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Public Statements

Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. NELSON. Madam President, I want to speak on one of the topics of the day. A group of bipartisan Senators has had a press conference today announcing their support for a comprehensive immigration reform piece of legislation. This is a significant step. Perhaps the biggest step was--on the way to immigration reform--the result of the November 6 election. As a matter of fact, it has been chronicled in all of the newspapers that the Hispanic community in every State voted overwhelmingly for the candidate that was perceived to be fair on the immigration issue.

I think that has propelled political motivation to address this issue and to address it fairly. I want to commend that bipartisan group of Senators for doing this. There are a number of key elements that as we get into the specifics of the legislation are going to be important. Notice they want to lay everything on the predicate that there is going to be the essence of a real border security effort done.

It is hard to patrol a border of thousands and thousands of miles like we have, particularly where there is no geographical barrier and people can merely walk across the border. But it has to be done in the context of overall immigration reform. Another interesting part that has been very thorny in the business community is the fact of verification by employers.

When this Senator was a young congressman and voting on immigration back in the 1980s, as a matter of fact there was supposed to be verification by employers of those they were hiring that they were here in a documented status. Well, that never happened. As a result, you see all of these head fakes in implementing the law about whether somebody was here in a documented status. Then when they were found not to be, everybody was pointing like this: Well, it is the other guy's fault.

There has to be a verification system put in place. Some have suggested electronic verification. That needs to be explored. They are going to have to be a lot of new things being explored in order to make sure, if we are going to have comprehensive immigration reform, those who are being employed here, in fact, are in a documented status. But the big question in the past politically has been, What about the 11 million who are estimated to be in this country working and in an undocumented status?

I think the principles laid out by the group earlier today are very good: They must play by the rules; they must not have a criminal record; they must pay back taxes; They must pay a fine; and then go to the end of the line. Even though they would be allowed a legal status to stay here and to continue working--and that is another one of the elements--they must have a job and demonstrate they have had a job in the past. It would not be fair for all of them to suddenly get at the head of the line when others have been waiting patiently in the legal process to get a green card. Thus, we would not have this economic upheaval as some here have approached this issue in the past year.

We have not heard a lot about this since the election, but previous to that we heard a lot about, for example, sending them all home, self-deportation, deporting all of the illegals. Well, first of all, there would be an economic collapse of part of the economy of this country if we suddenly eliminated all of those workers upon whom the economy certainly is dependent. It, also, in many cases would not be fair.

There is another part of this that needs to be added. This is the fairness question for the children who came here through no fault of their own. They have grown up thinking they are only an American, and then the current law is they have to be deported. Well, this Senator has intervened in a number of cases for children who wanted to go into the military after high school, wanted to go on to college. They were at the point of being deported.

As a matter of fact, we had a Bahamian child who came when he was 6 months old. He only knew he was American. He served two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army, came back, went into the Navy Reserve, had a top secret clearance and was a photographer for the Navy at Guantanamo prison. When he came back, the authorities put him in jail--a veteran, someone who was still Active-Duty U.S. Navy Reserve.

A U.S. Federal judge of Cuban-American descent made a very harsh statement in Miami toward the prosecutors for them putting a child, now an adult, now a veteran, having served both the Army and the Navy, with a top secret clearance, putting that Bahamian, now adult, in jail.

This is how ridiculous the system has gotten. This Senator had to intervene in this case, and once we raised enough Cain, finally people came to their senses and said: What is the commonsense thing to do?

The commonsense thing now for us to do is all to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law and, hopefully, that is going to occur.

The question is, though, what is going to happen at the other end of the hall, down there in the House of Representatives? Because there are a lot of people in the other party down there who haven't changed their attitude since the election. They still are expressing that they don't want anything but deportation. I think we are just going to have to use common sense and moderation and try to explain why this is the fair thing to do.

As a young Congressman, I favored this comprehensive approach decades ago. I voted for it as a Senator. I will gladly, once they knit together the legislation, be one of the cosponsors of this legislation.

I wish to thank the bipartisan group of Senators who got together, which includes my colleague from Florida, Mr. Rubio, for their willingness to take the initiative and to start plowing new ground of legislation that ought to be able to be passed this year.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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