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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act--Continued--

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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 Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Mr. FLAKE. Madam President, I rise today as the Senate is on the verge of passing immigration reform by what may well be a historic bipartisan majority. It has been my honor and privilege to have a role in moving this legislation forward.

We are moving one step closer to fixing our broken immigration system. This is a system Arizonans have dealt with for far too long. The situation along our southern border has grown increasingly untenable. The Tucson sector just recently lost the dubious distinction of being the most active Border Patrol sector.

The status quo is now a considerable volume of traffic as well as theft, vandalism, and drug smuggling. This has created a situation that is ever more dangerous for Arizona border residents. Never was this more poignant than with the tragic 2010 death of Rob Krentz, a prominent member of the ranching community on the border. He was most likely killed by an incident related to illegal smuggling. I last spoke to Rob's brother Phil just this morning.

Despite claims that the border is now more secure than ever, Arizona ranchers know quite the opposite. Beyond the border area, Arizona remains a State struggling under the weight of a sizeable undocumented population.

As I said before, this situation helps no one. It doesn't help those who are undocumented and living in the shadows, it doesn't help State and local governments that are bearing the burden, and it doesn't help employers who are struggling to find a legal workforce.

It is against this backdrop that the Senate moves toward approving legislation that takes dramatic steps in addressing border security, provides a tough but fair solution for those who are here illegally, and spurs economic growth by modernizing our legal immigration system.

Obviously, this legislation is not without its critics. Opponents will point to the legislative process and claim it was flawed.

I must admit that while no process for considering legislation is perfect, this bill was made available early. It was also thoroughly vetted under regular order in the committee. While I share the frustration that there haven't been more amendments considered on the Senate floor, this body has now spent 3 weeks debating the bill on the floor.

We have heard that the bill affords too much discretion to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and does little for border security. The Hoeven-Corker amendment, adopted by a wide bipartisan majority, removes much of that discretion from the Secretary when it comes to border strategy by designating a minimum level of technologies to be deployed per sector.

In addition, the Hoeven-Corker amendment dramatically increases the resources provided to secure the border by requiring double the number of Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of fence. These have to be completed before anyone adjusts status.

We have heard claims the bill weakens existing law. To the contrary, this legislation takes credible steps toward implementing an entry-exit system to tell us who has and who has not left the country. It makes progress toward achieving the goal of a biometric approach to this system.

At this point it is difficult to take seriously criticism that the bill does not go far enough on border security.

I should point out that the very day the Hoeven-Corker amendment was filed, a CNN headline read ``Four Bodies Found in Arizona Desert.'' Four more deceased immigrants had been located near Gila Bend.

This is an issue that plays for keeps. It is in everyone's interest that we gain control of the border.

The unprecedented level of resources this bill provides, coupled with the mandatory employment verification system and guest worker plans to allow for future flows, is much needed and it takes the right steps to get us there.

As in previous immigration debates, there are those who claim this legislation is amnesty. To the contrary, this legislation provides for a provisional status for those who are already here as a means to bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. It requires them to meet eligibility criteria, pass a background check, make good on any tax liability, and pay a fee and a fine. Before anyone can apply for a green card, they have to pay an additional fee and fine, pass another background check, continue paying taxes, learn English and civics, and prove that they have been employed.

Even then, there is no less than a 10-year waiting period before anyone can begin to apply, and that can only happen if the border agents have been hired, the border strategy has been employed, the mandatory E-Verify system is being used by all employers, 700 miles of fence are on the border, and an entry-exit system is implemented for all air and sea ports of entry.

Much of the focus of the legislation has been on the border security and legalization provisions, but just as important are the critical steps included to modernize our legal immigration system.

The U.S. economy has to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and global competitiveness. When the best and brightest come here to study, we need to allow them to stay.

I am pleased to say the provisions I have previously pushed for as part of the STAPLE Act were included in this legislation. Those with advanced degrees in the so-called STEM fields will be exempt from caps on green card applications.

This bill moves our legal immigration further toward a merit-based approach, increases the cap on H-1B visas significantly, provides an avenue for foreign-born entrepreneurs, and creates better programs for both agricultural and nonagricultural temporary workers.

When asked about the impact of these changes, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, without missing a beat, said:

These will provide rocket fuel to the economy.

The Congressional Budget Office, in different words, said much the same thing. Over the period of the next 10 years, GDP is estimated to increase by 3.3 percent as a result of this legislation and by 5.4 percent by 2033.

Let me say in the few minutes I have remaining that for me, coming from rural Arizona, there is a personal background for immigration reform. Much of my youth was spent on a 200-acre alfalfa field north of Snowflake, AZ, where I grew up. Along with my father and six brothers, I planted hay, cut hay, hauled hay, and moved sprinkler pipes--miles of sprinkler pipes. I even lost the end of my right index finger on that alfalfa field. The chores we performed changed with the season, but there was one constant: We worked alongside undocumented migrant labor, largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much more difficult than we endured.

Since that time, I have harbored a feeling of admiration and respect for those who have come to risk life and limb and sacrifice so much to provide a better life for themselves and their families.

As I explained earlier in my remarks, there are many who are here in an undocumented status who do not fit the sketch I have just described. It is our lot here in Congress to fashion an agreement that deals with the myriad motives, reasons, intentions, and purposes that have brought people here illegally.

Along those lines, let me close by saying a few words about the path to citizenship included as part of this legislation. I recognize that there are those who are here who hold the position that no one who has entered this country illegally should ever be able to become a U.S. citizen. My own feeling is citizenship should be treasured and valued--and possible--for those who qualify and who are willing to comply with the provisions set forth in this legislation. If someone is going to be in this country for 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years, I want them to assimilate. I want them to have the rights and, more importantly, the responsibilities that come with citizenship. Such assimilation is what sets our country apart. It is quintessentially American. It is the right policy.

I will be proud to cast my vote in favor of this legislation, and it is my hope it will become law.

I yield the floor.

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