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Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the immigration reform bill that we are going to vote on soon. I want to bring a Minnesota perspective to this debate. I want to talk about how this bill will help Minnesota businesses and agriculture while also helping and protecting Minnesota workers. I also want to talk about how this bill will help Minnesota families and communities.

Minnesota was admitted to the Union in 1858. For the first 30 years after Minnesota's founding, no fewer than one-third of Minnesotans were immigrants born abroad. Our State did not suffer from that--it thrived. Our fields were first tilled by Swedish immigrants. Their crops filled 2 million acres. Our iron mines in the north depended on Finnish labor. Norwegians were critical to our logging industry, while the Danes, who came to Minnesota after the Civil War, made our State a leader in dairy farming.

Today, immigrants are about 7 percent of Minnesota's population. Most of them come from Asia, and Latin America, and Africa, rather than Europe. But the contributions of immigrants to Minnesota's economy and to our communities are no less important.

I am going to vote for this bill because of what it will do for Minnesota's economy. This is clearest when it comes to Minnesota's agricultural industry, particularly our dairy farms. Minnesota is the Nation's sixth largest dairy producer. Five percent of our nation's cows are in our State.

But for years, I have been meeting with dairy farmers and they told me they can't get the workforce they need. They can't find enough American workers--and the Nation's agricultural guestworker program is open only to seasonal workers. Unfortunately, you can't milk cows seasonally. If you did, they would just get cranky, the cows.

For years, I have been calling for an immigration bill to fix this problem by opening our guestworker program to dairy farmers. This bill does just that.

This bill will not just help agriculture. A lot of industry in Minnesota is in the high tech and medical sectors--companies like 3M and Medtronic. Unfortunately, our visa system works against these companies because, while the University of Minnesota is minting new Ph.D.'s in STEM fields, our system sends many of our top foreign graduates right back to their home countries.

Thanks to the work of my fellow Minnesota senator, Senator Klobuchar, this bill will make it easier for Minnesota companies to recruit and
hire top minds, regardless of where they come from.

I am also proud that this bill includes two amendments that I wrote that will protect small businesses.

A major component of this bill is to create a mandatory electronic employment verification system called E-Verify. But small businesses in Minnesota were initially concerned about how E-Verify would affect them.

My first amendment creates a special office within the Department of Homeland Security whose sole job will be to give workers and small businesses quick, in-person assistance if E-Verify does not work the way it should. My other amendment will keep pressure on DHS to lower E-Verify error rates that, in the past, have caused major headaches for small businesses and employees alike.

While this bill will help our businesses, it also has solid protections for American workers.

In negotiations, the AFL-CIO demanded that before an American employer can hire a foreign guestworker, that employer has to aggressively advertise for and recruit American workers. If a business breaks these rules, it can get kicked out of the guestworker program. If the protections in this bill prove insufficient, I will fight to improve them. But for now, I think protections negotiated by the AFL-CIO are adequate for moving forward.

So this bill will protect workers today. But it will also help them for decades down the line by bolstering our Nation's safety net. Our changing demographics have put a strain on our Social Security system. More young workers paying into the Social Security system will help ease that, and that is precisely what this bill will provide: Census figures show that 48 percent of immigrants in the U.S. are between the ages of 20 to 44; for native-born workers, that figure is about 31 percent.

Finally, this bill will help our economy by helping our Nation's bottom line. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, immigration reform will decrease our deficit by $175 billion over the next decade, and an additional $700 billion over the following decade. That's $875 billion dollars--close to a trillion dollars in deficit reduction.

This bill will be a boon to Minnesota's economy, and to our Nation's economy too. But this bill is not just about economics. It is also about our values. It is about living up to the promise engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost [sic] to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Minnesota played a special part in that promise. For decades, Minnesota has welcomed more refugees and asylees than almost any other State.

We have welcomed the Hmong and Somalis and so many others because it is the right thing to do. In the same way, a big part of this bill is about doing the right thing and helping the least of our brothers and sisters.

Last October I traveled to Northfield, MN, where I visited a program for Latino high school students called the ``TORCH'' program--that stands for Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes. This is an amazing program that has more than doubled the high school graduation rate for Latino students.

During my visit I met many undocumented students who were brought here by their parents as young children--and who were thus undocumented through no fault of their own.

For years, these kids watched their classmates apply to college and plan for their careers, but they knew that was not for them--because they could not work legally or serve in our military.

Then, last June, the President took executive action to protect these kids from deportations and let them work legally. Their teachers told me what an enormous difference it made for these kids. For the first time, they could see they had a future--they could go to college or join the military. And that was just because an executive order that did not have the force of a statute.

With this bill, thanks to the inclusion of the DREAM Act, authored by Senator Durbin, their hope for the future will be a certainty. Good for those kids. And you know what, good for us, because those kids are going to work wonders.

I am especially proud of a bill I wrote that also helps children and that is included in the larger bill we are debating, and that is the HELP Separated Children Act.

My bill was inspired by what happened in Worthington, MN in December 2006, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out enforcement actions in 6 States and arrested hundreds of unauthorized immigrants. Tragically, those raids also left many children--most of them citizens--without their parents and with no way to find them. One 2nd grader in Worthington came home from school to find his 2-year-old brother alone and his parents gone. For the next week, he cared for his brother while his grandmother drove from Texas to meet them.

Over the past 2 years, more than 200,000 parents of citizen children were deported. These children are often abandoned at home or at school and can go for months without speaking with or visiting their parents. My HELP Separated Children Act will lay down basic humanitarian protections for children in immigration enforcement. It will make sure that parents and children can stay in contact, and will make sure that parents can participate in court proceedings relating to their children.

My bill was co-sponsored by Senators Grassley, Coons, Cornyn, Hirono, Cruz, Feinstein, Leahy and Blumenthal. Of the 200 or so amendments that we debated in the Judiciary Committee, this was the only one that was passed on a unanimous 18 to 0 vote.

I am also proud that the bill includes amendments I proposed to help victims of domestic violence, as well as young children who are themselves involved in immigration proceedings.

We have a rare opportunity before us. We have a chance to vote on a bipartisan bill written by a bipartisan group and supported by both the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. The bill will help our economy, secure our border, and give millions of undocumented people a tough but fair path to get right with the law. And on top of all of this, this bill will save the American people hundreds of billions of dollars. I am proud to support this bill, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.

Before I close, I want to take a moment to congratulate the members of the Gang of Eight--Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet and Flake. This bill is an example of the Senate at its best. It speaks not just to the ability of the Senators in the Gang--but also to their courage.

I would also like to recognize Chairman Leahy for managing this markup and this debate so expertly.

I yield the floor.

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