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Immigration Reform

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President. I rise to express my extreme disappointment with the actions taken by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week on immigration reform. I know that this is a tough issue, an emotional issue, and that my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee worked very hard to pass something out of committee. However, it seems to me that the rush to pass some form of immigration reform eclipsed prudent policy-making.

The immigration problem in our country is out of control and must be solved. Our top priority in this immigration reform debate is to provide for real and comprehensive border security. We must also address in a responsible manner the presence of an enormous illegal population currently in our country.

The issue before us is critical to the future of our country, in terms of national security, economic prosperity, and the fabric of our Nation. I hope we will proceed with a thoughtful and thorough debate in the Senate because the proposals we are going to be asked to consider are enormous in scope and have far-reaching implications. We must ensure that not only the Senators but also the American people have ample opportunity to fully comprehend the consequences of any action we take.

It is absolutely vital that the Senate act to put the resources and mechanisms in place to allow the Department of Homeland Security to gain operational control of our borders and to have stronger and more meaningful enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior of the United States.

Rarely a day goes by when our borders are not breached in a new way. By now, we've all heard the story of the teams of investigators from the Government Accountability Office who, in December 2005, were able to carry enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs past border checkpoints in Texas and Washington State by faking Government documents We can address this problem, and we will, by providing improved training for agents and improved technology at the borders.

The magnitude of the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States is astounding. The Border Patrol arrested 1.2 million illegal immigrants in 2005, but couldn't stop hundreds of thousands more from unlawfully entering the country because they don't have the resources. We can address this problem and we will, by providing more Border Patrol agents, better infrastructure, additional checkpoints and use of the latest technology available.

In addition, we must address the real magnet for illegal immigration for so many: the promise of a job. Most illegal immigrants in the United States did not come to this country to cause us harm but rather came to earn a better life for themselves and their families. However, we must ensure that a legal process for hiring foreign workers is put in place and strictly adhered to. We can address this problem and we will by mandating employer sanctions for those who flaunt the rule of law and continue to hire illegal workers and by providing tamper-proof documentation to those who are authorized to work in the United States so that employers will have no confusion about the legality of the workers they hire.

In addition to border security, we will be addressing a guest worker program. However, I am hoping we can have the opportunity to refocus the Senate's attention on the ``guest'' part of the term guest worker program. It is vital in this debate to distinguish between true temporary guest worker programs and proposals that will lead a guest worker down a new path to citizenship. I don't think it's fair to call the legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee a guest worker bill. It is more appropriately named a citizen worker bill because it provides a clear new path to citizenship for aliens who are currently in the United States illegally.

I have a very simple question to ask all Members of the Senate as we debate this bill: Why is it necessary that we address the issue of U.S. citizenship when we are talking about immigration reform? There are reasons we need to deal with the people who are here illegally. There are reasons we need to deal with folks who want to come to this country for the right reasons. But why is it necessary in this legislation that we even consider the issue of U.S. citizenship?

I am particularly concerned about the agricultural guest worker program adopted by the Judiciary Committee because I believe it is contrary to the best interests of American agriculture. Not only that, but it will punish those farmers who have been abiding by the law in this country and utilizing the H-2A program, which has been a longstanding temporary guest worker program in the U.S. relative to agriculture.

Because my focus in this debate will center on border security and a temporary agricultural guest worker program, I would like to take a few minutes to outline some of the problems I see with the Judiciary Committee's agricultural guest worker program and indicate my intention to utilize the amendment process at the appropriate time to attempt to remedy what I regard as some shortcomings of the Judiciary Committee's agricultural reform.

Most troubling to me is that the agricultural reform provision provides amnesty to 1.5 million illegal workers in agriculture.

Some might call it earned adjustment of status or earned citizenship, but I call it amnesty because it provides a clear path to citizenship for illegal agricultural workers who meet a very low threshold. These illegal workers will not have to return to their home countries and will not have to wait their turn in line to gain legal permanent resident status in the United States.

The amnesty provision would allow illegal aliens who performed 863 hours, or 150 days, of agricultural work in the United States between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2005, to qualify for a blue card.

In legislation Senator Kyl and I introduced a year ago and had on the floor previously, we had a blue card provision. That is not the blue card I am talking about this morning. The blue card I am referring to is the one that was created by the Judiciary Committee mark.

The blue card program has a low threshold requirement to qualify. A workday is defined as ``any day in which the individual is employed 1 or more hours in agriculture.'' So someone who worked 1 hour per day for 150 days over the past 2 years would qualify for a blue card. The blue card under the Judiciary Committee bill would allow those illegal workers to then work legally in agriculture or any other area of our economy, provided they satisfy their agricultural employment requirements each year.

Once in possession of a blue card, an alien who is currently here illegally, would only have to work in agriculture for 100 workdays, or 575 hours per year, over a 5-year period to qualify for legal permanent resident status.

Alternatively, those blue card workers could work 150 workdays, or 863 hours per year, over a 3-year period to earn legal permanent resident status.

A workday is still defined as ``any day in which the individual is employed 1 or more hours in agriculture.'' So the requirement to obtain legal permanent resident status is either 100 hours per year over a 5-year period or 150 hours per year over a 3-year period.

While the number of blue cards allowed to be issued is capped at 1.5 million, once a blue card holder becomes a legal permanent resident, his or her family members receive derivative legal status and work authorization.

That means that whether a blue card worker has 1 child or 10 children, once he or she becomes a legal permanent resident, the rest of the family will have been deemed to have been here legally in the United States, and the spouse will be allowed to work regardless of whether they have had a job in the United States in the past.

This is hardly matching willing workers with willing employers but, rather, putting a large population on a level playing field with American workers for job opportunities.

While some of my colleagues might disagree with me on the amnesty issue, we should be able to agree on the fact that these agricultural workers who earn amnesty through this provision will not remain in agriculture forever.

Most everyone agrees that agriculture is the hardest low-skilled work around in our country today. It is truly backbreaking. Generally, those who have had an opportunity to earn a living in some other manner have chosen to do so. Even those who choose to stay in agricultural work find they cannot occupy these labor-intensive jobs over a long period of time. There is a natural tendency to age out of agricultural work.

Therefore, if this provision adopted by the Judiciary Committee is enacted into law, I anticipate those current illegal workers who become legal permanent residents will leave agriculture in the short term and leave our farmers to continue to rely only upon H-2A for their workforce, if they are going to hire legal workers.

The reason I believe these workers will leave

agriculture is because that is what has happened in the past. I have spoken with numerous farmers who were farming during the special agricultural worker program Congress authorized in 1986. That is commonly called the Special Agricultural Worker Program. That program provided amnesty for those agricultural workers who performed 90 days of farm work in 1985 through 1986.

Chalmers Carr, a peach grower in the State of South Carolina, helped 200 workers adjust in 1986 pursuant to the special agricultural worker education program. After 2 years, 75 percent of those workers had left his farm, and after 5 years, the last adjusted worker left agriculture.

Similarly, Bill Brim, a Georgia fruit and vegetable grower, assisted 130 workers adjust status pursuant to the Special Agricultural Worker Program. Not one single one of the 130 workers stayed on his farm for more than 6 months after they adjusted their status.

Recognizing that these agricultural workers who are able to adjust their status will not be in agriculture forever, the Senate should be able to agree that we need a viable H-2A program to address the labor needs of agriculture in the future. Unfortunately, the agricultural provision of the Judiciary Committee's bill simply does not meet the needs of our Nation's agribusiness.

It is ironic to me that those who admittedly do not use the H-2A program in their States purport to know the modifications necessary for improvement of the program. In reality, the language contained in the Judiciary Committee's proposal provides every advantage to those agricultural employers who have been utilizing an illegal workforce and cripples those employers who have utilized the legal H-2A program.

For instance, the Judiciary Committee's agricultural proposal treats all those currently illegal aliens who qualify for a blue card as U.S. workers for purposes of recruiting workers. This means an agricultural employer who has been utilizing the H-2A program for years and following the rule of law already on the books will be forced to hire an illegal alien with a blue card before that farmer can petition to bring in the same people who had been working and returning in a legal manner for him in the H-2A program for years.

Further, in the case of an agricultural employer who properly applies for and brings H-2A workers to work on his farm, that employer will be forced to replace that H-2A worker for whom he has paid transportation costs to the worksite with a blue card worker who arrives at the worksite at any point during the first 50 percent of the work period seeking an agricultural job to fill his or her yearly hourly requirement to maintain their blue card status.

Once again, we are going to be giving folks who are here illegally preferential treatment over those folks who are here legally. There is no common sense whatsoever to that proposal.

That yearly requirement, in many cases, may not encompass the employer's entire season or period of desired employment, leaving the employer, again, without an adequate, reliable workforce. This disadvantages those who have been playing by the rules.

The framework of the Judiciary Committee's proposal which provides that only 575 hours of agricultural labor per year are required to transition from blue card status to that of a legal permanent resident will likely have a destabilizing effect on the agricultural workforce.

Madam President, 575 hours per year equates to a little less than 72 days per year based on an 8-hour workday. I don't know about farms in California or Idaho, but in Georgia, our farmworkers generally work around 11 or 12 hours per day during peak season. Using a 12-hour workday, a blue card worker will work just under 48 days to meet the yearly minimum hour requirement.

If these blue card workers are allowed to work in industries other than agriculture and are only required to work 575 agricultural hours to qualify for legal permanent resident status, my guess is they will not work in agriculture one hour more than necessary. This is not going to provide our agricultural employers with the stable workforce they are being promised.

I close with a comment relative to a very current issue that is very important as we debate this bill on the floor today, and that is the fact that our President today is in Cancun, Mexico, meeting with the leadership of our two best trading partners and our two border partners in the United States, that being the leadership of Mexico and the leadership of Canada.

As he meets with those leaders, I hope he will strongly emphasize, particularly to the leadership in Mexico, to change their position on border security. It is almost unfathomable to me that the leader of a country would say to his citizens that he is encouraging a border country to grant amnesty to anyone who has left his country to go into a border country. But that is exactly what is happening on the part of President Fox.

I hope President Bush emphasizes to the leadership over this week that they must be a partner with us in helping secure their border and our border which we have in common. If they will work with us, we can secure the border, and if this body acts in an appropriate way over the next several days, we can come up with an accommodation to those workers who are here for the right reason and, at the same time, we can ensure that those people who have crossed into our country illegally return to their home country, again, in the right way.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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