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Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006--Continued -- (Senate - May 16, 2006)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, obviously this is an issue that has touched a lot of nerves all across the country. We all understand the volatility and the tension within in it. We have an enormous task to try to find a fair, orderly, humane, and secure process for protecting our border. That is what we are trying to do.

Last night, President Bush spoke to the Nation about the challenge we face. I have strong reservations about some of the President's immigration proposals. But I believe on balance the President gave a thoughtful and compelling address that laid out why we have to act urgently. I think he particularly talked about the importance of acting comprehensively in solving the immigration puzzle.

I say to my colleagues, I think most of us have found as we have been wrestling with this issue, it is like a balloon. If you push in one place, it expands in another place, so you have to come at it in a comprehensive way. Each component of this reform is dependent on the other component in order to make the overall reform successful. We are not going to be successful if we don't create an effective employer verification system because workers will find a way to keep coming if we don't. By the same token, securing the border doesn't address the 11 million undocumented workers currently in the country.

We need the President's leadership so that this bill or this approach does not turn into one of those unfunded mandates or neglected opportunities like No Child Left Behind or even the Medicare prescription drug law.

Last night, the President announced his intention to dispatch 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern border. All of us agree we need to strengthen the southern border. But I disagree with President Bush about how we ought to get there and how fast we can get there. Yes, we need more strength and more personnel at the border. We need better enforcement of our immigration laws. But, particularly in a post-9/11 world, when you look at the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, we need to do a better job of preventing the flood of immigrants who are crossing the borders every day.

But the bottom line is, what you need to do that job is not a makeshift force of already overextended National Guardsmen to militarize the border but rather specialized agents who are trained to do the police work, to track down individuals who make an illegal crossing, and to ensure that the borders are not easy avenues for those crossings.

I remind my colleagues that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when our cities and our communities were facing a crime epidemic, we didn't send the National Guard in to do the job. We hired more police officers and invested in community policing. The COPS Program put 100,000 skilled and trained law enforcement officers on the streets of the communities of our country and crime dropped.

After 9/11, the mission of the Border Patrol changed. No longer are they charged with simply securing the border. They are now patrolling one of the greatest vulnerabilities in the war on terror. As their mission changed, their numbers increased, but they have never increased enough to do the job.

Each year for the past 10 years between 700,000 and 800,000 illegal immigrants arrived in this country. Despite more than doubling the number of Border Patrol agents between 1995 and 2005, Federal enforcement of our immigration laws has decreased significantly. The number of border apprehensions has declined by 31 percent, from an average of 1.5 million apprehensions a year between 1996 and 2000, to an average of 1.05 million between 2001 and 2004.

At the same time, the number of illegal immigrants apprehended within the interior of the country has plummeted by 36 percent, from an average of 40,193 between 1996 and 2000, to an average of 25,901 between 2001 and 2004.

As much as the strength of the Border Patrol has grown in the last years, actual performance demonstrates that we have to close a gap by almost twice or three times as much. The current Border Patrol agents protect more than 8,000 miles of international border and they detect and prevent smuggling, unlawful entry, undocumented immigrants, they apprehend persons violating the immigration laws, and they interdict contraband such as narcotics. They work under difficult circumstances for long periods and in all kinds of weather.

Currently, we have fewer than 12,000 Border Patrol agents. Those agents are responsible for patrolling 8,000 miles of land and seacoast, and because of the need to provide continuous coverage, no more than 25 percent of those agents are securing our borders at any given moment. That means there are only 4,000 agents patrolling 8,000 miles of land and our borders. So, if instead of spreading them out as we do today you put them all along the border, with just Texas alone, you would then have roughly two Border Patrol agents per mile. It is physically impossible to protect the borders of the United States under those circumstances.

There are additional numbers put into this legislation, but I have heard that, in fact, by joining the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center together with the National Training Center in Artesia, NM, which has recently increased its training capacity, we could do more. It is not rocket science, it is about capacity. If you don't have the capacity, then you build the capacity to meet the demand.

If we have the will to make this happen, we can make it happen.

So we already know this is a stopgap measure with the military to cover up what is already a failed immigration policy and a failed border policy. TheÐ9/11 Commission warned us, several years ago now, that we needed to have additional personnel. Those calls have never been heeded. We need to heed them now. My amendment will increase the number by an additional 1,000 this year and that will be above the increase of 2,000 agents contained in the underlying bill.

Frankly, I think we ought to be trying to do more than that, but that is the reasonable level that we seem to be able to accept and also train at the same time under the current circumstances.

In addition, my amendment would give border State Governors the ability to request up to 1,000 more Border Patrol agents in the Department of Homeland Security in times of international border emergencies. In deciding whether to grant the Governor's request, the Secretary would have to consider the effect any shuffling of Border Patrol agents would have on overall border security.

Last year, a survey by Peter D. Hart found that just 34 percent of the front-line Border Patrol agents said they were satisfied with the ``tools, training, and support'' they received to protect our borders. That should be 100 percent. What we need to do is guarantee that we take the steps in order to make it so.

In addition, my amendment increases the number of helicopters and power boats available for Border Patrol, and it provides Border Patrol agents with the training they need to use those tools. We guarantee a ratio of one patrol vehicle for every three agents and ensure that each of those vehicles is equipped with a portable computer. That also provides every agent with clear and encrypted two-way radios, night vision equipment, GPS devices, high-quality body armor, and reliable and effective weapons. It makes each and every agent certain that they have the necessary equipment and uniforms for the kind of climate in which they are working.

I am glad that the Senator from Pennsylvania is prepared to accept this amendment. I thank my colleagues for their support of it.

As I said, if we don't have a sufficient training capacity, it is clear that the expertise needed is real. I heard of Border Patrol agents who have had to go through survival training and different kinds of training that is highly specialized. These individuals are engaged in law enforcement and police work. I think everybody in this country would like to see our National Guard, which is already stretched thin, minimally involved to the degree possible. The best way to do that is to get more Border Patrol agents trained faster.

I thank the Senator from Pennsylvania.


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