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Public Statements

Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I know there is a group of Senators who announced today that they have ideas, a plan, an outline, and a framework for a new comprehensive immigration bill. Indeed, the fact that our current immigration system is not working effectively and is failing on a daily basis cannot be denied. It certainly needs to be fixed. It is a challenge for us to do so and it will not be easy. I want to warn my colleagues that a framework is not a bill.

In 2006 and 2007, with the full support of the Republican President of the United States, a bipartisan group announced with great confidence that they had a plan that was going to fix our immigration system and we were all going to just line up and vote for it. The masters of the universe had decided, met in secret, had all the special interest groups gathered and worked out a plan that was going to change our immigration system for the better, and we should all be most grateful.

It came up in 2006, and it did not pass. It came back again in 2007 with even more emphasis, and it failed colossally. It failed because it did not do what they said it would do. It did not end the illegality, it did not set forth a proper principle of immigration for America, and it did not sufficiently alter the nature of our immigration system to advance the national interest of the United States. It did not, and that is why it didn't pass. They had all the powerful forces, including the TV and newspaper guys, the Wall Street guys, the agriculture guys, the civil rights group, La Raza, and the politicians. But the American people said no. It was a challenge, and there was a long debate, but it didn't pass. I thought the lesson learned from that was there needs to be a demonstration that the law is being enforced, end the illegality, and then we can wrestle with how to compassionately treat people who have been in America a long time. I thought that was kind of what we had decided.

Now my colleagues say: Don't worry, this is going to be a better piece of legislation that can work for us. I hope that is true. We do need to fix the immigration system. There are things we can do on a bipartisan, nonpartisan basis which would make our country's immigration policy better and more effective, and I hope that is what will result from this.

But no one should expect that Members of the Senate are just going to rubberstamp what a group of Members have decided. We are not going to just rubberstamp what the President of the United States has just decided because we need to analyze it. Each one of us, every Member of this Senate has a responsibility, a firm duty to evaluate this proposal to ensure that it enhances our ability as a nation to do the right thing.

We are a nation of immigrants, and we are going to continue to be a nation of immigrants. We admit over 1 million people into our country every single year legally. But now we are told that after 1986, when they had that immigration bill, that amnesty bill, that we have allowed 11 million more people, give or take a few million, into the country illegally. They have entered the country illegally. In 1986 Congress promised the American people that if they would give amnesty to the people who were here and who entered illegally, they would stop illegal immigration in the future and we wouldn't face this challenge again. In fact, our colleagues basically said that in their piece they put out promoting the bill: We are never going to have to worry about immigration again if Members pass our legislation. That was the promise made in 1986 when the bill did pass, but it did not fulfill its promise.

So once again I think we are in a situation where the promise will be made that people will be given immediate regularized status and they won't be given full rights of citizenship until certain laws are enforced, and don't worry about it--it is all going to work out sometime off in the distant future. But questions do need to be asked, and we will ask those questions, and it will be important for us to do the right thing.

I know there are people who like low wages. I know there are people who believe that it is hard to get Americans to do certain jobs and that we can use immigrants and they will do those jobs at less pay and ask fewer questions and demand fewer benefits. I know that is out there. We have talked about that in the past. I am hoping this legislation is not designed for the special interests but designed to advance American interests.

What are some of the principles I think need to be in this system? I like Canada's system of immigration. It seems to work very well. They ask a number of questions. They give points when one applies to come into Canada, and a person gets more points for meeting the goals they have. One of the goals they have is that the potential immigrant speak the language. In Canada, they have two--French and English. If a person speaks French or English, they get more points or maybe they don't even get in if they don't have some grasp of the language before they come in on a permanent basis. Then they give more points, more preference to people with education, skills they need in Canada.

This proposal suggests it does that. It should do that. It should be a major part of any immigration reform that focuses on trying to get people who will be most successful in America, the ones we know are going to be able to do better here.

The plan should not admit a person who is likely to be a public charge. However, that is already the current law. A person is not supposed to be admitted to America if they are likely to be a public charge; that is, they will need government aid to take care of themselves. Some people will be turned down because of this. We should take the ones who are not going to be a public charge.

We discovered in looking at the numbers recently that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of applicants that come to the United States are turned down on the basis that they might be a public charge. So, in effect, that is not being enforced. Basically, it is just not being enforced.

So how can we be sure of that? My friend Stephen Moore was on the TV today. He is at the Wall Street Journal. He said: You don't have to worry about people coming in and being a public charge. There is a law against that.

Well, Mr. Moore, there may be a law against it, but it is not being enforced. We need to know it is going to be enforced in the future.

Younger people in Canada get a priority. Pretty soon, people will be on Social Security and Medicare when they reach those ages. Shouldn't we as a rational nation look to give priority to younger people who will work a little longer and pay more into the system before they draw these benefits?

They give preferences to investors, those who create jobs and bring factories and manufacturing to their country. Those are the kinds of things I think we ought to be talking about.

This proposal makes reference to guest workers. It is a very delicate issue. Let me tell my colleagues what was in the bill in 2007 and the reason. In my mind, it was one of the greater errors in the legislation. People would come into the country for 3 years. They could bring their families. If they were still working at the place at which they came in to work, they could extend for another 3 years and then another 3 years and then another 3 years. So I would ask, somebody who had been in the country 8, 9, 10 years, could we just easily ask them to leave? Not likely. What if they have had two children and the children are automatic citizens?

This is a very impractical system. So we need to examine how a guest worker plan will actually be carried out. In my view, a guest worker should come without family for less than a year at a time to do seasonal--to do particular work and then return to their country. Otherwise, we create an entirely new system, and it will be very difficult to enforce.

We need to know pretty much what the Nation can rightly absorb in terms of the number of people who come each year, and as a result of that, we need to make sure any legislation has a limit that would make common sense in the world in which we live.

Finally, I would say that we face a particular hurdle this time. We faced this hurdle last time, but I believe it is even more serious this time. That is, if the chief law enforcement officer of the country--then President Bush, now President Obama--President Obama has particularly acted to undermine the ability of the law enforcement community to actually enforce existing laws----

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Mr. SESSIONS. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have voted unanimously ``no confidence'' in Mr. John Morton, the Director of ICE, because of his failure to lead and his, in fact, undermining of their ability to do their jobs, and they sued him for interfering with their ability to do their jobs in enforcing the laws of this country. Actually, a federal court just recently upheld the lawsuit and allowed it to proceed. What a terrible thing it is that law enforcement officers have to sue their leadership to be able to do their jobs.

So we need to be sure we have in the President someone who is committed to enforcing the law if it is passed. If that had been so, we would be in a lot better position today.

I see my colleague from Louisiana, and I believe he is to be recognized next. He has been such a good student of this issue. He is a fabulous lawyer, editor of the Tulane Law Review, and he understands this, and I am really glad he could be here today.

There is one more thing I would note. In addition to the fact that we have a President less willing to enforce the law, the labor participation rate in 2007 when the last comprehensive reform bill that included amnesty was defeated was 66 percent. Today, labor participation has dropped to 63.6 percent. Unemployment in 2007, when the last proposal failed, was 4.5 percent. It is now 7.9 percent.

So I think we need to ask serious questions about any proposal, and maybe we can move forward with some legislation that would serve the national interests. Maybe we can do it on a bipartisan basis, but it is going to take real attention to details. The details are what make the difference, and that is what I am concerned about.

I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.

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