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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, as this bill has progressed through the week, there has been, in my view, significant progress made. It has truly been a tribute to the leadership on both sides, and I acknowledge the leadership of the majority leader, Harry Reid, in terms of holding people's feet to the fire to get us moving forward with immigration.

We hope to be able to bring this to a conclusion the week after we get back from the Memorial Day break. I understand that this morning we will have about four amendments, two on the Republican side, and two on the Democratic side.


Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I appreciate the comments from my good friend from Texas. I wish to respond to the notion that this Chamber is not taking sufficient time in order to consider the issue of immigration and immigration reform. We have, indeed, been on a very long journey to try to grapple with this issue which, at the base of it, is the fundamental question of national security.

It was last year, for most of the month of May, where this Senate debated a comprehensive immigration reform package. It was an immigration reform package that had gone through the Senate Judiciary Committee and was amended multiple times on the floor of the Senate. Now, for the last many months, perhaps as many as 4 to 5 months, there have been a group of Senators, Republicans and Democrats, working with Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Gutierrez and President Bush to try to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform package, which is now the package that is before this Chamber.

I submit, in response to my good friend from Texas, that there has been ample opportunity for us to deal with the issue of immigration reform and to come up with a system that is, in fact, workable.

On this specific issue, what we have done during this past week is--there have been 23 amendments that have been offered. There have been 13 of those amendments that have been disposed of--7 of those have been disposed of with rollcall votes, 6 of them with voice votes. There were 10 amendments pending as of yesterday; there will be 4 more amendments pending as of today.

At the request of many Republican colleagues, Senator Reid agreed it was important for us to take an additional week to be able to fully debate this very complicated and very difficult and very emotional issue on how we move forward with immigration reform. We did not get to a conclusion of this debate this week because Senator Reid thought it important to take another week to fully consider the legislation before us.

Indeed, during the week that Members of the Senate are working back in their districts or doing what they may be doing during this next week, it is going to be another opportunity for Members of the Senate to continue to study the provisions of this legislation. But this legislation was not pulled out of the darkness one day and placed on the floor of the Senate. This legislation was crafted with significant input from both Republican and Democratic Senators and with the guidance of Secretary Chertoff. While it may not be perfect, and while the efforts on the floor of the Senate this week and the week after we return from the Memorial Day break will improve upon the bill, there has been a huge amount of energy that has gone into creating an immigration reform package that will, in fact, work.

At the end of the day, I remind all our colleagues and those who are watching, what is at stake is moving from a system of a broken border and lawlessness that relates to immigration in this country to a system that works. We need to find a solution that will fix those broken borders. We need to find solutions that will, in fact, make sure the laws of the Nation on immigration are enforced.

For 20 years, this country has looked the other way. We are a Nation of laws. We ought to be enforcing the laws as this legislation moves forward, making sure we are going to have the laws and the capacity to enforce those laws in our interior, and we need to have a realistic solution to deal with the 12 million undocumented workers here in America. To those who would be part of the ``round them up and deport them'' crowd, I remind them that is an unrealistic solution. As the President of the United States said during the last week: To round up 12 million people, to put them on buses and railroads and whatever other way one would want to round up those 12 million people and send them elsewhere is not a realistic solution.

This proposal that is now before the Senate, which was carefully crafted with significant input from the administration and the leadership of the President, is a good way for us to move forward. I hope, as we go on into the week after the Memorial Day work period, at that point in time there will be ample opportunity to have a robust and orderly debate on amendments that my colleagues will bring forth to try to further improve the bill.


Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I will take a look at the amendment my colleague from Colorado has pending, amendment No. 1189.

I do wish to say this about my colleague from Colorado: He has been a champion for agriculture all his life. He is a fifth-generation Coloradan. He understands what it is like out in the country, coming from a place in Jackson County, Walden, CO, for now five generations.

A concern I have with his amendment, and I will take a further look at it, is that it seems to strike at the heart of the AgJOBS provision of this legislation. The AgJOBS provision of this legislation is an essential part of the agreement here that we need to move forward and create a system that will provide the labor we need to work on our farms and ranches across America.

In my own State of Colorado, we have approximately 31,000 farms that encompass more than 31 million acres. According to the agribusiness statistics we have, they contribute over $16 billion to the State's economy. We need to make sure we have the labor that is necessary to work out in those fields so that we do not have the destruction we have seen in Colorado and California and in almost every State that is an agriculturally dependent State.

So one of the concerns I have, and I will take a further look at my colleague's amendment, 1189, but I do voice a preliminary concern, and I do wish to make sure that at the end of the day, when we have comprehensive immigration reform adopted here in this country, that the provisions of AgJOBS--we have had as many as 67 cosponsors on that legislation--that AgJOBS in fact does remain a part of this legislation. That is legislation which has been worked on for a very long time in a bipartisan fashion, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein as well as Senator Larry Craig. It is a good piece of legislation that we need to deal with in order to make sure we have the labor requirements met for farmers and ranchers across America.

Mr. President, I know our colleague from Alabama is waiting to speak, and then in the wings I see waiting Senator McCain.


Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Arizona, Senator McCain, for his comments and for his support of this legislation. I also want to say that Senator McCain has always spoken to the highest moral values of this Nation. His history in terms of his contributions to this country are unequaled. His involvement in trying to deal with this issue, including addressing it from a moral perspective, is something I will always admire.

I remember well, I say to Senator McCain, when I went to your office, probably 2 years ago, as a freshman Senator. When I was sitting in your office, you pulled out a copy of the Arizona Republic, and I think the headline was: ``300 People Died in the Desert.'' The Senator spoke about the moral basis for us to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

The Senator certainly has been a leader in that effort. I thank him for that. I thank him for his integrity, and I thank him for all his contributions to this country.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I see my friend from Alabama is in the Chamber


Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Alabama for his heartfelt statements concerning this very important issue that faces our country today.

I wish to do two things here. First, I wish to remind the Senate how far along this road we have come. This debate on immigration reform is not one that started on this Monday. It is indeed a debate the Senate started over a year and a half ago, and it started in the Judiciary Committee. It then went through nearly a month of debate, with many amendments and changes, and ultimately a bill that was passed out of the Senate, this comprehensive immigration reform, by a vote, as I recall, of 64 Senators voting to move that bill forward.

Now, that was a year ago. We are now a year ahead, and what has happened during this past year is that there have been continuing conversations about how we might be able to create an immigration reform system that works for our country. After many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours of meetings, which included the White House and included the leading members of many of the committees in the Senate, there was a bill that was crafted. It may be an imperfect bill, but part of what is happening today is that, as amendments have been crafted and introduced, there is an effort to make the legislation better.

At the end of the day, I wish to give thanks to all those Members of the Senate and members of the President's Cabinet, and the President himself, for what they have done in moving this immigration debate forward.

I will also add that our majority leader, Senator Reid, long ago gave warning to the Members of the Senate that we were going to move forward to immigration. This was not a surprise to the Members of the Senate. Months ago, Senator Reid said we have to deal with this most fundamental national security problem of our time, and what I will do is I will reserve time at the end of May so we can deal with immigration reform.

Well, he did that, and he kept everybody's feet to the fire. At the beginning of this week, Senator Reid made the decision he would allow another week of debate. So that, at the end of the day, we will have had 3 weeks to study and debate the legislation that was put together.

I will remind my colleagues there has been significant progress made. There have been 23 amendments that have been offered. Of those, 13 have already been disposed of. Seven of them were disposed of this week with rollcall votes, six disposed of with voice votes. As of yesterday, there were 10 pending amendments. Today, there have been four more amendments that have been offered, and the beginning debate on those amendments has taken place. So the majority leader's decision to add 1 more week to continue the deliberation on this bill is something which is needed and something which we all appreciate. Hopefully, what it will lead to is the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is good for the American people.

I wish to take a few minutes to sum up, from my point of view, why this legislation is so important. We now know we have a system in America for immigration which is broken. It is a system of lawlessness and it is a system that victimizes a lot of people, from the people who are the workers to the employers of this country. We also know it is a system that has been broken for a very long time. Our laws have not been enforced on immigration. The United States has chosen, instead of enforcing the law, to look the other way. Indeed, over the last 5 or 6 years, as I understand it, there have been less than four enforcement actions taken against employers across the country, on average.

When we have that kind of chaos and lawlessness and the kind of broken borders we have, what does it do to the United States? The first thing it does is it compromises our national security. How can we have national security in a post-9/11 world when we don't know who is coming into our country? We have 400,000 or 600,000 people coming here illegally every year. How can we say to the American people that the national security interest of the United States is being protected? How can we do that? We cannot do that. How can we, as Senators and as people who are leading our Government, say to the people of our country that in this democracy we are upholding the rule of law, when we look the other way instead of enforcing the laws of the country? In my view, we need to move forward and we need to develop comprehensive immigration reform.

As I have looked at this legislation and the different aspects of the legislation that have been crafted together, it seems to me we need to look at the comprehensive approach as though we were looking at a tripod. We have to ask ourselves this question: What is the aim of this legislation?

The first aim, in my view--one leg of the tripod--is to fix our borders. We have broken borders. We have broken

borders today. So we have proposed in our legislation an additional number of Border Patrol agents to help us secure the border. We started out in this legislation with 18,000 additional Border Patrol officers. Through an amendment by Senator Gregg, that number is now up to 20,000 Border Patrol agents. That is significant additional manpower that is going to go to the border.

We have approved at least 370 miles of fencing. So we will have fencing that will go into the strategic places along the border. We also have included in the legislation 200 miles of vehicle barriers. We have included 70 ground-based radar and camera towers. We have included four unmanned aerial vehicles. We have included new checkpoints and points of entry.

So one of our aims is to secure the border, and the legislation we have put forward, with the assistance and leadership of Secretary Chertoff, will ensure we have a protected border.

We also need to then ask ourselves: What are our other aims? It doesn't do much good to secure our borders but within our country we simply continue to ignore the law. So we need to enforce the law within the country. That ought to be our second aim. That is the second leg of this tripod: how we enforce our laws within our country. So we must secure America's interior.

How are we going to do that? Well, our legislation does that in a number of ways. First, we will increase the detention capacity of our immigration enforcement system to be able to hold those who are here unlawfully at the number of 27,500 a day--27,500 beds in detention facilities for those who are caught here unlawfully.

Secondly, we will go ahead and hire an additional 1,000 new ICE investigators to help us deal with the investigations of the laws that are broken under our immigration system. We will hire 2,500 new Customs and Border Protection workers. We will reimburse State and local communities, State and local communities that today are having to deal with the problems relating to criminal aliens. We will create a new employer verification system so that employers know the person they are hiring is legal and authorized to work in the United States, and we will do it in a way that does not put an unnecessary burden on American employers. We will hire an additional 1,000 new worksite compliance personnel. We will increase the penalties for gang activity, for fraud, and for human smuggling. We will streamline the background check process, we will require new fraudproof immigration documents with biometric identifiers, and we will encourage partnerships between Federal and State and local law enforcement to make sure our laws are, in fact, being enforced.

So the second aim--to secure America's interior--is something we have covered amply in this legislation.

The third aim--the third leg of this tripod--is to secure America's economic future. I wish to speak briefly about three aspects of how we will secure America's economic future.

First, the AgJOBS Act. The AgJOBS legislation allows us to maintain our current agricultural workforce. It will reform the existing agriculture program and make it effective. That legislation has been crafted to a point where I think there are 567 organizations that have endorsed it, from the Colorado Farm Bureau, to the Farmers Union, to every single agricultural organization in America.

The leaders on AgJOBS in the Senate, Senator Feinstein and Senator Craig, have been eloquent in making their statements about the need for the agricultural community, farmers and ranchers, to be able to have a stable workforce. We need to stop the rotting of the vegetables and the fruits in California, in Colorado, and across this country. The only way we are going to be able to do that is if we have a stable workforce for agriculture.

We also include in this legislation, as part of securing America's future, a new temporary worker program. Yes, it is a program that is controversial. It is very controversial on the Democratic side, and there are some Members on the Republican side as well who do not like that particular piece of legislation. I will say this, however. When we crafted the legislation, we included the kinds of worker protections to make sure the exploitation of past programs will not occur.

In the past, there were programs, such as the Brasero program, from years ago, in which there was massive exploitation of workers who were being brought here for a short period of time. What we have done in this legislation is to make sure that massive exploitation will not occur because the worker protections have been included in this legislation.

Finally, we will secure America's economic future by providing a realistic solution to the 12 million or so American people who are working in America, who have come here illegally, and who are in an undocumented status. That, at the end of the day, in many ways, has been the most contentious item we have debated in immigration reform. What do we do with the 12 million people here who are working in our factories, who are making our beds, who are fixing our food in our restaurants, and who do all the work here in America to make sure everybody's daily needs are taken care of? They interface with us in our daily lives.

Some people have said, as all of us have heard, I am sure, every Senator here, we ought to round them up and deport them all; we ought to have a mass deportation of the 12 million people here in America today.

A mass deportation. Well, there is a fiscal cost associated with that. Some people have made an estimate that it would cost multiple billions of dollars to be able to round up all these people and to deport them.

Can we actually do it? Can we actually deport 12 million people? If we were to deport 12 million people, in my view, No. 1, we would have a massive dislocation in the American economy; No. 2, it would be an un-American thing for us to do as a people because it would be inhumane. These 12 million people have brought their hopes and dreams to America, and they have contributed significantly to the workforce. It is our broken system which has allowed the illegality that has taken place to occur over a long period of time. So what we have crafted is a way forward that provides a realistic solution to how we deal with these people.

Now, on the other side, and in some places of our country, what we hear is a loud cry of amnesty. Well, I join President Bush and my colleagues, Senator John Kyl and Senator Kennedy, in saying this is not amnesty. What we are doing is saying, first of all, they will have to pay a penalty. When someone breaks the law in this country, they have to pay for having broken the law. If you do the crime, you have to do the time. Well, what we are saying is that the law has been broken, and they are going to have to pay very hefty penalties in order to come into compliance with the law.

We also say they have to go to the back of the line. The fact that someone came here illegally and crossed the border illegally will not give them an advantage against those who are trying to come in through our system in a very legal fashion. So all these people, the new Z cardholders, will go to the back of the line.

The next thing we will do is, we will require them to return home before they can apply for their green card. They will have to go home to a country outside the United States and do a touchback before they are able to come back in.

We will require them to learn English. We will require them to remain crime free. I could go on and on with respect to the requirements.

I have often said to those who claim this is amnesty, this is not amnesty, this is purgatory. You are basically taking these 12 million people and putting them in a purgatory status for a very long time before they would ultimately be eligible for a green card. That is a purgatory for a minimum of 8 years and for many as much as 12 years.

The legislation that has been crafted in a bipartisan way that is before this body is legislation which is tough, it is fair, it is practical, it is realistic. Our national security requires us to move forward with this legislation. Our economic security requires us to get to the finish line. The moral values of America that have guided America for so long require us to be successful in this mission.

As we conclude the week's debate on immigration, I would like to read a prayer, a prayer that was written by a person who knew a lot about immigration because he saw a lot of the victimization that occurred when there was a broken system of immigration in this country. That was the founder and President of the United Farm Workers of America, César Chávez, who passed away in 1993. He was a friend of mine. I knew him, and I knew his family. This is what he wrote. He said in his prayer:

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that the spirit will live among us.
Let the spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So that we can change the world.

That was written by César Chávez, the founder of the United Farm Workers. I think his inspiration has appeal today. It is yet another way to give us a clarion call to come to a successful conclusion of this immigration debate which is here on the floor of the Senate.


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