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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. GRAHAM. Madam President, if I may, I say thank you to my good friend from Alabama. He is consistent. He has conducted himself incredibly well. He is a man of passion, and I agree with David Cameron and Jeff Sessions. Let's have a debate about immigration. But I am in the camp of let's stop talking about it and start doing something.

This bill, in my view, is a giant step forward in many ways; No. 1, for the Senate. We are at 10 or 12 percent in approval rating for the Congress. My question is, Who are the 10 or 12 percent and what bill do they like? I am in the body and I don't disapprove of what we have been doing here. But I see this as a significant step toward the Senate being able to work together in a bipartisan fashion to do something that matters.

Is this bill perfect? No. Is it like Senator Sessions described? No. It is a good solution to hard problems that can always be made better.

But to the American people, you have to be frustrated by your Congress not being able to do the hard things or sometimes even the simple things. This should give people a little bit of hope that for the first time since 2007, the Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, is about to pass legislation on an important topic that is emotionally tough but needs to be dealt with.

To the critics, I appreciate the debate this time around. It has been so much better, but some of the criticism I am going to address.

Senator Rubio spoke in the most eloquent fashion about his family's history and about who we are as Americans. But everybody has a story. Marco's story is an exceptional story. I am the first person in my family to go to college. Neither one of my parents graduated high school. My dad and mom ran a restaurant, a liquor store, and a pool room, and I learned everything I needed to know about politics in the pool room--a great place to learn about people.

But one of the critics of this bill, one of the organizations, said that the average illegal immigrant has a 10th-grade education. All I can tell you is you have a Senator who came from parents who did not have a 10th-grade education.

To those who believe that how long you go to school determines your character, how much money is in the bank determines your worth, they do not understand America. Only in America can you do what Senator Rubio has done.

My parents have long since passed. When I was 21, my mom died; 17 years younger than my dad. We thought he would go first, but life is not so understandable and predictable. She went first and 15 months later he passed. As my sister was 12, an aunt and uncle helped raise my sister. They never made over $30,000 in their life. They worked in textile plants. She has turned out great in spite of having an overbearing brother. But I am in the Senate today. Why? Because I live in a country where anything is possible.

There are a lot of self-made people in America. I am not one of them. If it were not for my family and my friends, I would not be here today.

To those who say that among this illegal immigrant population they are just not well educated, you have no idea how offensive that is to a guy like me. So you can take your criticism and--we will just end it at that.

Eighty million baby boomers are going to retire in the next 40 years. To my good friend from Alabama, who believes we have too much legal immigration, I am taking Strom Thurmond's place. He got married and started having kids when he was 67. Unless all of us start doing that, we have a problem because in 1955 there were 16 workers for every Social Security retiree; today there are three and in 20 years there is going to be two. Unless there is a baby boom that I don't see coming--and I am part of problem. I am not married and I don't have any kids. Unless there is a baby boom we don't see, we better hope we can improve our legal immigration system.

To my good friend from Alabama, I could not disagree with him more. We are going to need a lot more legal immigration than is in this bill. I wish we could do more. Who is going to take care of the baby boomers when we retire? Who is going to replace the workers in our economy if we do not have better legal immigration?

What did the CBO say about this bill? If we pass this bill, over the next 20 years we reduce the deficit by $890 billion. How can that be? That means it is good for the economy. How can you reduce the deficit $890 billion if you do not create economic activity?

To the American worker, the biggest threat to you is illegal immigration. Tell me how it is better for America to continue amnesty--which is doing nothing and paying people under the table with no regulation. How did that help the American worker to compete against some person who is being paid under the table? This bill stops that. It brings people out of the shadows on our terms, not theirs.

You get to stay here if we decide you can stay. We are regaining our sovereignty that has been lost. How do you get 11 million illegal immigrants in this country? Your system is broken from top to bottom. Every nation, including America, has the right to control its borders and control who gets a job and this bill does that and I am glad to have my name on it--and doing nothing is the worst thing for the American worker.

We are going to stop paying people under the table. We are going to give you access to labor you have today if you can't find it. Have you ever been to a meatpacking plant? You go and find out who is working in that plant. Mostly Hispanics, people from other parts of the world, not because native-born Americans are lazy; we have higher hopes. There are parts of our economy, like it or not, that are dependent upon immigrant labor and our population is declining and our needs for legal immigration are growing. This bill does that.

As it affects the economy, it will increase our GDP by 3.5 percent over time because it is good for America to have legal immigration. As to the 11 million, you will be brought out of the shadows and you will stay on our terms.

If they committed a felony or multiple misdemeanors, they are not eligible. Here is what we are going to allow: They will go through a criminal background check, pay a fine, get right with the law, and then they will have legal status. Here is what they will get to do: They will get to pay taxes, like the rest of us, and get to know the IRS. Welcome to America.

We are going to create order out of chaos. We are going to get people working and paying in rather than taking out under the table. What we are going to do above all else, ladies and gentlemen, is we are going to prove to ourselves that we can work together for the common good.

I have never been more proud to be involved in an issue than I have trying to fix illegal immigration because it is a national security threat, it is an economic threat, and it is a cultural threat.

As to my politics, I am doing great among Hispanics in South Carolina. The bad news is that there are not very many who vote in the Republican primary. I think the good news for me is I have tried working with my colleagues, the Gang of 8, and our staffs to start a process that will pay great dividends.

To Senators GRASSLEY and LEAHY, thank you.

To the Democratic and Republican Members, thank you so much. I have never been more proud to be in the Senate than I am today.

To my critics, I respect their criticism. I thank them for a healthy debate.

To the American people, slowly but surely we are beginning to come together in your Senate, the greatest deliberative body in history, to do important work.

And to the 11 million, you will have a second chance. Take advantage of it. Embrace the fact that you are being given a second chance.

To the American people, our best days lie ahead, and what makes us special--and I will close with this--is that being French means you are French, being German means you are German. Being an American means nothing about where you come from, your race, religion, background, or ethnic origin. Being an American is an idea that so many people embrace.

Ladies and gentlemen, being an American is something everybody wants to be part of, apparently. Unfortunately, we cannot allow everybody in or it will create a chaotic situation.

I thank Senator Durbin, who has protected the American worker, but I want to tell my colleagues in the Senate that this is a day I have been hoping and waiting for.

Thank you all so very much.

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