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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COONS. Madam President, yesterday we received some very positive news about the future potential impact of this bill that is being debated on the floor today from the Congressional Budget Office regarding the expected economic impact of this bill. I think it is worth repeating. It has been discussed and debated, but I think it is worth repeating for the benefit of those who are watching and for the benefit of those who are crafting a path forward.

The CBO report details how successful reforms to our immigration system called for in this bill will, in fact, boost our economy not only in the next 10 years but in the 10 years to follow. Specifically, the report details how immigration reform will cut the deficit by nearly $200 billion--I think it is $197 billion over the next decade--and then $700 billion in the following decade. CBO projects over 20 years, nearly $1 trillion in savings.

While economic growth and deficit reduction are both great things and important for our country, what is particularly interesting and valuable about this bill is that the growth and jobs, according to CBO, will be experienced by Americans all across the country and all along the labor spectrum. The CBO report is consistent with a statement last month from the Social Security Administration that this bill would create over 3 million jobs in the next 10 years. Simply put, this is a jobs bill.

The immigration bill before us creates jobs in a number of different ways that I think are worth taking a minute to look at. First, the bill creates jobs by making needed investments, as we have heard at great length today, in border security. The brave men and women who defend our country's borders will get the support they need to reduce illegal immigration and save lives. Many of these men and women, in fact, will have served honorably and previously in our Armed Forces abroad, and this bill provides a specific opportunity at which our heroes will excel.

The bill also creates jobs by creating and enhancing immigration programs that encourage investment in American companies and in American workers.

The permanent authorization of such demonstrated programs such as EB-5 and the new INVEST visa, which build upon years of demonstrated success and create years of jobs through targeted investment capital, is another benefit of this bill.

In the last Congress I worked with a bipartisan group, including Senators WARNER, RUBIO, and MORAN, in crafting something called the Startup visa, and I am thrilled this includes the INVEST visa, quite similar to the Startup vise idea, that encourages foreign nationals with capital who are entrepreneurs to come to the United States and invest in job growth in our country.

New companies create new jobs, and the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs are well known in every corner of this country, including in my own home State of Delaware. By encouraging rather than limiting immigrant entrepreneurs, this bill will ensure the American dream remains alive and well for future generations.

This bill also, in my view, will create jobs in the short term and in the long term by encouraging companies to invest in growth in the United States rather than abroad. It balances the need to attract and retain high-skilled foreign-born individuals, many of whom are currently trained at American universities at public expense, while also ensuring that companies recruit Americans for open positions in high-skilled jobs--typically those who focus in the engineering and science, math and technology areas.

The reforms in this bill to our employment-based visa system are long overdue. It does a wide range of things, including clears backlogs, eliminates the per-country caps, and permits so-called dual-intent for students. I think all of these are positive for improving the quality and the availability of the American workforce. I think we should get this done.

At the same time, this bill makes an important contribution to the health and welfare of American workers by cracking down on unauthorized illegal employment and bringing workers out of the shadows and into our open economy. I am particularly happy this bill includes clear guidance that immigrants authorized to work in this country are able to provide services in all parts of the economy by accessing appropriate licensure standards. This provision will ensure that once legally authorized to work, immigrants who abide by the same laws and safety measures as Americans will be able to bring their full skills and talents into our economy.

For the long-term health of our economy, this bill also contains an important investment in training our children. I had the pleasure of working with Senators HATCH, RUBIO, and KLOBUCHAR on a STEM fund concept in our immigration innovation bill, and I am glad to see the inclusion of that STEM education fund that will improve the science, technology, engineering, and math education of U.S. national children in schools across this country.

At a time when we have to make difficult decisions about how best to cut the deficit and grow the economy, this bill is perhaps the best chance we have at making significant, bipartisan progress while also making our country more fair, more just, and more secure.

If I might for another few minutes, I wish to also speak about what it means to make our immigration system more just.

America has earned its place in the world in part because of the immigrants who have come before us bringing their culture, their passion, their ideas, and their skills to our shores. When I ask Americans what they expect of our immigration system as we try to fix this badly broken system, they say they want one that keeps us safe from foreign threats, from terrorism, and dangerous individuals. They want a

system that protects the American workforce and that grows our economy. They want a system that is fair and transparent and that reflects our most basic values.

It is clear to me, as it is, I suspect, to the Presiding Officer and many of our colleagues that our current immigration system just isn't consistent with our most sacred values. We are failing to resolve legal disputes through a judicial process worthy of our world-renowned justice system, and we are failing to safeguard taxpayer dollars which we are needlessly wasting with a slow and inefficient and poorly managed immigration legal system.

Our immigration system jeopardizes our values and mistreats those who would adopt them as their own. So I think we must act.

Fortunately, this bill before us today better aligns our immigration system with our most basic values. It is not perfect, but it is a vital and needed step forward. It makes critical progress, for example, in the treatment of children who are forced into our immigration courts. Under our current system, children as young as 8 years old--often with limited English language skills--are forced to stand in front of immigration judges and argue whether they have some basis to remain in our country. These children aren't represented by counsel. The proceeding is adversarial. The judge is an employee of the same agency as the prosecutor. This, in my view, doesn't look anything like America, and in some essential ways it must change.

By expanding access to representation for children, this bill will not only seek better justice for immigrant children, but also help administer cases in a more efficient manner. In our immigration courts where immigrants are regularly brought before judges without information central to their own cases, this bill will ensure immigrants have access to their own case files before they appear in court. In our own civil and criminal court systems, this sort of basic information exchange is the bare minimum.

This is an improvement that reflects our values, by letting people understand the consequences before them when they step into a courtroom. It is also a commonsense way to save money by expediting immigration proceedings where dockets are currently backlogged not just weeks and months but years. While immigration courts deal with mounting backlogs, many immigrants remain in detention at enormous cost to taxpayers.

Finally, this bill also proposes a rational detention policy that keeps immigrants who pose a real threat to society in detention while recognizing the value, the capability of modern technology to provide alternatives to detention when the only concern is appearing for a hearing. Our values tell us that individuals who pose no threat to society don't belong in protracted detention, and technology has allowed us to exercise better alternatives.

By addressing the backlog of cases through improvements to the court system and by making steps toward a more rational detention policy, I believe this bill in its current form will save money while reflecting our shared values.

I wish to draw the attention of my colleagues to one amendment that raises concerns for me on this exact point. It is amendment No. 1203, and Senator Inhofe is the lead sponsor. It would, in my view, require essentially mandatory indefinite detention of those who are currently detained in the American immigration system for whom we can find no country that would accept them, but with no pathway, no alternative to discretion for an immigration judge to choose to use technology to allow them out of detention while ensuring that they pose no threat to security for our communities. I think this takes away necessary opportunities for immigration judges to exercise discretion as to who belongs in detention for very long periods of time at great public expense. It is my hope my colleagues will act to defeat this amendment.

In closing, in my view, it is critical for the future of our country that we address all of these issues now. I look forward to the passage of this legislation. When our laws are so inconsistent with our basic values, we should act without delay. When we have right in front of us an opportunity to reduce the deficit and to grow jobs, to make this country safer, stronger, fairer, and more prosperous, we should act in a bipartisan and progressive way.

With that, I thank the Chair, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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