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Immigration Reform

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, I want to follow the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and make brief comments about the immigration bill that came out of our committee with a strong, bipartisan vote.

It is a big issue. It is a tough issue. It is a tough issue that is confronting America. I believe that is what this body should be about--dealing with big, tough issues confronting America. That is what the committee came through and did.

The bill that came out of the committee today is not the final product. I think it needs substantial adjustment. Hopefully, during the 2-week period we are going to be discussing this bill on the floor, we will have a lot of discussion and we will get a final product that we can agree on that strengthens the immigration system.

Currently, our system is not working. It has not worked for some period of time. It has not worked for the country. It has not worked for the people wanting to come into the country. It needs to be changed. There is no question about it.

One specific item I wish to talk about is the need for comprehensive reform. The reason we need it is because of our past experience, when we have had just pieces of comprehensive reform.

A quick bit of history: In 1986, we had 3 million undocumented individuals in the United States, and Ronald Reagan put forward an amnesty program. In 1996--we seem to do this in 10-year increments--people were upset we had 7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States--3 million in 1986; 7 million in 1996--and we put forward an enforcement program and passed it into law and toughened up enforcement because that was seen as the need and the answer.

So we had an amnesty program in 1986, without enforcement; we had an enforcement program in 1996, without some sort of legalized system for people to get into the country. We had 3 million undocumented; we had 7 million undocumented. We are at 2006, and we have 11 million undocumented, and people are saying what we need is tougher enforcement. We did do that in 1996, and we increased the number of those undocumented whom we have in the country.

Now we have to increase enforcement. I think we have to do more than just border enforcement, though. We have to do interior enforcement and integrating our tax system and Social Security system along with the immigration system so we can catch people at the workplace, we can catch people in a place where they will be interior in the country and strengthen our enforcement that way. We have to get that done. So we have to strengthen enforcement.

But, at the same time, you have to have some way to bring people into a legalized system. President Bush has talked about a guest worker program. Others have talked about a circular program where you can come in, work for a period of time, and leave. Others have talked about a system where you can earn your citizenship by working here. That is what was basically passed in the committee bill, with much tougher enforcement and a way of being able to get the 11 million into a system where they can get into a legalized status and out of the shadows.

That is what we want to take place.

We also have in the bill more interior enforcement. We have provisions that have yet to be worked out on Social Security and immigration enforcement that are being talked about with the chairman of the Finance Committee.

My reason for outlining that is that this is a big step we have taken today out of the Judiciary Committee. I serve on that committee. But it is not the final step. The President needs to engage in these discussions and negotiations, hopefully, as well as the House leadership, as we debate on the Senate floor one of the biggest issues facing this country today and its future. And make no mistake about it, this will affect the future makeup of the United States. It is a major issue.

I think it is one we can be proud of, that this is a nation of immigrants. We can be humbled by all of our humble beginnings that each of us came from and have grown in this country. Once given freedom and liberty, people can do amazing things. We have seen that time and again, the story of people who have come to the United States.

The final point I want to make is a philosophical one. One of the key measures in any society is what you do for the so-called least of these. It is what you do for those who are not in the Chair presiding in the Senate, even with the humble roots that he came from, or other individuals, it is what you do for the least of these, what you do for the huddled masses. That really is a key hallmark and a key measure for society. Those huddled masses that we enshrined in the Statue of Liberty are a key indicator of what we have stood for so much in the past.

Categories of people who are in the least of these status generally are referred to as widows and orphans and the foreigner amongst you. They are considered the least of these. People who have difficulty with status, difficulty having laws applied to them, have difficulty accessing the system are considered the least of these.

And what do we do. Today we took a step in dealing with the 11 million population, we believe, of undocumenteds in this country, trying to deal with them as beautiful, unique individuals. And then we have to, as well, deal with these as a nation of laws. We have to be a nation of laws. We can't just say: Well, the winds are this way or that way, and we have decided we are going to do this. We have to be a nation of laws. We have to get to a system that we can have people believe in and say this is a system of laws that will work, and yet still deal with our aspiration as a society to deal with people in difficult circumstances, the so-called least of these.

I think we have struck that balance today as a start. We have a long way to go to finish. We are heading toward the higher aspirations of what this country is about. It will be a very difficult and visceral debate, as people's passions are strong. It does amaze me that passions frequently change from the macro to the micro on an immigration debate. In a macro debate, people say: We need to be a nation of laws. On a micro basis, if it is their neighbor next door that is working and doing construction work, they say: Look, leave him alone. But on a macro basis, I want to deal with this on a tough situation. I have seen that so much, of individuals who will say on a macro basis: We need to have a tough set of laws, but don't pick on this individual I know personally and I really care for. They should have a chance to experience the American dream.

We are off to a good start of having a wholesome, full debate that is dignified, that is important, that deals with the highest aspirations of this country and yet maintains and tries to get us back through the immigration system into a nation of laws and not situations where they are just thrown to the side.

Our current system is such, with the complexity and the time waits in it that a person may come here legally but their spouse can't be here legally for 7 to 10 years. So frequently the spouses decide, let's get there any way we can. Or you will find an agricultural worker in a system saying that it is just so complicated that we are going to go around the system to the point that half to three-fourths of our agricultural workers, foreign-born agricultural workers, are undocumented illegals. Yet without them you don't run the agricultural system. You could say that is a bad place to be in, and it is. But I think it also tells us the path to change that we have to get to be able to make a legal system that does work and that can get most people into it. We need to do so to be compassionate and a nation of laws.

It will be a tremendous debate. It is an important one for the country. It is an important one for the Republican Party, for us to have a good, full debate about this topic and how we move forward with it. I think we are going to have it, and it is going to be one of the most dignified and important moments in debates for this Senate during this term of Congress.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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