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CBC Hour: Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. JACKSON LEE. I'd like to thank the distinguished gentleman from New York and the distinguished gentleman from Nevada. I particularly want to thank them for hosting this vital discussion, this Special Order, and pay tribute to them for doing a service to the Nation.

When we speak on the floor of the House and we come from disparate States, from New York, Nevada, Texas, and Ohio--in fact, I think we have just about covered America--it has an amazing impact on our colleagues, and certainly constituents. So I owe and we all owe you a debt of gratitude for the forward thinking, and particularly since today has a double meaning. This is the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks. She is often called the Mother of Civil Rights. And then our President, over the last couple of weeks, and as the gentleman from Nevada knows, spent time with him, to speak eloquently about the need for this pathway of access to legalization going forward.

So I am grateful again for your willingness to host this and to begin to surge forward, collaborate with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and giving them information in their respective districts, and collaborating with the Asian Pacific Caucus, the Caribbean Caucus, and as well the Hispanic Caucus. I think there are three of us, but we now have a new Caribbean, on which a number of us serve, and as well the African diaspora, which includes our brothers and sisters that have been mentioned already on the floor. We can go vastly beyond them. It's my effort today, and I thank both the gentlemen from New York and from Nevada for some potent posters that I hope that I will share with all of you.

Let me share both words from President Obama and some abbreviated words from Dr. Martin Luther King. But the words from President Obama stated, as it relates to the question of immigration reform, that our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

I think the important part of this discussion tonight is to make sure that the landscape of immigration reform is a landscape of many faces, many heritages, many backgrounds, many regions in the United States, many continents, and that it is important for all of us to have a commitment to better opportunity for all. But as we do that, I think education is crucial. For as this discussion goes forward, I want my friends to know that there will be moments of great contention, there will be moments of disagreement, and there will be moments of misrepresentation.

It is important for the broad diaspora to understand that we are in this leaking boat together, and that when we utilize the term of ``civil rights'' or we use Rosa Parks or we speak to the words that Dr. King said on April 3, 1968, that said that he could see a Promised Land and that he might not get there with us, but he knew that we as a people would get there some day, I cannot imagine in the 50th year of his ``I Have a Dream'' speech that he could not foresee that America's diversity would be its strength, and that African Americans who came first to this country as slaves could then join with others who came in fishing boats, in airplanes, that walked across the border for greater opportunity and make America the dream, the great Nation, the Promised Land of which he predicted.

That is what immigration reform is. It is not to take from someone else and to give to someone else. It is not to diminish the civil rights struggle of the African American population. It is not to ignore the history of others, but it is to say that we have a common ground. That is the way that we're going to pass immigration reform.

If you are a Southerner and a Republican from the South, you have as much invested in an America that gives opportunity to all as you may be from the wonderful districts that are represented on this floor. And until we understand that in the House, and until the Speaker understands and accepts it, that this is not taking away, this is not undermining anyone's view of America, it is to say that the view of America is a promised land that so many come for. It is a recognition that Americans have come through the 1800s when the Irish came because of the famine, the Italians came in the early 1900s. Other groups have come since then, large numbers of Hispanics, Asian Americans, South Asian Americans, those who have come from the Asian Pacific area, those who have come from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, those who have come from the Caribbean, those who come from Africa. They have all come, and we have to recognize that.

One of the issues that seems to be coming up over and over again as we look at this issue, and I will speak specifically to the Senate's proposal, the general path to citizenship, it talks about the 11 million undocumented individuals, that the path of citizenship will only take place if the border is secured and visa overstays are effectively combated.

Let me be clear that great progress has been made over the Clinton administration, moving into the Bush administration, George Bush, and then on to the Obama administration, particularly in the Obama administration because you can begin to see any suggestion that we have not worked to secure the border is based upon lack of information and lack of facts. So I want to thank my colleague for a poster that, in fact, says that the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

When I first began writing legislation in 2004, 2003, 2005, we were shortchanged on border security agents. Working with the Senate and working with Presidents, we funded the increase of border security or Border Patrol agents, and we can see now that the majority of agents are assigned to the U.S.-Mexican border, more than 16,000, and more--and it's growing--that are basically at the border now. I think we can do more, if you will, for the northern border; and I look forward to working with my chairperson of the subcommittee on that issue.

But we cannot let the discussion get bogged down in talking about we can't provide some access to citizenship. In my legislation, I called it ``earned access to citizenship,'' which means there were fines to be paid, charitable issues to be paid, you must be vetted; but here on the Senate proposal, it talks about securing the border.

I want to be able to be responsive to their concerns, but they should also look at the facts, and they can see that between ICE and CBP, ICE is the internal enforcement, CBP, you can see the increase in the amounts of money that have gone up in the billions of dollars, now close to $18 billion between ICE and CBP, CBP being a little bit under $12 billion, that we have truly under the Obama administration been serious about border security. In fact, there is a poster board here that suggests that the deportations have gone up. That's not the right way to proceed.

So my point today is that there must be common ground. In the Senate, they talk about young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children will have a more direct path to citizenship. That must be clear because those are the DREAM Act kids. And, in fact, those individuals are the talent that we are throwing away, young people who are in college who are contributing to society who can help bring their families, reunite their families, have been forced to deportation.

I want to congratulate the President for his executive order that provided a deferred adjudication for DREAM Act youngsters as a basis of saying that the ICE should enforce deportation on those who are a threat to our community and prioritize those distinctive from those who are here who are not doing us any harm who are being educated. So the Senate proposal talks about young people. It talks about the backlogs of legal immigration and family reunification and the employment visa process.

It also allows more immigrants performing lower-skilled occupations to enter the country when we were created. I want to change that word. I don't like the idea of lower skilled. People come to work, if they are skilled, they have something to contribute, that is the basis upon which we should look at it. But I think for the Congressional Black Caucus it is always important to say because our communities suffer unemployment in many parts of the country more so than others, that it is important in any immigration reform that we ensure that the employer has looked very hard for a person who is eligible for that job here in the United States.

That's how we educate our population. That's how we bring together the right kind of collaboration. High-skilled immigrants should be all of us. High-skilled individuals should be those in historically black colleges, Hispanic-serving colleges. We should encourage them to be part of science, technology, engineering and math. However, when there is an immigrant that is graduating from our top universities, or any of our universities, we should not ask them to leave. It is very important to do. And we should ensure that they have opportunities.

The President's general path to citizenship provides a pathway to citizenship. These immigrants can register for provisional legal status. And his point is, which I believe we should join in, that we should not let border security get in the way of making sure that we move forward on a legal status process. Young people who, again, were brought here as children should have an expedited path to citizenship by attending college or by serving 2 years in the military. Slight differences that we can find a common ground, legal immigrants, he speaks to the plan would increase the percentage of family-sponsored immigrants coming into the country over every 7 years, from 7 to 15 percent.

This goes to a complaint that you will hear from those in Nevada, those in New York, those in your very diverse districts, they complain about--not complain--let me say it differently. They want to be reunited with their family members. And one of the starkest things that happens to any of us who visit with immigrants in our congressional office, what about the immigrant who wants to go home for a dying relative, or the relative wants to come because there is a dying relative here in the United States.

I had that happen in my district. I had a South Korean student who was shot on the streets of Houston, and tragically he became paralyzed. When his father came here to be able to comfort him, his father had been here, he went back out, he was held and detained. We finally got that resolved. But we must find a way to have this punishment, this pain, that so many of our immigrants are experiencing, we must find a way to be able to work on this in a productive and smart manner. This speaks to the fact that we have not been slouches, we have not been slouches as it relates to border security.

I want to speak to the issue of the diversity visa program, which was a target of our friends who maybe did not understand what that means. But the diversity visa program was to allow people who did not get in the normal visa system. It has proven to be a way of helping those who come from the continent of Africa, those who come from a number of other areas where it is very difficult to get a visa. Nearly 15 million people representing about 20 million with family members included were registered late last year for the 2012 diversity visa program under which only 15,000 visa winners were to be selected.

That shows the intensity of the diversity visa. And some want to get rid of it. It's a lot of African immigrants; it's a lot of people trying to come to be with their families. Diversity visa immigrants succeed and contribute to the U.S. economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, in FY 2009, diversity visa immigrants were 2.5 times more likely to report managerial and professional occupations.

The founder of it, Representative Bruce Morrison, said that the heart of the definition of America is what this program is about. All nationalities are welcome. Ambassador Johnny Young said the program engenders hope abroad for those who are too often without it, hope for a better life. And so I hope as we look at immigration reform we will not attempt to eliminate opportunities to bring families together.

Finally, with respect to security issues, there's no significant evidence of a security risk with the diversity visa. The GAO found in 2007 no documented evidence.

These points about the issue of where we can come together and where there are distinctions is to raise the specter of how serious and difficult this process may be. The Congressional Black Caucus will be pivotal in its role, one, because it is the conscience of this Congress; two, because we have the uncanny ability of seeing from a broader perspective what we have gone through in our lifetime, what our communities go through. We've seen discrimination, and we are sympathetic and sensitive to how we can help others.

So I think the challenge is as we proceed on this process that all of us be included in this discussion, that the working group includes members of the Congressional Black Caucus and that as we encourage legislation to come to the Judiciary Committee, which is the committee that I sit on, the Immigration Subcommittee that Zoe Lofgren chairs and which I'm second on that committee, and as it goes through Homeland Security where the ranking member, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. McCaul share the leadership, in Judiciary Mr. Conyers and Mr. Goodlatte, where I am the ranking member on the Border Security Subcommittee, that we, through the Congressional Black Caucus, find a way to uphold the values of our ancestors, uphold the values of the pioneers and leaders who have traveled through the journey of civil rights that we can see the plight and the pain of those who come now.

I want to say in closing that as a Member of the Congress having the privilege of serving the 18th Congressional District, even in a city like Houston, it is enormously diverse, having a large number of counselor offices, and people who have come from all walks of life, who have come through outdoors in the 18th Congressional District begging for help, pleading for their children not being deported, and I would say to my colleagues you can not, and those of you who come from this diverse background, fully understand what it's like to hear a mother's shrill scream in your office when you said to them that we are going to stop the deportation of your child. We've all understood that pain if we've encountered immigrants who do nothing more and want nothing more than to live the American Dream, who are paying taxes, building houses, and working for the betterment of us all, serving in the military and shedding blood.

For this reason I think it is crucial that we try to overcome the hurdles, the differences of opinion, the tension that will rise, and have a common place to start from and a common ending. And that is the betterment of all people who contribute and make America great.

Comprehensive immigration reform will not hurt those of us who stand on this floor, and we will not allow it to hurt those who we represent. It will be a focus roadmap for all of us to work for a great and wonderful promised land that Martin King dreamed about and spoke about a few years ago.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Will the gentleman yield for just one quick moment. I want to applaud him for that and just add two groups that we did not mention yet that will really be impacted by comprehensive immigration reform: Liberians who came here on deferred enforcement, who are now still in limbo and worked with us over the years. We've been, if you would say, advocates for them. And Haitians, who have a distinctive pathway into citizenship, who have certainly been contributing, fought with us in the Revolutionary War.

And you are absolutely right, the diversity visa has been a lifeline, not for terrorists, but a lifeline for hardworking immigrants. And I hope that when we debate this, as I said, mountains of tension or disagreement, that we can find common ground to include all these groups that will help better America and grow America strong.

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