when we passed the Americans With Disability bills. Republicans, Democrats and a president came together. We have the business community, representations of workers, the Hispanic community and the religious community, all that are in support of the concepts that we have put out there in the McCain legislation, and we are prepared to respond.

This whole movement is moving in a direction to recognize that without the McCain legislation, we will not be dealing with our national security, we will not be dealing with our economic challenges and we will not be dealing with our values system, the most important value being who is going to earn citizenship.

Just yesterday, the president of the United States was asked about immigration and immigration reform, and this is an exact quote: He said, "I believe that we ought to say to somebody doing a job an American won't do, 'Here is a tamperproof identity card that will enable you to be here for a period of time.' And if that person wants to become a citizen of the United States -- because we are a nation of laws -- they get at the end of the line and not at the beginning of the line." That is completely consistent with the legislation that -- the Specter legislation's on the floor of the United States Senate, and I'm very hopeful we'll pass it next week.

SEN. SPECTER: Senator McCain?

SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Specter, I would like to thank you and Senator Leahy for your leadership, for your shepherding this legislation and your significant improvements to it. I'm very grateful for your leadership in the formulation and passage of what was originally the Kennedy bill.

(Laughter.)

SEN. : (Off mike) -- white-headed Irishman! (Laughter.)

SEN. MCCAIN: Could I -- I'll be very brief because my colleagues are here to make comments, and I know that you want to ask questions.

First of all, I would like to point out that this legislation was the product of over a year of negotiation. Myself and Senator Kennedy, Senator Obama, Senator Lieberman, Senator Martinez, Senator Salazar, Senator Graham -- we met on many, many occasions and hammered out this bill. It was not an easy decision -- some of it for us, nor was it for the Democrats because some of our base is opposed to this legislation, some of the unions are opposed to this legislation. So I'm proud of the product that we put out. I'm grateful for the leadership of Senator Specter and Senator Leahy, and I'm very pleased at the comments that the president has made in the last couple of days.

The president has basically at least endorsed this concept if not the details of it, and Senator Kennedy just read his quote. No one understands this issue better than the president of the United States, who spent four years -- actually, eight years as the governor of the state of Texas.

So I see it coming together.

Finally, could I just say, when we are involved in important pieces of legislation, we think, understandably, that those are really vital pieces of legislation and the future of Western civilization rests on it, and we all realize the importance.

This legislation is a defining moment in the history of the United States of America. Are we going to continue a rich tradition of hundreds of years of welcoming new blood and new vitality to our nation, or are we going to adopt a protectionist, isolationist attitude and policies that are in betrayal of the very fundamentals of this great nation of ours -- a beacon of hope and liberty and freedom throughout the world?

Of course it has to be legal. Of course we cannot have people coming to our country illegally. But, by God, we have got to continue those traditions of freedom, democracy and hope for every person all over the Earth, and I'm grateful that we are involved in this endeavor.

SEN. SPECTER: I'm going to call on members of the committee. Senator Feinstein?

SEN. : In support of the Kennedy bill. (Laughter.)

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I'd just like to point out essentially why I changed my point of view and came to support this legislation.

I've served on the Immigration Subcommittee of Judiciary now for 13 years, and I do believe in strong borders and I do believe in doing things legally. I also had to contend with the fact that, as some often say, our borders are broken, and much of what the Immigration Department does fails. The lines for naturalization are long. Fingerprints often take two years. Border Patrol is inadequate. Fences are piecemeal. Technologies are nonexistent. Detention beds are inadequate. You can go up and down the list. And in a sense, it's a litany of failure.

And then you look at the obvious fact that you have 12 million people here and they live furtively. They live in fear. They know that tomorrow or the next day they can be picked up and deported. And then they say, "Well, if I am, I'll just come back the following day," and they're able to do that.

And then you look at this broad realm of public policy and you say, what are we going to do? We have one industry, agriculture, has about 1,600,000 workers, in my state it's 556,000 ag workers, and I would hazard an informed guess that a half a million of them are undocumented.

Also, the entire industry says we cannot do without them. In my state, this is a $31 billion industry -- the largest in the nation.

So the question before us -- and I think it's a very practical question -- is, is America and Americans better served if people come out of furtive living and are able to act responsibly and have a consequential path to become legal? And the beauty of this bill is that it doesn't put them before anyone waiting in the line. But it says there is a certain penalty and that has to be recognized -- 3.3 million people waiting in the line; takes about six years to do away with this line. Therefore, these 12 million go to the back of the line, a $2,000 fine, you must speak English, you must not be a criminal or a national security threat, and you must have continued to work during this period of time. And then, if you qualify, after this six-year period you can in fact receive a green card, which puts you on a legal path. I think America is better served with this.

I think if we concentrate on restructuring, modernizing, enforcing our border, as this bill does, and a series of practical programs to create the kind of workforce that American industry up and down -- I met with landscape contractors this morning; 86 percent of their business in California, the largest business in the nation, is illegal, and they admit it. And it has all of those difficulties of being illegal: fear, furtiveness, a hidden nature. Bring it out into the open.

So I decided I would come aboard and support this bill. And I really think it's the right way to go. I suspect it's going to be amended. I suspect the conference is going to be very difficult. But if we can produce something akin to it as a final product, America will be much better off.

Thank you.

SEN. SPECTER: Senator Graham.

SEN. GRAHAM: Hey, I get at the head of the line. (Laughter.)

SEN. SPECTER: We'll go to the committee members then --

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was present at the mark-up. I came back from China along with Senator Schumer to participate in it, and I remember most of it. It seemed to have gone well. (Light laughter.) I want to congratulate the chairman for making this possible, and Senator Frist setting a timeline and we met that timeline. Senator McCain and Kennedy have been way out there for a long time.

And my bottom line is I sense momentum for a comprehensive approach. Among the Republican conference I see a shift toward a comprehensive view to solve this problem, and the more you know about the committee bill, the more people like it.

I half-jokingly said, if you applied these requirements to half of my family and friends, some of them would be leaving -- about the criminal background check -- (laughter) -- English, to working all the time -- (laughter). This is an 11-year journey to citizenship with many gates from which you have to pass, and I'm convinced of this; that if you go through these gates for 11 years, you've earned the right to be an American citizen. And it'll be a win-win situation.

The president has been very helpful in this whole debate. I'm pleased with the committee debate, the tone of it, and I'm pleased with what's going on in the floor. From a Republican point of view, we need to be wise in the way we deal with this politically. I'll just be that direct about it. From an American point of view, we need to be wise in the way we deal with this, because, as Senator McCain said, this is sort of a gut-check of who we are and what we believe. And I'm optimistic that we're going to pass this test coming the other side -- out of the other side stronger as a nation.

And the president has been providing good leadership. I would encourage him to continue to be involved in this debate. And as Senator Kennedy expressed, we're having a coming together of the American family, the legislative and executive branches, and we're going to pass a product I think that will comprehensively deal with this problem. And I'm proud to have been in this -- to be in the Senate at a moment in time where it really does matter.

SEN. SPECTER: After the committee members, by seniority, Senator Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Arlen. Great to be with you.

I'll be brief. The fact is that there's nobody in this country who disagrees with the argument that our immigration system as it exists now is broken.

It is in crisis. And that crisis challenges us in positions of authority to make a decision:

Are we going to demagogue? Are we going to do something to fix the problem? Are we going to speak to people's hopes and best ideals for America? Are we going to play to their fears?

And I think what you see before you today is a remarkable coming together across party lines by members of the Senate who want to fix the problem, who want to protect our borders, and who understand that immigration has been, is and will continue to be not only consistent with American values of openness and inclusiveness, but a great source of strength for our country and its economy.

When I have met with and talked to new Americans, including those who were undocumented, I come to this personal conclusion. With very, very, very few exceptions, the immigrants who are coming to America today are coming for exactly the same reason that my grandparents came: for freedom, opportunity and a better life for their families.

And it is a source of strength and a wonderful kind of market test of the continuing vitality of America that they want to come here. And I have reason to believe that once they earn their citizenship, they, their children and grandchildren will contribute greatly to our country.

So I'm proud to be here, proud to be an original cosponsor of the McCain-Kennedy, Kennedy-McCain -- or however you wish to call it -- legislation, and very grateful to Senator Specter and Senator Leahy and the members of the Judiciary Committee, who have brought forth an extraordinarily constructive piece of legislation.

Now let's work together to get it passed. Thank you.

SEN. SPECTER: Senator Martinez.

SEN. MARTINEZ: Thank you. The only two senators over whom I have seniority are my other two colleagues in the freshman class. (Laughter.) So it feels pretty good. When you're number 98, you don't often get called ahead of anybody.

(Laughter.) But, Senator, I want to just thank you, the ranking member, for the leadership you have shown on this issue, as well as Senators Kennedy and McCain -- and the president as well. I've -- I'm just here to say very brief words.

I believe that I have an unusual insight into this issue as an immigrant to America myself. And I believe that America has always expressed the hopes and aspirations of the world. I believe that the symbol of America has always, to me, been the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of hope, opportunity, of welcoming, and all that America symbolizes. And over the time that I have been privileged to live here, to live the American dream, as is often stated, America is the kind of place where you can be assimilated, where you are an -- you come here with an opportunity, and then you allow yourself to become part of this great melting pot.

People -- immigrants don't come to America to change America. Immigrants come to America to be changed by America. And I believe that if we give the opportunity to those new Americans that are now here illegally but which hope for a better life, that we will then be building a better America.

So I'm delighted with this proposal. I think it comes together in a way that there is no perfect solutions here, but in a way that addresses the issues of the border as well as the issue of those that are here undocumented, and provides for a future way out so that we can provide for the needs of our economy and our work force. So I'm delighted to have joined in this effort. I hope we will move it forward. I hope that the momentum that Senator Graham spoke about is something that we continue to move forward, because I believe that this will give us the opportunity to build yet the next chapter of America.

There is no single issue that has galvanized the Hispanic community, the Latino community of America like this issue. And I think as we go forward we'll see more and more demonstrations of that, of these people that want to be part of the American mainstream, want to be part of America.

Thank you.

SEN. SPECTER: I think Senator Obama has next in seniority by state size.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you very much.

First of all, let me just commend Senators Kennedy and McCain for stepping out early on this courageously and thoughtfully, and then the two committee chairmen, Senator Specter and Senator Leahy, for their outstanding work in managing what I know was a difficult piece of legislation.

The only point I think I would like to make is, is that to amplify on a point that Joe Lieberman made, which is that there is a lot of talk about we should not reward those who have broken the law. And I think it's certainly true that a huge number of people have come here not through the regular channels, and we want to make sure that those processes are working properly. But their motives are the same motives of every immigrant to this country, and that is to give more opportunity not only for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren.

And so it's important for us to understand that these are good people, they're hardworking people, they've taken enormous risks simply to provide a better life. If we were in the position that they were in, in which we had difficulty supporting our families, many of us in this room would have made the same decision.

The second point I'd like to make is, is that had it not been for some of our parents and grandparents or great grandparents making that decision -- and not all the paperwork at Ellis Island was perfect -- then many of us would not be here. Ken Salazar may be the only person who has claim here, having been here 400 years ago, his family --

SEN. : (Off mike) -- that old.

SEN. OBAMA: Not Ken himself, but -- (laughter).

SEN. : Well-preserved! (Laughter.)

SEN. : Yeah, exactly.

SEN. OBAMA: But the Salazar family may be the only ones who can claim to be native Americans. The rest of us showed up because at some point somebody in our families decided that we wanted to -- that they were willing to take the chance and seek out the unknown in order to provide a better life for their children and their grandchildren. The folks that we're now talking about are in the same circumstances.

Let me just close by saying that Senator Specter, I think, laid out very clearly why this is a earned citizenship program, this is not an amnesty. Amnesty implies that you are wiping the slate clean. Any 11-year process with 10 steps can hardly be called an amnesty. And that is something that is important to constantly remind ourselves.

It's also important to remind ourselves that we've got some very strong enforcement provisions in this bill. And if we fail to recognize the 12 million here, that will actually, I think, weaken our prospects of getting a handle on our borders. We've got to take a comprehensive approach. That's what this committee has done. I'm extraordinarily proud of them and look forward to working vigorously to get this bill passed.

SEN. SPECTER: Senator Salazar?

SEN. SALAZAR: There are advantages to being number 100, which in my case I didn't get to choose an office, so that's been the one advantage that I've been able to figure out so far, Senator Specter.

Let me make two quick points about this legislation. First, I think that this is a fine moment in the U.S. Senate and in my time here because these are the times which I celebrate, which is where Republicans and Democrats can come together and take on one of the most difficult and complex issues that face our time and come up with a comprehensive solution to deal with the issue.

So I applaud Senator Specter, Senator Leahy, Senator Kennedy, Senator McCain and all the rest of these senators that have been involved on this issue.

The second point I want to make is that this is a bill that is about law and order. And so when people attack this legislation as amnesty legislation, I disagree with them very much, because at the end of the day, when you look at what this legislation has done, it's about punishment, and it's also, as I would say, putting people into purgatory for a very long time -- punishment and purgatory. The punishment comes in the forms of a fine, in the forms of registration; and the purgatory -- the 11-year process that was outlined by my colleagues here, means you're going to have to wait around a long time before you are able to qualify for citizenship.

So it's a piece of legislation that I think is comprehensive. I think it is essential for national security that we get it passed. I look forward to working with my colleagues to doing that in the Senate.

SEN. SPECTER: Thank you.

Ten senators in 30 minutes, that's pretty good. (Laughter.) If you will make your questions very pointed, we will try to be very brief and try to wrap up fairly soon because this room is getting very hot.

Q Do you agree with Senator Graham's assessment that your fellow Republicans are moving more in favor of this legislation?

SEN. SPECTER: Yes, I agree with Senator Graham's assessment. You had Speaker Hastert saying yesterday that he thinks we ought to have a guest worker program. That's a significant departure from the House bill, which is enforcement only.

On the committee on Monday afternoon we were working hard to find some structure compromise so that we could meld in some of the aspects of the Kyl-Cornyn bill. We were unsuccessful, but those talks are ongoing, and I think as time passes there's a greater realization that you can't not settle for just an enforcement bill, but have to have a broader bill to deal with the 11 million.

Q Senator Specter, can you elaborate on that and say what components of Cornyn-Kyl you think might make it into a compromise? And there are members here, I understand, that actually have possibly agreed to some elements of a compromise. I wonder if anyone would care to --

SEN. SPECTER: Well, they're -- we could, but I'm not going to, for two reasons.

Number one, I think it would prejudice our discussions. And number two -- three reasons. Number two, it would take too long, and number three, it's too hot.

Q Senator, when you're talking about three large programs to provide legal status not only to -- (off mike) -- but to several million future workers in ag and the general economy, and then when you add the spouses and children, who will come in without caps, to that, we're looking at considerable demographic impacts. Have you done any demographic estimates or demographic impact statements for how this bill will affect the population of the country in 10, 15, 20 years?

SEN. SPECTER: No. We've barely been able to get a bill typed up. But we're dealing with all the problems that we have currently, and we're trying to accommodate many, many needs.

And I think the projections that you're looking for are really impossible to get. If we had a group of experts sit down and do an impact study --

SEN. MCCAIN: Arlen, could I -- do we know the impact of the increasing illegal immigration that continues into this country if we don't fix it. And it's very dramatic.

SEN. KENNEDY: Could I just mention on this as well that Mexico has done extensive studies on the movements of people going from this country -- from their country into here, and they feel that within 15 years, there's going to begin to be a movement back -- with their economic progress, back into Mexico. So they see the pressure gradually being reduced over an important period of time.

And there are aspects of our legislation that work very closely with Mexico to reduce the kinds of pressures on individuals coming here. And that, we hope, will be implemented as well. That'll lessen the pressures.

And we've also had the provisions that -- to try and get both Mexico and the countries in Central America to limit the expansion -- movement towards this, so that --

Q On the Sessions amendment --

SEN. SPECTER: Let me see how many more questions we have, so we know how long the answers can be.

Q Senator --

SEN. SPECTER: One, two, three, four five, six, seven. Okay, we'll take eight. We'll take all eight questions, and that's it.

Do you want to finish up your question?

Q Yes, sir. I'd like to ask your understanding of the Sessions amendment. He apparently wants a study for 90 days, but it isn't clear. Can you explain that, your --

SEN. SPECTER: Senator Sessions made that amendment in committee, to have a study for 90 days, and I think we can have a study for that period of time without slowing down the bill.

Seven more. Number two?

Q Does the initiative include any support or training for Mexicans and South American countries in order to prevent the illegal crossing of immigrants into --

SEN. SPECTER: Let's shift some of the responses.

Ted, do you want to take that one?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yup. Well, just -- the question is, are there provisions in the legislation that encourage United States and Mexico to work together to lessen the pressures in coming here in the United States? And the answer is, that is clearly yes.

Senator McCain and I believe very deeply, and where -- ours is the only legislation, with respect to legislation to now, that has provisions for cooperation between the United States and Mexico to develop economic incentives to keep people in Mexico. For example, today, there's about $17 billion that's repatriated. Of the $17 billion, about a billion and a half goes into economic developments, and in many of the counties where some of these individuals, including undocumenteds, had come from. That money is matched one time by the county and one time by the national government. So there's a 2 to 1 match to that, and they're seeing economic development.

There are ways in which we can provide help and assistance to the -- in terms of those regions and those areas which will lessen the pressure. That's a clear part of our legislation, and we'd hopefully renew it. We need the president and an executive to implement it, but that's part of it.

SEN. SPECTER: Number three on the way to eight.

Q If there's a pool of about 12 million people that could qualify for guest worker status, I don't understand why you also want an additional 400,000 a year in the forward flow program. Why do you want that additional number? Why is that --

SEN. SPECTER: John, would you care to answer that?

SEN. MCCAIN: First of all, they're not applying for guest worker programs. They're applying for earned citizenship. It's not -- they're not applying -- so let me argue they're not applying to be guest worker. That's another program. They're applying to have earned citizenship as the way it's already been described.

Second of all, it's -- every forecast, every prediction, every study indicates that we will need to have guest workers to do jobs in the agricultural sector, and other sectors that we presently don't have workers.

SEN. SPECTER: Number four on the way to eight.

SEN. KENNEDY: Could I just add to the argument about the 400,000? Our bill has a 400,000 cap. That represents the Pew study about the number of individuals -- this is their estimate -- we've had estimates up to a million -- that are coming in here every year.

Well, Senator McCain and I believe in, very deeply, in a process of legalization, process of legalization. And if you're going to have that kind of pressure to come in here, we think it ought to be done in an orderly, legal way, and that will provide an additional incentive so people will not use the illegal way. We are the only ones that have a comprehensive approach to deal with strengthening the border, legalization in terms of the temporary workers that will come in here and get a tamper-proof card, enforcement against the employers who are going to hire the undocumented, with protections for those workers that include prevailing wage and other protections for those workers, and also the legalization, the earned, earned opportunity to become a citizen. This is a comprehensive approach, and that is what our hearings have said it should be.

SEN. SPECTER: Number four on the way to eight.

Q The Immigration Bureau -- (off mike) -- green card says that if you're a Filipino living in the Philippines and you had -- (inaudible) -- U.S. citizen, you had the longest wait -- 22-1/2 years to get a green card. And I know that the committee bill had the issue about holding the new guest workers in abeyance until the line is complete. Does that mean that if that's how long it takes, that these guest workers would have to wait 23 years?

SEN. SPECTER: The nurses who wanted to come from the Philippines were our example. They've been waiting since 1983. The projections from the State Department are that we can clear up the backlog, with the numbers we have, in three years.

Number five on the way to eight.

Yes, sir?

Q Are you claiming that the guest worker program, coupled with these other measures, will actually put the human smugglers out of business?

SEN. MCCAIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because if the only way that a person can get a job is if they have a tamper-proof visa, which is what they got when they entered into a contract to come and work in this country, and we enforce the law so that if any other employer hires someone who came here illegally, then they will not want to come here unless they make use of the guest worker program that's part of this bill.

It will absolutely dry them up because once they get here, they will not be able to obtain work unless they've gone through that process.

SEN. SPECTER: Number six on the way to eight.

Q The remarks by Speaker Hastert and Frist yesterday on the guest worker program seemed to suggest -- (off mike) -- shifting from a debate about enforcement versus comprehensive immigration to a work- and-return program versus your proposal. I'm wondering if Majority Leader Frist has indicated whether or not he's going to allow an up- or-down vote, or what kind of schedule are you looking at? And will there be enough votes for cloture if it comes to that?

SEN. SPECTER: I don't think Senator Frist will have the choice on an up-or-down vote. There will be one.

And votes for cloture, I think, will be all right. But you never know until the roll is called.

Number seven on the way to --

SEN. : Could I just also add --

SEN. SPECTER: Sure.

SEN. : Speaker Hastert -- I heard him. He didn't make reference to work in return or anything. He said we need a guest worker program, which I think is progress in the thinking in the House on this issue.

SEN. SPECTER: Who had number seven? Yes, sir?

Q Senator McCain --

SEN. SPECTER: And then you're number eight, Fort Worth.

Q Twenty years ago, when there was the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Reform, a congressman named Leon Panetta tried to get an ag guest worker program.

SEN. MCCAIN: He's a great American.

Q And it was highly criticized by Cesar Chavez as being racist, a new Bracero program, and being an affront to farm labor. He obviously has passed, but we haven't heard that from farm labor. I'm wondering what's changed.

SEN. MCCAIN: I think it's because they found the Bracero program to be one that was full of abuses of human rights, and that's the reason why we ended up -- this program provides all the protections that are available to every worker in America and enforcement of those protections, and that's why the agricultural community, both labor and farmers, are in support of this legislation.

SEN. SPECTER: Two more hands. You and then you.

Q The 1996 law was supposed to stop illegal immigration by imposing tough sanctions on employers who hired them, and yet those provisions were never really enforced --

SEN. MCCAIN: It's because they were unenforceable. It's because they were unenforceable because someone comes with a document that they bought on the street in Tijuana or Nogales, and the employer cannot be the enforcement nor the person who tracks down to find out whether those are valid or not.

In this proposal you have to have a tamper-proof visa, which is technologically there. And so, it's vastly different from the situation as it exists today. You get -- somebody shows up and work for you, and he's got a couple of documents, then you can file that, and you are at least technically in keeping with the law. Our proposal says you got to have that tamper-proof visa.

SEN. SPECTER: Last question.

Q Mr. Chairman, is there any practical or political merit to a-leave-and-reapply policy for the 11 million? And will you consider such a provision?

SEN. MCCAIN: You've got to tell me how you do that. George Will said Sunday, you'd have to line up 200,000 buses from San Diego to Alaska. Someone's going to have to explain to us how you do that. It's not possible. And, of course, what's the cost involved? What happens to America's economy when you take 11 million workers out of it? How many industries in America shut down?

So, it may sound nice, maybe in a very cosmetic fashion. But when you examine it, someone's going to have to tell us how it works. And no one yet that's a proponent of this has explained any -- that that is in any way possible.

SEN. SPECTER: We're willing to listen if somebody has a better idea. But I think Senator McCain lays it on the line in terms of the practicality of dealing with the issue in some other way.

Thank you all very much.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thanks, Arlen.

END.