SECURING AMERICA'S BORDERS ACT--Resumed
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, for at least a few moments this morning, we have an order to continue discussion on this critically important legislation. Let me say in general that S. 2454, attempting to be a comprehensive reform of national immigration law, setting forth very strict border control efforts, authorizing tremendous expenditures for the purpose of controlling our borders, is a bill that finally is awakening the Senate. Some of us have been engaged in the debate on immigration for a good number of years, but many of my colleagues have, for whatever reason, chosen not to be. They are busy. But there is no question in my mind and I think the minds of almost every Senator today that the American people have said immigration reform is a priority, border control is a priority: Congress, get with it. We no longer can, nor should we, tolerate within our boundaries whatever that number is--7 million, 8 million, 9 million? If you want to listen to Lou Dobbs on television, he will say it is 20 million. Lou Dobbs doesn't know, nor do we know, exactly how many undocumented foreign nationals are here.
We do know some fundamental basics. If we do not control our borders, if we do not control in-migration, in time we can lose our character as a country. We are a nation of immigrants and we are proud of it. We are, as has been said by many, over a historic period of time, a melting pot of the world. It has proved us as a nation to be unique. It has given us our strength. It makes us something no other nation is. How many people can become Japanese? How many people can become an Italian? How many people can become a German? Any one of those nationalities can become an American. Why? It is the uniqueness of our country.
But in becoming an American, we have always put parameters around it. We have always said you had to study, you had to learn, you had to move yourself into the American culture and the American dream. You had to have, and we allowed, an assimilation. What we have lost in the last two decades by not controlling our borders is that very assimilation in the style with which it operated in the past.
Many of us, and most Americans, wish to regain that. It isn't that we deny our heritage; we are tremendously proud we are a nation of immigrants. We want to continue that tradition. It is our strength. But in doing so, you control your borders, you control the in-migration, and you do so in an orderly fashion.
If we control our borders, if we are successful in shutting them down and only allowing to move through that which is legal, in an orderly fashion, what do we do then? With the unknown number of some 8 or 10 million foreign nationals who are here illegally, what do we do with them? Mr. President, 99 percent of them are hard workers. Many have been here for years. They are a part of our economy. They are a part of our lifestyle. Most of them are contributors. Very few of them are detractors.
A few are. A few are criminals, and they ought to be arrested, if we can find them, and they ought to be thrown out of the country. But what do we do if we take all the rest and toss them out? Who fills those jobs? Who meets those demands? Who does the kind of work about which the average American citizen today says, ``I won't do that,'' yet it is critically important--for the food on the supermarket shelves of America, for the beds in the resorts and the hotels, for the landscape, for construction, for the oil patch. You name it. Illegal foreign nationals are everywhere in our economy today whether we like it, whether we are willing to admit it. They are here in part because of our negligence, but they are also here because they have been needed, because our economy asked them to come and there were no restrictions for them to gain entry other than to walk across a border that was unguarded and uncontrolled.
In that act they broke the law, our law. This bill tries to fix it. I can't tell you on face value it does. What I do know is it will take billions of dollars and a lot of trained personnel to go job site by job site to secure those who are illegal and to move them through a process toward legality or out of the country. I am not sure we are prepared to do that yet.
I am convinced of one thing: We can control the borders and we should.
Starting nearly 5 years ago, I recognized this in American agriculture because American agriculture came to me. I have worked with them closely on a variety of issues. And they said: Senator, nearly 70 percent of our workforce is illegal and we know it, and it is wrong and we want to fix it because we don't want to be operating on a shaky base. We need these people to pick the crops, to harvest the crops, and to process the crops. We need them on a timely basis. They need to be reliable. The current system is broken and it doesn't allow it. It only identifies 40-some thousand legal agricultural workers a year, and there are 1.2 million that are necessary. The system is broken.
I began to work with them. We worked collectively and came up with a bill. We worked with Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate. We worked with Hispanic groups, we worked with labor unions, we worked with the farm organizations, and we produced a bill known as AgJOBS. We looked at all of the compromises that had to be made. We tried to recognize those who had been here illegally but had been here for a long while, and those who were just coming and going--the day laborers on the Mexican-Arizona-California border who come across to work for the day and go back across at night to their homes.
This is a phenomenally complicated issue. S. 2454 is the bill that I and others crafted known as AgJOBS.
For just a few more minutes, I will walk you through one portion of it. It is a two-part bill.
It deals with those who are currently here working in agriculture, and then it goes over and reforms the H-2A guest worker program, to streamline it, to take out the bureaucracy, to make it function in a way that is the kind of program that many are talking about today, a seasonal worker, guest worker program, to come to work, to go home but to recognize the need to treat those folks humanely, to offer to them the jobs that Americans won't do, to assist where we can, to recognize that our economy needs them and they ought to be dealt with appropriately.
How do we then deal with this 8 million? Let me talk to you this morning not about 8 million but about 1.2 million, just a small window but I believe an opportunity while looking through that window to see what the rest of America is like and in part what those 8 million illegals might be like. It is to recognize them, it is to identify them, it is to have them come forward if they have been here 3 years--since 2003--working and can demonstrate that they worked for 150 days in agriculture and then to allow them to earn the right to stay by continuing to work in agriculture for another 150 days up to 5 years.
It is a pilot program. It allows only 1.2 million during that 5-year period. It allows them to adjust and to gain a blue card--legal working status.
Is it amnesty? Well, somebody will call it that. Others have already called it that. I call it earning a status. They have to pay a fine. They have to pay a $500 fine. They have to have a background check. If they have a legal record of misconduct and criminal conduct, they don't qualify. They will have to be deported.
So there is a true tightening of the relationship with these workers, but it is a clear understanding that those workers are needed and necessary in the workforce. Agriculture, like no other business, is what it is at the time it is. By that I mean when the fruit is ripe, you pick it. If it isn't picked, it rots on the vine.
Much of what we do in agriculture is hand labor. It is intensive, hard work, backbreaking in the hot Sun kind of labor. The average American citizen says: I don't do that kind of work anymore but, oh, do we love the abundance of the supermarket shelf.
There are people who will do that work. Many of them are here as migrant workers, illegal foreign nationals doing just that work. They see it as an opportunity because any job in America is better than an entry job in Mexico. They come here, earn money, and 90 percent of them want to go home after they have earned their money. They go back to their nation, Mexico. They can live better than they have ever lived because of the money they earned in America--in the United States. But 90 percent of them say: We don't want to become American citizens. We want to come and work. We are Mexicans. We like being Mexicans. We are proud of that.
The story goes on and on. I will spend more time on the details of this issue.
There are those offering amendments to change the AgJOBS provision. Some may pass, I don't know. I believe we have a quality product that has been years in the making, not only before the Judiciary Committee but Democrats and Republicans alike. Farm workers and farm organizations and American agriculture have been meeting for 5 years to try to identify the problem and to correct it. That work effort is here in this bill. It is a quality work effort. It is one that ought to be defended. It is one that clearly recognizes all of the differences in the American economy today and the uniqueness of agriculture.
Let me close with this thought. The average illegal in our country today will say when asked--and they have been asked by people they trust--how long do you stay in an agricultural job? It has been said by some--and I believe it is true because it has been said by those who are here in those jobs--they say: We see agriculture as the door to entry. We stay there a couple of years. We learn the ropes. We get to know your country a little better, and then we go out to other jobs--construction, home building, the service industry and oil patch, and a variety of other areas across the country where day laborers, backbreaking labor, hard labor is required as the uniqueness of that particular place of employment.
So agriculture is kind of the window, the door of entry that many come and work in before they go elsewhere. That is why it is important, no matter what we do, that we try to get this right, to control our borders, to begin to identify where the borders are controlled, where people go, and what our needs are and what their needs are and to treat them appropriately and humanely.
That is the essence of a part of the bill. Other amendments will come as we work through this bill in the coming hours and in the coming days.
To all of my fellow citizens who are listening and watching, the Senate is now focused. You have asked us to deal with immigration in one form or another. There are 100 different ideas on how we get it done, some very Draconian and some very forward-looking. I think AgJOBS kind of fits in the middle. I think it kind of sorts out the problem. It is a realistic, practical approach to identify how the fruit of America literally gets picked in a reasonable, responsible fashion while at the same time treating those who do that work in a humane and appropriate way.
I yield the floor.