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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that any quorum call time be equally divided on both sides.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I note the absence of a quorum.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I wish to make some observations. I know several of my other colleagues will continue to pursue their views on the floor. I did not intend, when I was asked to sit in for Senator Leahy for a while, to say anything. But some things just cannot go unresponded to.

I heard a lot about the 2007 bill, how that process took place. But what has failed to be mentioned is that the 2007 bill did not go to the Judiciary Committee.

It went straight to the floor. Now, this bill, in addition to the time that it was out there when the Gang of 8 proposed it, went through weeks--weeks--of the Judiciary Committee going through its process: 140 amendments were heard and adopted, many of them Republican and most of them bipartisan. So there were 140 changes made to this legislation through the regular order process.

So there is a fundamental difference between 2007 and this legislation. There is another fundamental difference; that is, for the 2 weeks this bill has been on the Senate floor, Republicans, on a series of offers, opposed allowing amendments to go forward, including amendments of their own Republican colleagues. Why? Because they believed amendments being offered by some of their Republican colleagues would make the bill more acceptable to Members on their side of the aisle. So instead of allowing their own colleagues to have the amendments and have their say, they opposed unanimous consent agreements to move forward because they did not want their colleagues to have an opportunity to have that amendment, and maybe if that amendment was adopted then find a way to vote for this bill.

That is pretty outrageous. Then to come to the floor and suggest that there has been an impediment over at least the last 2 weeks to being able to
consider a variety of amendments, when they themselves opposed amendments, including from their colleagues on their side of the aisle----

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Yes, I will.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. I am aware of that. I heard the distinguished chairman make that offer at various times and I heard that offer rejected various times.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. The Senator is right. When there is a series of amendments that would improve the bill and are agreed to by both sides and are, in fact, noncontroversial, it has been the regular order to get those amendments disposed of and on the way.

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Mr. MENENDEZ. The reality is this is a different process. Now, I know there are allusions that this amendment is 1,100 pages long. We all know this amendment only took the underlying bill and added the amendment to the underlying bill. So to suggest that there is a new 1,100 pages is disingenuous. It is not the case.

Everybody has known what the amendment is about. The underlying bill has been on the floor for 2 weeks. Before that, it came out of the Judiciary Committee. I think everybody knew what it was. So I think it is not fair to have the American people believe that somehow this legislation just came onto the desks of Senators and they are voting in the blind.

I find it interesting--you know, I have listened over the years, the 7 years I have been here, and before that in the other body, in the House of Representatives--I hear those who want a fence. A fence is a significant part of the solution to the question of border security. Yet here we go. There is nearly 700 miles of fencing in this legislation by virtue of this amendment that will be considered. Oh, no, no, no, no. We do not want a fence.

Then we have heard that having greater Border Patrol agents at the border would dramatically help us achieve border security. Well, this amendment doubles--doubles--the amount of Border Patrol agents at the border. It brings it from about 21,000 to 40,000, 41,000 Border Patrol agents through the course of this legislation. Now we hear: That is just wasting money.

Well, what is your plan? I have heard all of these things that this amendment includes that were part of your plan in the past. But because it is not your amendment, even though it is offered by Members on your side of the aisle, including from border States, suddenly it is not acceptable. Suddenly it is not acceptable.

There is the suggestion that there is somehow a backroom deal. I see this amendment as the personification of what the American people are trying to see this body do, which is Republicans and Democrats from different parts of the country, from different ideological views, coming together in order to compromise, in this case to seek a very strong compromise on border security as part of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which in poll after poll across the party spectrum has been sought by the people in this country.

That is the essence of what this amendment is all about. So if you bemoan the lack of bipartisanship, then you should not be bemoaning this amendment because this amendment is, in fact, the essence of that bipartisanship and moves us in a direction on border security that I do not believe has existed in any legislative proposal that has come before the Senate. It is an incredible movement toward border security, and it becomes one of several triggers.

What do we mean by a trigger? A condition precedent. We believe these condition precedents can be met because at the end of the day we want to achieve greater security for our country both at the border and in entrance-exit visa issues and interior enforcement issues and in workplace verification, with the E-Verify system. All of these elements are in the legislation. All of them. And many of them are enhanced so that we can get to where we want.

Now the problem is that there are colleagues here who, if 10 angels came swearing from above in the heavens that this is the best legislation to secure the Nation, to promote its economic opportunity, to make sure we have and preserve family reunification as a core value, that we have the future flow of workers so that we can deal with the abilities of different sectors of our economy to have the

human capital like the high-tech industry, to be able to produce that human capital so that America can continue to be at the apex of the curve of intellect and globally competitive, they would say: No, these angels lied. We will never satisfy those individuals.

I respect their right to have that view. But to suggest that it is the process, when really what they want to see is no comprehensive immigration reform, I think they should say what they really believe. So that is what is before us.

Finally, on a series of issues that have been raised, for example, on waivers, the reality is the limited waivers do not give anyone a free pass or take away the government's ability to say no to any given individuals. They do not grant unlimited discretion to decisionmakers. Decisionmakers would not be able to exercise discretion in cases involving immigrants who have multiple criminal convictions, who have committed particularly serious offenses or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety. Those restrictions, by way of example, apply to terrorists, gang participants, drug traffickers, human traffickers, money launderers, international child abductors, unlawful voters, just to name a few. So I think there is a mischaracterization in order to create the fear.

Finally, they will question that no matter what, no matter what is done in this bill, no matter how many enforcement provisions exist--interior enforcement, an entrance-exit visa requirement, and systems to check that whoever comes in this country, make sure they exit and that there is a follow-up in the E-Verify system, which means everyone in the country, when they go for a job, now they are going to have to go to a system to make sure they, in fact, have the right to work in this country; all of the Border Patrol agents, all of the fencing--despite all of that, there are those--and that the individual who is undocumented in the country will have to wait a decade--a decade--before they will even have the opportunity to adjust their status to permanent residency, assuming, as the legislation calls for, all of these elements I have just talked about are in place--are in place--who suggest that that is amnesty.

Amnesty means you do something wrong and you get forgiven. But you do not have to do anything to be forgiven, you just get forgiven. This is not amnesty. These individuals have to come forth, they have to register with the government, which is incredibly important because I cannot secure America unless I know who is here to pursue the American dream versus who may be here to do it harm. We have millions of people in the shadows, undocumented. We do not know what their purpose is.

Then, after they come forward and register with the government, they have to go through a criminal background check. If they fail it, they get deported. If they pass it, then they get a temporary opportunity to stay here with a permit to work and visit their families.

They have to earn their way, pay their taxes, learn English over the course of a decade, and then, finally, after a course of a decade, finally be eligible when all of those conditions have been met. That is not amnesty; that is earned. That is earned opportunity toward legalizing their status in this country.

So this is what poll after poll of Americans say they want to fix this broken immigration system. For some of my friends, there will never be a fix sufficient for their view. For some of my friends, it is very clear they do not support any pathway to citizenship under any set of circumstances. That is a view they have the right to hold, but it is a view not supported by the American people. It is a view that does not honor our Nation, which has a history of immigrants. It is a view that has created enormous problems in Europe because immigrants in those respective countries never find a way to earn their way to become a citizen of that country, and you have seen the unrest in those countries. We do not want that in America.

I intend to vote for cloture for the bipartisan amendment. It does a lot that I think in many respects goes way beyond what I contemplated. That is the essence of compromise. It is the essence of moving forward. It is the essence of solving a problem that has vexed us way too long. It is an opportunity to fix our broken immigration system.

I urge my colleagues to cast their votes and be not only on the right side of what is necessary for the country, but be on the right side of history.

I yield the floor.

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