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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I wish to thank the Senator from Minnesota for her remarks and say how much I appreciate her work on this legislation, on the Judiciary Committee and beyond.

The chairman is here today. I wish to thank him for his leadership both on the committee and on the floor.

One way or another, something important is going to happen here this
week--which should happen more regularly than it does, but it does not, in the 4 years I have been here; that is, a bill that actually is the result of thoughtful bipartisan--in some cases I even describe it as nonpartisan--work that has been done first by the so-called Gang of 8 that I was pleased to be part of, then in the Judiciary Committee itself, and now on the floor of the Senate.

Before I talk about immigration, I want to mention we are still struggling out in Colorado this summer with these terrible wildfires. We have appreciated the Federal cooperation we have received. It is a reminder to me, when I stand on this floor, how important it is for us to get past this partisan gridlock we have and into a position where we are actually making shared decisions that will allow us, among other things, to do the investments we need to do to make sure our forests have the fire mitigation that will prevent them from catching and burning the way they are this summer in Colorado.

Today we have the opportunity to try to work together on immigration. Opponents have come out and said this bill is going to cost us money, this bill is going to make the deficit worse. It is exactly the opposite. The Congressional Budget Office has said if we pass this bill, we will see nearly $1 trillion of deficit reduction over 20 years. This Congressional Budget Office tells us it will increase our gross domestic product by 5.4 percent over that same period of time. So this bill is a deficit reduction bill. People around here who talk about deficit reduction--and I am one of them--finally have a chance to do it in a thoughtful and measured way, in a useful and constructive way, rather than through a series of mindless across-the-board cuts which we have seen as a consequence of the sequester. Even in Washington, DC, $1 trillion is real money. That is one reason we ought to pass this bill.

Another reason we ought to pass this bill is it creates a visa system that is actually aligned to the economic needs of the United States of America.

Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies have been founded by immigrants. Nearly 1 in 10 business owners in Colorado are immigrants and generate $1.2 billion for our State's economy. Agriculture is a $40 billion industry in Colorado, and tourism is Colorado's second largest industry.

We have a growing high-tech sector in Colorado, and 23.6 percent of STEM graduates from our State research universities are immigrants. We want them to earn those degrees if they are doing it in the United States and then stay here in the United States, build businesses in this country, invest in our future with us in this country. Today, because we have a broken immigration system, we are saying to those graduates, Go back to China and compete with us; go back to India and compete with us; we have no use for your talents here in this country.

This bill fixes that. This bill has very important border security measures and measures to prevent future illegal immigration. I thank the Senator from Tennessee, who is on the floor, for his remarkable work with Senator Hoeven to get us to this point. The agreement on border security, which maintains a real and attainable pathway to citizenship which was a bottom line for the Gang of 8 Senators who were working on this bill, was the result of several Senators who were willing and determined to find a way to get this done. So I thank Senator Corker, I thank Senator Hoeven, and I thank Senator McCain and the other Republican Members of the Gang of 8 for getting us here. This is how the Senate should work--a process that leads to principled compromise.

On the border security amendment, some opponents of fixing our broken immigration system continue to say our bill doesn't do enough to secure the border. No reasonable person could look at this legislation and arrive at that conclusion: nearly $50 billion in additional spending at the border, 700 miles of fencing at the border; we double the number of border agents on the southern border of the United States; we go from roughly 22,000 to 44,000 border agents. Those numbers are directionally right. We double them. More money and Federal resources are devoted to securing our border than on all other law enforcement that the Federal Government undertakes, and now we are doubling it.

You might be critical and say, Well, you shouldn't spend that money, although, as I mentioned earlier, this bill results in deficit reduction of almost $1 trillion over 20 years. I could see how somebody might stand up and be critical about that. I can't see how somebody could seriously maintain this bill does not secure our border.

We call for an array of new technologies and resources at our border sectors to ensure 100-percent surveillance and rapid interdiction of threats and potential illegal crossings.

E-Verify is required to be used by every employer in the United States, so we don't end up the way we did the last time--with a broken system, where small businesses either became the INS or were given fake documents and people came here where there were jobs--illegally, not legally. This internal enforcement mechanism will allow us to make sure small businesses know who they are hiring, and we are turning away people who are here unlawfully and shouldn't work here in the United States of America.

This is the greatest country in the world. But 40 percent of the people who are here who are undocumented came lawfully to the United States, overstayed their visas, and it is the consequence of our having a system to check people on the way in but never checks them on the way out or whether they left at all. This bill fixes that problem with a complete entry-exit system, with improved biographic and biometric tracking of those who come into and leave our borders. It is about time for us to begin to apply 21st century technology to this broken immigration system we have.

There are many economic reasons why we should support this bipartisan legislation. We know it will help businesses, we know it will boost our economy, we know we are securing our borders. If people don't believe me on this, I hope they will listen to Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake, who are the two Republican border Senators--Senators from a border State--who took me and others down there to see what the border actually looked like, who support this legislation, who have to go home to Arizona and be able to defend this legislation by saying it secures the borders of the United States of America. They know what they are talking about.

We also can't lose sight of what this bill means for families who are suffering under the current system. Here is one story from a bright young woman in Boulder, CO, who I had the fortunate pleasure to meet, Ana Karina Casas Ibarra. I first met Ana at a bagel shop in Boulder where my staff and I stopped in for a bite to eat. She waited on us and recognized me. When my staff overheard her explaining the dynamics of the 112th Congress, they suggested she apply for an internship in my office. She was an awesome intern. We had the opportunity to learn more about her story.

Fourteen years ago, her mother brought her and her two younger brothers to the United States to escape an abusive marriage. Her mom had consistently juggled two or three jobs to support them. Although Ana was a good student, an old Colorado law denied her in-State tuition. She had to work to pay for community college a few semesters at a time. Her brothers, who saw her opportunity denied, lost their motivation. One brother who speaks better English than Spanish was deported, and the other brother who has an American citizen wife and a baby is facing possible deportation right now. She just published her story in the Denver Post. She wrote:

Too many families share similar horror stories of separation. There are 11 million people who have entered this country illegally, and the time is now to provide them with a path to citizenship.

It is time for immigration reform.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a copy of the Denver Post op-ed.

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Mr. BENNET. I just wish to say, again, how proud I am of the work Senator Corker and Senator Hoeven have done to get us to this point. I hope we will come to an agreement on some amendments between now and the end or that we will just take up this bill.

It is time for us to pass it. It is time for us to fix this problem for our economy and for the families all across this country. I believe we can do it, and I think it is an opportunity for this Senate to show it can work in a bipartisan way that produces a meaningful piece of legislation that is very important to the American people.

With that, I yield the floor.

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

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I wanted to come to the floor tonight to talk briefly about where we are in immigration reform. We are moving along this week. We have come out of several weeks of committee work, where there were a number of Republican amendments that were adopted as part of the process and a number of Democratic amendments adopted as part of the process.

As somebody who was involved in the negotiating group that led to the bill reaching the Judiciary Committee, I actually think it was improved by both Republicans and Democrats. It has been an unusual bipartisan effort, and it is the kind of effort the American people, certainly the people of Colorado, think is long overdue. They do not understand why we seem to be engaged in these fights that don't have anything to do with them instead of working to get together constructively to meet the challenges this country faces.

I think when it comes to this very difficult issue of immigration--and it is difficult, and there are strong feelings about it--it has been remarkable for that reason; that we have been able to see what I would describe not even as a bipartisan process but a nonpartisan process, with people actually coming together to resolve this issue. As a result, the objections to it, the substantive objections to it are falling away.

There was an objection that somehow the bill was being rushed through. Well, no, it went through the regular order, which is very rare for this place. It shouldn't be rare, but it is rare. It got a full hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and there has been a full hearing on the Senate floor.

There was an argument somehow it was going to create horrible deficits, and it turns out the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said, actually, in the first 10 years it is going to improve our deficit situation by $190 billion and over the next 10 years by another $700 billion--almost $1 trillion over the course of the next 20 years.

So, then, there was another argument, which was there is no border security as part of this legislation. In the Group of 8 we listened hard to what the border Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, two Republicans from Arizona, had to say about what they believed they needed at the border. We went and visited the border with John McCain and Jeff Flake to see what they believed they needed on the Arizona border. But there were other Senators who weren't satisfied by what we put in that bill, and so there was an effort that was then led by Senator Corker from Tennessee and Senator Hoeven to amend the bill, and we supported it. I supported that amendment.

In fact, that amendment got 68 votes the other night--or something like that. We were missing a couple of Senators. We would have had 68 or 69 if everybody had been here.

That is progress because that has built support for the bill--Republicans and Democrats coming together around the border security issue. I think it is very hard for anybody to make a real argument this is not a significant attempt to strengthen the border in this country.

We were already spending more money on border enforcement than we do on any other Federal law enforcement combined as it was. We had gone to about 22,000 Border Patrol agents already as it was. Now we are doubling that number--doubling--as an attempt to respond to a very reasonable concern the American people have that the border should be as secure as possible. So that is now part of this legislation.

So those are three things people have argued: The process was too fast, the bill was going to negatively affect the deficit, and our border is still insecure. Those were the arguments that were made.

Now we don't hear those arguments so much anymore. Now we hear scare stories about health care. We are hearing scare stories about how this will affect our economy even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said we are going to see five additional points of gross domestic product growth--GDP growth--in the second 10 years of this bill passing, as a result of bringing people out of the shadows.

It is not as if the 11 million people who are here and who are undocumented are not working. They are working. Many of them are working in this country. Many of them are working in the agriculture sector in my State and in this country. Many are working in other industries as well all across the United States. But they are working in an unlawful way. They are working in a cash economy. They are working in a situation where they are easily exploited. Because of that, they drag down the wages of everybody in America.

Workers in my State who are here and who are legal--l-e-g-a-l--are having to compete in a marketplace where there are people who can pay less because they know there are people who have to take less because they do not have lawful recourse.

All the protections we put in this bill, all the protections to make sure, and rightfully so, an American is offered a job first; to ensure, and rightfully so, we are not bringing in a whole bunch of new people when there are Americans looking for work--all of those protections pale in comparison to the protection of bringing 11 million people out of the shadows and out of a cash economy and into a place where they are paid a lawful wage and they are paying their taxes to the U.S. Government.

If all someone cared about, if the only thing someone cared about when they got up in the morning and went to bed at night was rising wages for Americans, solving this issue finally for the 11 million would be the most important thing you could do. And we do that in this bill.

The opponents of this bill are not seriously suggesting they are going to go to the expense of sending 11 million people back to where they came from. They are not seriously suggesting, in answer to this issue, that nothing in the CBO report is true, that none of it makes sense, that this is about ObamaCare when what we are really trying to do for once in this place is solve a set of challenging issues in a bipartisan way.

Mr. President, even more than that, for a decade or more, because of our broken immigration system, the policy of this country has been to turn back talented people--even people educated at our universities, even people educated to be engineers and mathematicians. When they have graduated from college here, at our expense, in many cases, we have not said to them: Stay here and build your business. Compete here and help us grow this economy. Start a business--as half of the Fortune 100 or 500 companies have been started by immigrants. No. We have said: Go home. Go home to India and compete with us from there. Go home to China and hire other people over there.

If we pass this bill, we will say once again that this nation of immigrants is open for business, that we are open to the most creative and talented people in the world, that we want them to drive our economy in the United States just as they have generation after generation going back to our Founders.

It is a great testament to who we are and to the nature of our country that people want to come here, and under the right circumstances we should have them here. The CBO report--and I don't even care about the CBO report--makes it very clear--makes it very clear--what businesspeople in my State already know: It makes it clear to the agricultural industry in my State, the high-tech industry in my State, the ski resorts in my State that the objections of people of goodwill on this bill have been met through compromise and through principled agreement.

This is a good piece of legislation. We shouldn't, in this ninth or eleventh hour or whatever it is--the ninth inning--allow ourselves to get distracted by the politics seeking to divide us in this Chamber or in this country. And I don't believe we will. So I urge my colleagues to support the passage of this bill.

With that, I yield the floor.

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