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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I know many of my colleagues are very talented attorneys. I am reminded of the adage that when you are a lawyer, if you have the law on your side, you argue the law. If you have the facts on your side, you argue the facts. But if you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, you bang on the table and create a diversion.

What I have heard a lot about here today is clearly a diversion because it is not either the law we are promoting or the facts, which seem to be pretty stubborn, but sometimes for people in this Chamber I guess the facts are not an impediment toward their arguments.

I will try to get to what this law is and what the facts are. My colleague from Alabama Senator Sessions likes to whip out the phrase ``welfare benefits.'' Let's make it clear to the American people we have not permitted welfare benefits for anyone under existing law who is undocumented in this country. We extend that and actually to some degree enlarge it in this law we are promoting. So to throw that out carelessly and suggest: Oh, there are welfare benefits--there are no welfare benefits. The existing law stops welfare benefits for anyone who is undocumented in the country, and we extend it in this law.

I must say I am chagrined when I hear my colleagues speak about certain Americans who are part of civil society, part of our civic fabric, part of national organizations such as La Raza and somehow are spoken of as if they are second-class citizens and that I should bend at the altar of some others who Senator Sessions believes are somehow superior. They have every right, as a U.S. citizen, to voice their opinions about what our government should do in this question of immigration reform. I don't care for the categorization of people who are engaged as ordinary citizens of this country to be treated as if they were some second-class citizen.

Only in Washington could we hear an argument that somehow public safety will be ``endangered'' as a result of this legislation. There are 20,000 additional border agents and more resources are going to immigration enforcement than all other Federal criminal enforcement agencies, and somehow that creates greater endangerment of the public safety? So 20,000 more Border Patrol agents will somehow make the Nation less secure? Only in Washington could some of the detractors of this legislation suggest that 20,000 additional border agents and doubling the Border Patrol makes us less secure. Only in Washington could 700 miles of fencing make the Nation less secure. Only in Washington could the suggestion be made that an entrance-exit visa program to check who is coming in and making sure they leave or else they can be pursued is making us less secure. Only in Washington could we think about a mandatory universal E-Verify Program that has been enhanced under this legislation and somehow that makes the public less secure.

This comes from some of the very voices that for so long have said, we need more Border Patrol agents and more fencing. When they finally get the Border Patrol agents, fencing, and E-Verify system nationally mandated so everybody who gets a job or seeks to get a job is going to have to go through the system, as well as an entrance-exit visa program that is going to be implemented, and they still say: Oh, no, it is either not what we wanted or it is not enough.

And triggers--my God. Personally, from my perspective, we are trigger happy in this bill. We have more triggers in this bill than I have seen in virtually any other legislation. I believe we have up to five triggers. We have five triggers that have to be pulled, which means they have to be achieved before they can move forward to citizenship. That is a pretty significant period of time.

Now to the suggestion about costs. Well, this is one of the elements of where facts are a stubborn thing to overcome. Truth crushed to the ground still springs back. So what does it say? Well, let's start off with what it says about the deficit. This isn't me saying it as a proponent of the bill, as the Gang of 8. The Congressional Budget Office--the nonpartisan entity of the Congress that both Democrats and Republicans rely on for an analysis of whether a piece of legislation will cost money, what sort of economic impact it will have, and what the consequences will be--came to their own independent conclusion.

They said the gross domestic product would ultimately grow by 3.3 percent in the first 10 years after enactment. What does that mean? That means from all the output of this Nation, gross domestic product would grow dramatically. When we see growth at that additional rate, it means every American prospers as a result of it.

Then it went on to say an additional 5.4 percent of gross domestic product increase would exist in the second 10 years. That means even greater growth, which means greater opportunities for all Americans here at home. It also means the bipartisan immigration reform we have been

debating in the Senate will actually grow our economy, not harm it, as some of the most ardent opponents have tried to argue. I have been saying that, as well as many others, all along.

What else did the Congressional Budget Office tell us? It told us we are going to reduce the deficit. We are going to reduce the deficit by--I think I have the wrong chart. Let me look. This is actually taxes paid. We had a chart, but basically what it says is that it is going to reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the first 10 years, and an additional $700 billion over the second 10 years. That is $900 billion of deficit reduction.

We will have nearly $1 trillion of deficit reduction as a result of this legislation. That deficit reduction is critical for the Nation's economic growth, prosperity, and to make sure the next generation doesn't bear that burden. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that is what we are going to get from achieving passage of this legislation and ultimately moving it into law.

The report went on to say revenue will come in a whole host of ways, such as payroll taxes, income taxes, fees, and fines estimated to be about $459 billion in the first 10 years and $1.5 trillion in the second 10 years. It also found there were fewer unauthorized individuals coming into the United States under the bill.

One of the things the CBO said was: Well, there will be those whom we are concerned will overstay future visas. Two things on that score, and one point my colleagues have used consistently: No. 1, which visas are they talking about? Are they talking about the visas our Republican colleagues have largely championed for businesses in this country they want to see grow? Some have amendments to grow it even more. Those are the visas CBO talked about ultimately having the concern that people may overstay. That is why the entrance-exit visa program is so important to ensure that doesn't happen.

It is ironic, again, how they can argue all sides here. Because if we look at what CBO said, they said the potential for overstay of those new visas would be the issue. That is why this employment verification system and the entrance-exit visa program is so important.

The bottom line of the Congressional Budget Office report is pretty clear. It tells us the 11 million people who are living in fear in the shadows are not, as some would have us believe, part of America's problem, but by bringing them out of the shadows will be part of our solution. It is the key to economic growth.

Also, immigration reform, according to their views, will also save Medicare and Social Security trust funds. In so many ways these are so incredibly important.

I heard that somehow this will create challenges on the question of wages. Well, as I listened to some of my colleagues make their remarks about the CBO's reports on wages, I don't think the numbers say what they believe they say. They were talking about how American families' wages would go down. The report explicitly says that is not the case. In fact, Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post that the idea that immigration would lower wages of already-working Americans is ``actually a bit misleading.''

As for folks who are already here, the Congressional Budget Office is careful to note that their estimates ``do not necessarily imply the current U.S. resident would be worse off in the first 10 years.'' And in the second 10 years they estimate the average American wages will actually rise as a result of immigration reform to the tune of about $470 billion, an average annual increase in jobs of 121,000 per year for 10 years. That is 1.2 million additional jobs to the United States. It is $470 billion in increased wages of all Americans.

The truth is stubborn. Crush it to the ground and it springs back.

In addition to that, I have to remind my colleagues as they come closer to having to cast a vote--and I hear some voices who say: Oh, I would be open to vote for the bill if this or that.

Immigrants constituted 12 percent of the population in the year 2000, but they accounted for 26 percent of the Nobel Prize winners based in the United States. Twelve percent of the population, immigrants; 26 percent Nobel Prize winners. They made up 25 percent of public venture-backed companies that started between 1990 and 2005. The fact is immigrants receive patents in our country at twice the rate of native-born populations.

So the bill's overall effect on the overall economy is unambiguously positive. One can try to distort it any way one wants, but that is simply the case.

Those are the economic benefits refuting some of the things I have heard here. Wages go up for all Americans, jobs get increased, GDP growth takes place, the deficit is reduced. How many things will we do in the Senate that can bring all of those elements together? Maybe some pieces of legislation might be about job growth. Maybe some pieces of legislation might be about GDP growth. Maybe some pieces of legislation might be about how to reduce our deficit. But what singular piece of legislation, according to the

Congressional Budget Office, brings all of those elements together? I would suggest not one that I have seen in the last 7 years.
I know there is a lot of thrashing and gnashing and banging on the table because when a person doesn't have the law on their side and when a person doesn't have the facts on their side, they create a diversion. There have been a lot of crocodile tears related to the request for amendments.

Let me just say, first of all, this whole process began with a bipartisan group of Senators who had input from their colleagues. They did not, in and of themselves, the Gang of 8, just say this is my view of what needs to be done. They went back to their caucuses. They asked: What are the foundations, what are the principles we need? There was a lot of input during that whole period of time. I constantly heard from my four Republican colleagues of the Gang of 8 how they had spoken to X or Y Senator and how they believed this was necessary, what were some of the essential elements, and those got incorporated through the process. They got incorporated through the process in which the legislation was ultimately devised and put forth. They got incorporated, unlike the 2007 bill referred to by several of my colleagues. The 2007 bill on immigration did not go through the process of the Judiciary Committee. It didn't go through the Judiciary Committee process. This bill did. It went through that regular order. Over 212 amendments--212 amendments--were considered. Over 136 changes, amendments, were accepted; 43 Republican amendments were adopted, and all but 3 of those 212 votes, from what I understand, were bipartisan votes.

So we had 136 changes to the law that the Gang of 8 proposed. Then we came to the floor. What happened on the floor? This bill, which has been on the floor for 20 days--this didn't just pop up. It has been on the floor for 20 days, which is nearly 3 weeks of Senate floor time. What happened at the beginning is that every time there was an effort to offer unanimous consent requests on the question of amendments, there were objections by the other side. There were objections against amendments offered by their own Members because those who oppose this legislation, no matter what, did not want to give Members an opportunity for a vote on their side, because they believed if their amendments were adopted, the Member would agree to vote for the bill because they had made the improvement they sought to the underlying bill they otherwise could support but with the change they were offering.

So, strategically, they decided not to allow their Members to ultimately have amendments because they were afraid they would join in the growing cadre of Members who were supporting the bill. It wasn't about who gets to pick or choose amendments; it was a strategic decision and that took the better part of the first 2 weeks.

We did have nine amendments; overwhelmingly, they were Republican. Then we had the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which of course had the most dramatic, significant impact on border security. But there were an additional nine amendments that were included in Corker-Hoeven. All of them, I understand, were Republican. We would have had a 10th amendment because, I understand, as has been said here--and I was asked as part of the Gang of 8, can you accept this. The Portman amendment on E-Verify would have been part of that package, and we wouldn't be debating about whether that is here; it would have been part of that package.

Then we had an offer by the majority leader of 17 additional Republican amendments and that was rejected. A whole host of those amendments were from some of the most ardent opponents of this legislation.

So this thrashing and gnashing about process--look, I understand if one doesn't want to get to a final judgment and they want to do everything possible not to get there; they want to do everything possible not to see the legislation move forward because they fundamentally disagree. Let's be honest. Let me make my final point. There is a universe of our colleagues in which no pathway to citizenship would ever be accepted. That is the unseen elephant in the room, but there is a universe of our colleagues--as a matter of fact, some of them are more overt about it. They show it by virtue of even some of the amendments they wanted to offer in which there would be no pathway for citizenship whatsoever--trigger, no trigger, any set of circumstances. We have seen the consequences of that in Europe. The consequence of that is that we create unrest in the community.

It is not OK to exploit 10 or 11 million people and not let them have the chance to make themselves right and earn their way into citizenship in the United States. It is not OK to say there can never

be a pathway to citizenship when they are the ones who are bending their backs over, picking up the crops my colleagues and I get to eat every day for dinner or for breakfast. It is not OK to have that immigrant who is taking care of a loved one with a tender heart and warm hand, helping with their daily necessities, and say they can never get a pathway to citizenship. It is not OK to have had chicken for dinner tonight and not understand that this is from the cut-up hands of an immigrant worker. It is not OK to say the country is somehow less secure by virtue of what we are doing.

I have said it many times: I don't know who is here to pursue the American dream versus who might be here to do it harm unless I bring people out of the shadows and into the light. They go through a criminal background check which they have to pass, and if they don't, they get deported right away. If they do, then they have an opportunity to earn their way after a decade in this country toward permanent residency and then later on to U.S. citizenship.

So let's say it as it is. If you don't want a pathway to citizenship, then stand in the Chamber and make a case, if a Member doesn't want a pathway to citizenship under any circumstances. My colleagues have the right to have that opinion. I would strongly disagree but don't hide behind procedures and amendments. Tell me what legislation has come before the floor grows GDP in our country, grows jobs in our country, increases wages of all Americans, and reduces the debt by nearly $1 trillion. I haven't seen it.

That is what the opportunity is before the Senate. That is why no diversion will ultimately sell with the American people. In poll after poll after poll across the landscape of this country, Americans have said across the political spectrum--Republicans, Democrats, and Independents--they want to see our broken system fixed. When the elements of this legislation--all of its elements--have been tested, they have overwhelmingly won support.

That is why I am proud of our colleagues, both Democratic and Republican, who have chosen to finally tackle a tough challenge and actually do something to fix this problem and to show America this institution can actually work. That is the other side benefit of everything I have just talked about in terms of economics, of security, of promoting our future, of creating greater jobs, of creating growth and prosperity, of having the best and the brightest in the world be able to help us continue to be a global economic leader, which is that the Senate can actually function.

That is the opportunity before us: fixing our broken immigration system, showing this institution can function in a bipartisan process, and ultimately preserving our legacy as a nation of immigrants.

I always say that the greatest experiment in the history of mankind is the United States, the greatest country on the face of the Earth. A part of American exceptionalism is that experiment we have had, to bring from different lands different people who have contributed enormously to this country.

Tomorrow, I hope to show a series of Americans whom we have proudly held up as examples of greatness, who, in fact, would not be here today but for the opportunities--sometimes under a legal immigration system and sometimes not through a legal immigration system--who have served this country greatly, whom we admire and, at the end of the day, we show as examples to our children of what a person can do for one's country, what a person can achieve for one's Nation, and models to hold up to the world. I can't wait to share that with the rest of my colleagues in the Senate.

With that, I yield the floor.

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