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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

IMMIGRATION -- (Senate - March 07, 2008)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, our Republican friends are at it again--offering simplistic and unworkable proposals in response to complex immigration issues. Our immigration policies should not only be about security and our economy, but they should reflect our humanity, decency, and morality. We are a Nation of immigrants. Immigrants are devoted to hard work, their families, their faith, and to America.

Mr. President, 70,000 immigrants served honorably in our Armed Forces, and many have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are the values that have built America and we should welcome them.

But you would never know it from the misplaced immigration priorities of my Republican colleagues. Rather than tackle the Nation's priorities, they continue to cater to the basest instincts of the far right fringe. For 7 years, Republicans have failed to fix the broken immigration system, offering only divisive measures and empty rhetoric that subvert our values as a Nation of immigrants, undermine our national security, and leave American jobs unprotected.

It is time to get real. Approximately 12 million people are living in our country outside the system. That is more than the population of New York City. Illegal immigrants are here because there are jobs, and there are jobs because employers know they can get away with breaking the law and abusing illegal workers. The past 7 years should have taught the Republicans that deportation alone doesn't work.

Don't the Republicans get it? Deportation-only policies have failed spectacularly. Existing control efforts are unacceptably costly. We now spend over $10 billion on border and interior enforcement, and the system is more dysfunctional and lawless than ever.

These expenditures barely scratch the surface of the true costs enacted by our current policies. Heavy-handed enforcement hurts U.S. citizens living in the border region. These communities bear the brunt of environmental degradation, noise and light pollution and surging border-area violence. In spite of these escalating costs, illegal immigration continues unchecked.

Even when Republicans are given the tools, they don't use them. Last year, the Bush administration prosecuted only four employers for hiring illegal immigrants. It is time to stop coddling employers who break our laws and undercut American workers. It is time to force bad actor employers to respect our immigration and labor laws, to provide fair wages, to offer decent working conditions, to value the rights and contributions of the workers they employ, including American workers. And it is time to punish those employers who don't.

Let it be known the Republican agenda isn't based on real solutions. Instead, they have been cynically using the immigration problem to stir up local resentment and fear. They have vilified and attacked immigrants, especially Latinos. First, they proposed to criminalize priests and those who help immigrants. Remember the bill that passed the House of Representatives under the Republican leadership that said you have situations where we have several million children who are American citizens; they have mothers who may be undocumented. Under their law, the mothers had to be deported. If a mother went and talked to a priest and asked: Where is my responsibility, to comply with the law or look after my child, if that priest were to suggest that her first responsibility was to look after that child, under the Republican law, that priest could have been indicted as an accessory after the fact. That was Cardinal Mahoney, the great cardinal from Los Angeles, who spoke out on this issue with such credibility and outrage. Then they opposed comprehensive immigration reform that we had on the floor of the Senate. Two-thirds of the Democrats said yes; two-thirds of the Republicans said no. Now we have their proposal as introduced this week.

What do the Republicans have against immigrants?

When immigrants are abused, all Americans suffer. Employers can get away with depressing our wages, neglecting working conditions for all workers, immigrants, and citizens.

This isn't leadership and, sadly, it is not new. It is a continuation of a decades-old Republican strategy to scapegoat and marginalize vulnerable minority communities, to fan the flames of fear and divert attention away from their own inaction and failures.

The Republican leadership may not get it, but the American public does. Americans understand that reforming our immigration system is a complex challenge and requires a tough, fair and, above all, realistic solution. They know it is time for change and time to find a way forward.

We need to require the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country to register with the Government and get legal. This includes payment of appropriate fees and fines, submitting to extensive security and background checks, learning English, and paying any U.S. taxes they owe. We need to deport those who have committed serious crimes or represent a threat to our national security; to implement border control that is well resourced, utilizes modern technology and is effective and humane at the same time; target and punish employers who flaunt the law by hiring those who are not authorized to work; assist States and local communities that are affected by high rates of immigration by helping to defray health, education, and criminal costs; and ensure that American workers are helped, not harmed, by U.S. immigration policy.

Instead of embracing these goals, the Republicans want to deny local communities funding for community policing because such communities recognize that earning the trust of immigrant communities helps to combat crime. They would condemn victims of domestic and sexual violence to a life of abuse, unable to come forward to report such crimes.

They want to force all American workers to prove their eligibility to work based on a database that is so flawed it will result in the denial of employment to millions of authorized workers, including American workers and American citizens. This in a time when workers are struggling to put food on the table, pay their bills, and hold onto their homes.

They want to subsidize sweetheart Government contracts with taxpayers' money to build exorbitantly expensive fences that have shown little promise in stopping illegal immigration, and they want to take property away from American landowners to build these fences. These ideas don't just hurt immigrants, they hurt Americans.

Senate Democrats have led an effort to fix our broken immigration system not once but twice. That legislation was pragmatic, recognizing it is impractical to deport 12 million illegal immigrants. That legislation recognized the Government must seize control of our immigration system and implement border enforcement that is both effective and humane, while aggressively going after and penalizing employers that knowingly break the law and profit off illegal immigrants. It also included a roadmap for future orderly immigration that would uphold American values, support the American economy, and ensure that immigration, first and foremost, serves the interests of Americans.

The majority of Republicans turned their backs on workable solutions. They chose instead to grandstand the issue and push a delusional ``round 'em up and kick 'em out'' agenda. And here they are again in this new political season playing the same old tired tune. This country deserves better.

I challenge my Republican colleagues to demonstrate the courage and fortitude it will take to pass legislation that is tough, effective, workable, and gives the American public what it deserves: an immigration system that serves the economic, social, and security needs of 21st century America. Anything less is a disgraceful insult to the American people.

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