Securing America's Borders Act--Continued

By:  John Kerry
Date: April 4, 2006
Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, let me say about my colleague, the senior Senator from Massachusetts, that in the 44 years he has been here, he has been one of the Senate's--the Senate's, probably--leading spokespeople for a fair, sensible, value-based approach to immigration. I have been here for a couple of the fights on immigration we have had, having come to the Senate in 1985. But I have never seen somebody as careful and as deliberative and as thoughtful about how to balance the equities that are involved in this issue and, most importantly, somebody who never forgets what defines this country. It is not just immigrants who understand what Senator Kennedy has been fighting for. It is those who really understand, such as the people Senator Kennedy was talking about--Bill Kristol, George Will and others, conservatives who understand the values as well as the pragmatic issues which define this question of immigration. So I thank my colleague for his many years of leadership on this and for the experience which he brings to the debate.

Obviously, this debate matters enormously to our country. There is no doubt that Americans in every State in the Union and people around the world are watching what we do and how we do it. We have witnessed a remarkable demonstration of public protest and of civic participation in cities across America. In the Senate, in our communities, we are once again wrestling with difficult issues. These are not easy. Nobody is suggesting they are easy. But the question of immigration reform is an issue that goes to the heart of who we are as a people and that defines us as a nation. It is an issue that has historically divided us, revealing that sometimes humanity and courage are side by side with isolationism and fear and sometimes, sadly, even bigotry.

We may be divided today, as we try to figure out how we are going to go forward here, but I don't think there is any Senator who disagrees about our past and our heritage as a nation of immigrants, of people who have come to the United States in search of a better life and freedom, of opportunity, and who want to have their voices heard. We also all agree that our current immigration system is broken. We agree that more resources have to be sent to the border in order to strengthen enforcement, to add more Border Patrol agents, and invest in new technologies.

I spent a number of years as a prosecutor. I didn't have to deal directly with immigration at the county level, but I certainly saw what a lack of resources did, in a prosecutor's office, to our ability to pick the crimes that we were prosecuting, our ability to prioritize certain kinds of crimes to move through the judicial system. The fact is, had it not been back in those days for an extraordinary infusion of Federal dollars through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, we never could have done half the things we did--like priority prosecution so you could take any felony from arrest to conviction in 90 days, Federal money made that difference; where we could have a rape counseling unit, one of the first in the country, Federal money made that difference; where we could have a victim witness assistance program so people would be helped through the criminal justice system, Federal money made that difference.

Here we are with less border guards on our 2,000-mile border than we have police officers in the City of New York. They don't have the resources. So as we stand here and debate this issue in the Senate, we need to be honest about our own responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today. This is not something a Republican President did or a Democratic President did or a Republican Congress/Democratic Congress. It is something the United States has allowed to take shape over the last 30, 40, 50 years. It is not new. And you can't come in and sort of bring down a wall and say: OK, we are going to do enforcement and forget about the magnet that already exists, the inequities that have already been put in place because a whole bunch of people knew the borders were porous, because a whole bunch of people knew employers would hire them if they came here illegally which, incidentally, is against the law. But where are the prosecutors prosecuting that in the past? It hasn't been happening.

So our system is broken. What we need to do, consistent with our values and history as a country that has welcomed and honored immigrants, is to deal with the current situation in a realistic, open, fairminded way that tries to find the common ground between us.

I believe we can do that, but it is a problem we have to think about from both sides. I have spent some time in the last months, knowing this debate was going to take place, meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and trying to understand how people are thinking about this. How does somebody who has come into the country, who has been here for 15 years, 20 years, who has raised their kids, whose kids have friends, who has gone to the local school, who is going to college now, how do they see this? How do we all see this?

We have 11 million, approximately, undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. The Nation's employers want these people, evidently, because they are hiring them. It is against the law to hire them, but they are hiring them. How many Americans have gone down to a street corner and hired somebody or had somebody mow the lawn or somebody come over to the house to clean out the garage or do something and paid them cash?

The fact is, there are low-skilled, low-wage jobs that a whole bunch of Americans don't want to necessarily fill. I know during the 1990s, we reached an unemployment level of about 2 percent plus in Massachusetts. I believe it was around 4 percent as a nation, effectively full employment in the United States. Still there were a whole bunch of low-wage jobs people didn't want to do. There simply aren't enough visas for the people who want to come in to do those jobs and for the jobs that people want to have done to fill. And with the lure of higher paying jobs than in their home countries, workers come in to fill them. That is a centuries-old reality, not just here but in countries all around the world.

The system that employers are supposed to use to verify the legal status of employees is fundamentally weak. It is subject to exploitation by everybody. The workers can exploit it by getting false documents, and the employers can exploit it by ignoring documents that they know are false or by avoiding the requirement to comply with the law.

Our challenge here in the Senate is not to demagog this issue. It is not to say: Boy, if we just enforced the border, that is the whole deal.

It is not the whole deal. Everybody who has thought about this issue in any serious way knows that is not the whole deal. If we are going to deal with 11 million undocumented workers who are currently living in the shadows in America and be fair to our history and our values, we have to create a comprehensive reform program. Some people on the other side of the aisle suggest all we have to do is shut down the border and that is it, just shut the border. They believe the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in America are going to return home. Are they serious? People who have a job, paid their dues, paid their taxes, didn't get in trouble, kids are in high school about to graduate or in college, they are going to pack up and go home? Back to what?

For those who won't leave voluntarily, these people believe we are going to have all our police officers and everybody go out and find them and round them up and deport them. How would you do that? How do you find 11 million people who are living in the shadows? How are you going to compel them to leave? What are you going to say to their children and grandchildren and the businesses and the communities that depend on them? What is the image going to be around the world? You can see the cartoons as the United States is busy rounding up these folks, herding them into buses, sending them back.

George Will summed this up pretty well in his column last week. He wrote:

Of the nation's illegal immigrants--estimated to be at least 11 million, a cohort larger than the combined populations of 12 States--60 percent have been here at least five years. Most have roots in their communities. Their children born here are U.S. citizens.

Those children, because they were born in the United States, are U.S. citizens; that is what our Constitution says. So are we going to separate parents and grandparents from American citizen children?

We are not going to take the draconian police measures necessary to deport 11 million people. They would fill 200,000 buses in a caravan stretching bumper-to-bumper from San Diego to Alaska--where, by the way, 26,000 Latinos live. And there are no plausible incentives to get 11 million to board the buses.

That is what George Will said.

Mr. President, offering up border enforcement as a panacea is a great political talking point. You can go out, and there are places where people will stomp their feet and clap their hands and say: Isn't that true? But it is not a real strategy, it is not a way to fix our broken immigration system.

I am also troubled by the anti-immigrant statements made during this debate, which expose a limited understanding of the role of immigrants and immigrant workers and the role that they play in the fabric of our economy and our society and our communities. Most troubling is, I think, that these statements are statements that are made to try to divide people. For example, arguing against the need for immigrant labor, Congressman DANA ROHRABACHER said:

Let the prisoners pick the fruits. We can do it without bringing in millions of foreigners.

According to Congressman BOB BEAUPREZ:

If we continue down this path that the Senate has established, ..... we will have created the biggest magnet ever. It would be like a dinner bell, ``come one, come all.''

Congressman STEVE KING says that anyone who supports a guest worker proposal should be ``branded with a scarlet letter A,'' for ``amnesty.''

Congressman TOM TANCREDO wants to turn America into a gated community, warning people that among the people crossing our borders are ``people coming to kill me and you and your children.'' He laments the ``cult of multiculturalism'' and worries that America is becoming a ``Tower of Babel.''

I would like TOM TANCREDO to go over to Iraq, where there are 70,000 legal immigrants serving this country, and ask them how they feel about a ``Tower of Babel'' and about the values of this country.

These statements do not reflect the contribution that immigrants have made to our country over centuries. They don't reflect the contributions that they make today. Most of us in this country--almost all of us in this country descend from immigrants. That is who we are. I am privileged to be married to an immigrant, who didn't become an American citizen until, I think, she was 24 or 25 years old.

I know how loyal people can become to a country that welcomes them and gives them the ability to fulfill the American dream. The vast majority of the American people understand the value that immigrants provide to our country. They understand that enforcement alone is not going to work, and they have taken to the streets to make their voices heard. Half a million people demonstrated in Los Angeles to protest an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform, far surpassing the number of people who protested the Vietnam war. More than 10,000 people participated in the ``Day Without Latinos'' rally in Milwaukee, WI, leaving their jobs and marching through downtown. Similar walkouts occurred in other parts of the country with students and laborers protesting enforcement-only immigration proposals such as the House bill. Churches and humanitarian organizations have become actively involved in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, yesterday I spoke with Hispanic evangelical leaders from across the country about their concerns regarding the immigration crisis in our country. Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the archbishop of Los Angeles, has spearheaded an effort by the Roman Catholic Church to defy the House bill that criminalizes immigrants and the organizations that help those immigrants.

You heard my colleague, Senator Kennedy, talk about what would happen if somebody reaches out to the poor, the needy, the sick, which is a fundamental tenet of any religion. And this bill in the House wants to criminalize that.

The people are making their voices heard. They understand what is at stake in this debate. They understand the role that immigrants play in this country, and they are fighting to ensure that we end up with a fair humanitarian, realistic solution. Now, while some people look at enforcement only--incidentally, let me say that during the election of 2004, I spoke up as forcefully as I could in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and lots of places where there are lots of immigrants. I consistently said that you have to have comprehensive reform. I didn't just talk about earned legalization or about guest workers; I talked about the need to crack down on businesses that are illegally hiring people. We need to have a simple and honest way for people to know who is applying for work.

This is common sense, particularly in a post-9/11 world, where it is important for American security to know who is coming into our country. So we need to do that. You cannot look at enforcement-only but rather the comprehensive bill like that which is being considered on the floor of the Senate. I am encouraged by what the Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan bill, did, which is now a full substitute to Senator Frist's bill, and that is the bill offered by Senator Specter.

As Senator Kennedy and others have said, the Specter amendment has the four cornerstones of real immigration reform. You cannot do it without all four. No. 1, you have to have a strengthening of our border enforcement. That means using all of the latest technology to build a virtual fence--use the sensors that we have available in the military, use the cameras and technology, and use more human presence to add to the Border Patrol that is currently there; make sure enough vehicles are there, which is an amendment I intend to offer if we get into the substantive part of the debate. It has been much neglected through the years by all in strengthening the border.

Second, regulate visas in order to meet the work flow needs. And you have to do it in a more effective way than we have in the past.

Third, you have to provide a path for legalization for people who have been here for a long period of time, played by the rules, raised their families, and have children who are American citizens. We need to find a way to do that so that it is not, as some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle say, opening the door and making a fool of the law. I am not for doing that. The law has to mean something.

Indeed, in this bill, from 2004 forward, there is no eligibility for people to have earned legalization. It shuts the door after 2004. It brings down a wall but in a comprehensive way that has a starting point that says: OK, we acknowledge that for a long period of time we didn't have a realistic system, we were not able to stop people from coming in. What is the fairest way to deal with this problem, to send notice in the future that this is a new get-tough policy in the United States and a policy that will be backed up by adequate border security, by a realistic visa program that commands respect of people, and by a legitimate effort to bring people out of the shadows, which also commands the respect of people everywhere.

Finally, we need to help employers enforce our laws. You have to have a way for the employer not to be turned into a police officer but to easily, and with certainty, be able to determine whether the documents they are looking at are real and whether the person they are looking at, presenting the documents, is the person that it purports to be.

Mr. President, the Specter amendment is tough on border security. It is important because this debate has gone on as if there is a bill out there that is for border security--the Frist bill and the House bill--and this other bill that somehow is not. That is not accurate. The Specter amendment is tough on enforcement and border security. Almost every provision of the other bill--the Frist bill--is in there. And it is unfair to assume that it doesn't have strong enforcement provisions.

The Specter substitute doubles the size of the Border Patrol by adding 12,000 new agents over the next 5 years. It doubles interior enforcement by adding 5,000 investigators over the next 5 years. It adds new technology at the border to create the virtual fence that I talked about. It expands the exit and the entry system at all land and airports. It mandates a new land and water surveillance plan, and it increases the criminal penalties for violating our immigration laws.

That is a tough bill with tough enforcement. It also addresses the reason that undocumented workers come to this country. They come to this country looking for jobs, and the demand for labor in our country is one of the things that pulls them here. So workers cross the border because we don't have enough visas to be able to permit people to cross legally, so they come illegally. Guess what. They get a job when they get here. That is illegal.

One of the key elements to stopping the illegal flow of workers across the border is to increase the number of visas for people to come legally and also to have an adequate ability for the employer to have no excuse for not knowing the legality of the people who work with them. There should be a no-fault system here, where there is an automatic presumption of the employer's ability to enforce.

The temporary worker program that is created by the Specter substitute, in my judgment, will help to regularize the flow of immigrant workers in and out of this country. I understand some people fear allowing temporary workers into the United States. They think it will hurt American workers and depress their wages. Again, that is a phony ``bogeyman.'' That is a red herring in this debate. Either people have not read the temporary worker program or they chose to allow themselves to be completely misled by it.

The temporary program has labor protections and it has market wage requirements. The worker has to receive at least the same wage as someone similarly situated or at the prevailing wage level for that job, whichever is greater. So there is a wage enforcement mechanism that will not allow that depression.

The workers will receive a 3-year visa, reviewable for 3 years, and have the ability to curb employer abuse by switching jobs. And in addition, after working 4 years, they can petition for a green card. So the temporary worker program meets the labor needs of employers while at the same time remaining flexible enough to accommodate changes in the marketplace.

Equally important is reducing the backlog of people who are waiting for visas. Mr. President, 260,000 new family visas and 150,000 new employment visas will be added each year. Thirty percent of the employment visa pool will be reserved for essential workers. And perhaps most importantly, those currently waiting for visas will be processed before any of the current undocumented workers.

This is critical. When people talk about this somehow being an amnesty, they are completely ignoring the 10 steps you have to go through--the last of which is the most important of all--that you go to the end of the line. You don't somehow get a free pass card that automatically puts you in; you go to the end of the line.

So the numbers of documented people are already there ahead of those who are undocumented; and if you are coming in undocumented, you not only have to learn English, have a health exam, and have a security background check, and you not only have to be legitimately employed and all these things, but you also go to the end of the line. That is not an amnesty.

The Judiciary Committee bill also provides a realistic way to deal with the 11 million undocumented workers who are already here. Senator Kennedy went through those 10 different steps. I will not repeat them now, except to emphasize the last point I made about the back of the line.

I think those are pretty onerous burdens. They are tough burdens. They require all back taxes to be paid--tough burdens. It is not forgive and forget. It is meet a standard. It is live up to a standard.

The final piece of the immigration reform puzzle is how do we create a workable employer verification system. We don't want to, but we need to, unfortunately, rely on employers to be part of the system. We don't want to turn them into immigration bureaucrats. We don't want to turn them into police officers, but it is inevitable if we are going to have a legitimate comprehensive system that when somebody presents credentials to an employer, the employer can't cheat, the employer can't look for a way around it.

The employer has to be part of this system of the values of America that say there are people waiting in line, there are people going through the visa system. We are spending money on the border. We need you to be part of this system. It is going to take an educational effort by chambers of commerce and small business associations and other efforts around the country so that there is an ethic in America that is not willing to cheat. And if that ethic was put in place, we would do more to stop illegal immigration than any other single item because people won't be able to find the work. I personally think it is the single most important part, together with the Border Patrol component itself, of having a comprehensive immigration program.

Currently, however, employers don't have a reliable system for checking the validity of Social Security numbers, and we know how many Social Security numbers have been stolen. We have a problem for all Americans with the theft of Social Security numbers. So we need to deal with that problem even as we deal with this question of verification of employees.

The Specter substitute creates a system that will enable employers to quickly and accurately verify a potential employee's legal status. The last immigration reform we passed in 1986 was intended to address the root causes of illegal workers coming across to the United States, but it failed to draw all the illegal workers out of the shadows, and that really has helped lay the groundwork to people's cynicism and skepticism, which I understand, about today's system.

The reason we are in the crisis we are in today is because we have never really been comprehensive. That is the problem. I believe the Specter substitute amendment that the Judiciary Committee worked so hard to create and pass in a bipartisan fashion does not make the same mistake that was made in 1986.

There is one other aspect of the bill I would like to mention before yielding the floor. I have supported for many years the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act will enable young people who have spent most of their lives in the United States, who believe in our country and have stayed out of trouble, to have a chance to get a crack at higher education, which is essential. It gives incredibly bright and capable young people a real chance at success, and it gives our country well-educated, hard-working citizens. I think including the DREAM Act in comprehensive immigration reform makes sense, and I am pleased the Judiciary Committee, led by the efforts of Senator Durbin, included it.

There are a number of amendments--I am not going to go into all of them now--but there are a number of amendments on Border Patrol, making sure the Border Patrol agents have sufficient tools, GPS, other items. Also, I want to eliminate the ability of the administration to have a completely unreviewable authority to make the full decision on an individual's life. The Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and consular officials who currently have the sole and final authority really will have an undue impact on detention, deportation, citizenship determinations, and other issues. We need to somehow not have concentrated power in so few hands.

In the end, the Specter bill is a comprehensive bill. It has the chance of bipartisan support. I think it is a courageous bill. I congratulate the Chair and the members of the committee who fought so hard to come up with something under difficult circumstances, and I hope we are going to be able to get a chance to fix that bill and amend that bill appropriately on the floor. I hope that will be the vehicle the Senate proudly embraces as a reflection of the values of our country and the proper amount of respect for the history we have traveled.

I yield the floor.

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