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Securing America's Borders Act

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I sat here with interest, listening to the Senator from North Dakota. I think we agree on an awful lot. I may not agree with everything he said, but he made some very salient points with respect to the earlier laws we have passed on this issue of immigration and the amnesty--that is what it amounted to--that was given to certain folks who were included in the previous immigration bill the Senator addressed. He is exactly right. It didn't work back then. While there are provisions in this bill, some of which I may agree with--they may be good--there are certain other points in this which simply are not very good pieces of legislation.

I would like to take a moment to speak on the amnesties that exist in the immigration bill passed by the Judiciary Committee that is now under discussion on the floor. Some in the Senate like to call it something else--earned adjustment or earned citizenship--to try to distinguish it from what Congress has done in the past. However, I believe that the legislation adopted by the Judiciary Committee is so similar to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act passed by Congress, which everyone agrees is amnesty, that in fairness, what the Senate is being asked to consider today should likewise be called amnesty.

One reason why I am opposed to amnesty, or earned legalization, is because the last time Congress addressed what to do about the illegal population in our country, a similar approach was agreed upon, and it did not work. In the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, increased enforcement, both at the border and in the interior of the U.S., and especially with regards to employer sanctions was mandated to eliminate the jobs magnet for so many illegal immigrants. In addition, the theory was that our increased border security would stem the tide of illegal immigrants coming into the country.

Coupled with this enforcement was an amnesty offered to illegal aliens who met specified requirements in order to bring them out of the shadows and allow them to acquire legal status. There were actually two amnesties included in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986--the Legally Authorized Workers--LAW--program and the Special Agricultural Worker Program--SAW.

Similarly in the bill put forth by the Judiciary Committee, there are mandates for increased border security and interior enforcement as well as a strong emphasis on employer sanctions. Coupled with this also exists two amnesties: one for the estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S. and another for illegal aliens working in agriculture.

The 1986 SAW Program required that illegal aliens work a certain number of hours in agriculture in order to obtain a temporary legal status. Then 1 to 2 years after obtaining a temporary legal status, those agricultural workers were given permanent residency status. Now, every Senator I have seen come to the floor has called this 1986 SAW program an amnesty, yet many maintain that the current Judiciary Committee proposal is not an amnesty.

However, the current agricultural program in the Judiciary Committee bill is constructed in much the same way: Illegal aliens who worked 150 hours in agriculture in the 2-year period ending on December 31, 2005, can obtain a temporary legal status, here called a blue card. Then by working 100 hours per year in agriculture for 5 years or by working 150 hours per year in agriculture for 3 years, that illegal alien will be given permanent resident status. So the only difference between a program that is unanimously agreed upon to be amnesty and one that is argued not to be is the requirement that the illegal aliens work in agriculture for 100 to 150 hours per year. The waiting time instead of 1 to 2 years is now 3 or 5, but that is it. The rest is the same.

These illegal aliens are not required to work in any other industry or for any greater amount of time than 100 hours per year or 150 hours per year. Not only that but they do not have to wait in line behind everyone outside the country trying to legally enter the U.S. in order to get their permanent resident status. Not only is this unfair, but it is a repeat of the 1986 approach, which is widely recognized as seriously flawed.

We should not repeat the mistakes we made before. I am not the only one who feels this way. I recently attended a naturalization ceremony in Atlanta, GA, and was moved to see a room full of people from all over the world raise their right hand and take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. It was clearly a proud day for these people and their loved ones. They had gone through the legal process and truly earned their citizenship. I was surprised at the number of new citizens who came up to me after the ceremony and asked me to reject the amnesty the Senate is now being asked to consider. These folks told me they felt it demeans the efforts they made to obey the law and wait in line to become a U.S. citizen. They realize what a valuable accomplishment they made.

The people I saw at that naturalization ceremony truly earned their citizenship. It does not seem fair to me to call the process those newly naturalized citizens followed ``earned citizenship'' and also to call what the Judiciary Committee is asking the Senate to consider ``earned citizenship.'' There is a fundamental difference between the two and that should be recognized in the rhetoric of the Senate.

Another problem I have with the agricultural amnesty endorsed by the Judiciary Committee is that it does not seem to remedy the problem with fraud that was prevalent with the 1986 SAW program. Under the 1986 SAW program, illegal farm workers who did at least 90 days of farm work during a 12-month period could earn a legal status.

The illegal immigrants had to present evidence that they did at least 90 days of farm work, such as pay stubs or a letter from an employer or even fellow workers. Because it was assumed that many unauthorized farm workers were employed by labor contractors who did not keep accurate records, after a farm worker presented evidence that he had done qualifying farm work, the burden of proof shifted to the Government to disprove the claimed work.

The Government was not prepared for the flood of SAW applicants and had little expertise on typical harvesting seasons. Therefore an applicant who told a story like ``I climbed a ladder to pick strawberries'' had that application denied while those who said ``I picked tomatoes for 92 days'' in an area with a picking season of only 70 days, was able to adjust.

Careful analysis of a sample of SAW applications in California, where most applications were filed, suggests that most applicants had not done the qualifying farmwork, but over 90 percent were nonetheless approved.

The propensity for fraud is not remedied in the Judiciary Committee's bill and compounds bad policy with the ability for unscrupulous actors to take advantage of it.

I think the most important lesson to learn from the 1986 SAW program is that providing illegal immigrants who work on the farms in this country does not benefit the agricultural workforce for long. History shows that the vast majority of illegal workers who gain a legal status leave agriculture within a 5-year period. This means that under the Judiciary Committee's proposed agricultural amnesty, those who questionably performed agricultural work in the past will work at least 100 or 150 hours in agriculture per year for the next 3 to 5 years. But after that, particularly in light of the changes made to the H-2A program, I expect us to be in the same situation in agriculture that we are in today.

It is worth noting that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 created a Commission on Agricultural Workers--an 11 member bi-partisan panel comprised of growers, union representatives, academics, civil servants, and clergy--and tasked it with examining the impact the amnesty for Special Agricultural Workers had on the domestic farm labor supply, working conditions, and wages.

Six years after the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed, the Commission found that the same problems in the agricultural industry persist: the living and working conditions of farm workers had not improved; wages remained stagnant; increasing numbers of new illegal aliens are arriving to compete for the same small number of jobs, thus reducing the work hours available to each worker and contributing to lower annual earnings; and virtually all workers who hold seasonal agricultural jobs are unemployed at some point during the year.

I think the experience of the SAW program should serve as a lesson to the Senate as we grapple with how to handle our current illegal population. I believe the amnesty approach endorsed by the Judiciary Committee is far too similar to the SAW Program in 1986 and will likely have the same result. That is why I have introduced an amendment that will take away the amnesty from the agricultural portion of the Judiciary Committee bill.

My amendment will allow illegal aliens to get blue cards in the same way that the Judiciary Committee prescribed. However, it requires that at the end of a 2-year period, those blue card workers must return to their home countries and enter the U.S. in a legal manner.

This 2-year period provides sufficient time for agricultural employers to organize their workforce so that they can send workers home in an orderly manner and not have a complete work stoppage. These workers can then enter the U.S. on a legal temporary worker program just like anybody else in the world.

They can stay here for a specified period of time and then when that time is up they will have to return to their homeland.

We know from past experience that agricultural workers do not stay in their agricultural jobs for long, especially when they gain a legal status and have the option to work in less back-breaking occupations. Therefore, the focus on agricultural immigration should be on the H-2A program. This is the program that regardless of what the Senate does with amnesty, will be relied upon by our agricultural employers across the country in the near future.

My amendment provides for a reasonable and responsible transition to the H-2A program, and I believe is an approach that will not repeat the mistakes of the past and is more in line with the way the vast majority of Americans believe we should deal with our large illegal population.

I send my amendment to the desk, and I will have more to say about that amendment in the future as we continue the debate on this bill.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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