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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - May 24, 2007)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I yield myself 3 1/2 minutes, and the Chair will let me know when I have 1/2 minute remaining.

Mr. President, just to summarize where we are, those of us who have studied this issue--and I respect all the Members of the Senate in giving this consideration--recognize we have to have a comprehensive approach. We don't rely on any one part in order to be successful with this recommendation in terms of immigration reform. We have the strong border security, but with the border security we do have some opportunity for people to come in the front door so they are not coming in the back door illegally. We have tough interior enforcement because we require that those individuals who are going to come in have a card. We treat them fairly, we treat them well, and we provide the same kinds of protections for those individuals that we give to the American workers. That doesn't exist today. It is an entirely different game.

We have to understand at the outset that the guest worker doesn't get in here unless there is a refusal of any American to do that job. If there is any American anyplace that will do the job, they get it. Do we understand that? This is for jobs Americans will not do. We hear great stories about people being unemployed here and unemployed there. I agree with that. But the fact is, there are some jobs in the American economy which Americans just will not do. I don't think that needs to be debated. And there are those who will come here and will do those jobs with the idea that, hopefully, they will have an opportunity to be part of the American dream. So the advertising goes out for the job that is out there, and Americans can get the job. If no American wants it, then the opportunity is there for a guest worker.

We have built in here a review of the guest worker program. The Senator from North Dakota says: Let's do a 5- year and then end it. We say: Let's take it to 18 months. I spoke earlier in the debate about what this commission does. It is made up of businessmen, it is made up of workers and of economists who will decide how this program is working. Is there exploitation? Is it functioning? If it is working, is it fair? It is 18 months, and then they have to give Congress the information. They do the study, they give the information, and we modify the program.

Under the existing program, people will go out and work for a period of 5 years, and they may very well earn points to become part of the American dream. That doesn't exist in the European system. This is entirely different. These individuals, in 5 years, up to a million individuals, earn points to become part of the American dream, but then suddenly the Dorgan amendment pulls the strings right out from under them. Down they go. Down they go. The promise to them is if they work hard and play by the rules and work in very tough and menial jobs, they may have an opportunity--not guaranteed, but they may have the opportunity to be a part of the American dream, but not under the Dorgan amendment, under our amendment.

This is the way to go. We have in here the review that is essential and necessary. This can provide the Congress with the information of whether this program is working. It has been established, and it will be set up. It will be functioning, and it will give Congress the best information. We will have continuing oversight, and we will be able to adjust that program in ways that serve humanity and serve our economy.

I hope the Dorgan amendment will be defeated.


Mr. KENNEDY. I will make a unanimous consent request in a few moments to vote at 5 o'clock on the Vitter amendment, and then the amendment of Senator Sanders. Then, at that time, we have been told, those who want to address the supplemental will begin that debate--a discussion on the Senate floor.

I thank the Senator from Texas. She has an amendment on Social Security. She has been kind enough, as always, to cooperate with us, and indicated a willingness to work out an appropriate time. It is a substantive amendment. We will look forward to considering it. I want to give her every assurance we will consider this and will deal with it. If not today, we will do the best we can to deal with it on the Tuesday we get back. There are members on the Finance Committee, since it is dealing with Social Security, who wanted to at least have an impact. This in no way will delay the consideration of this amendment. We want to give her those assurances.

I know the Senator from Alabama, Senator Sessions, is on his way over. He wants to be able to enter an amendment as well. We certainly will look forward to that. We had hoped we might have been able to get an earlier consideration. He has been over in the Armed Services Committee.

Members have been extremely cooperative, incredibly helpful. We have made good progress here today. We want to make some brief comments at an appropriate time, when the Senator finishes, on the Vitter amendment. Then, hopefully, we will have an opportunity to vote on these amendments. Then those who are dealing with the supplemental will have a chance to address the Senate.

I thank the Senator. We look forward to his comments.


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, at the request of the leaders, we were in the process of trying to get some votes this afternoon. We were moving along as well because the Appropriations Committee had asked us if we would be finished by 5 o'clock. I see my friend from Alabama who has been extremely patient. He has been in the Armed Services Committee, where I should have been earlier in the afternoon. He was diligent there and arrived over here. He has important amendments on the earned-income tax credit and others. The Senator from Vermont has been here all afternoon. He has a good amendment. We had initially, at 2:15, said we would do the Vitter amendment. We were going to come back and do the Feingold amendment, but then we were told we couldn't vote on that.

We were told we couldn't vote on Vitter because there were some members of his own party who chose not to do so. But we wanted to vote on the amendment of the Senator from Vermont. Hopefully, he was going to be accepted, but that is not the case.

I hope we would have the opportunity to vote on that; then after that, to recognize the Senator from

Alabama for whatever time he might need for the purpose of debate, rather than for voting. The request of the leadership is to do the supplemental. We give assurance to the Senator from Alabama that we will consider his amendment at the earliest possible time after we return.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, all of the men and women who would become legal residents of the United States under the terms of this legislation are required to pay income tax like every other worker in America. What the Sessions amendment would do is really quite extraordinary and grossly unfair. It would arbitrarily deny those immigrants who have become legal residents one of the tax benefits available to every taxpayer under the Internal Revenue Code. That provision is the earned-income tax credit, a provision designed to reduce the I tax burden on low income families with children.

It is fundamentally wrong to subject immigrant workers to a different, harsher Tax Code than the one that applies to everyone else in the country. An immigrant worker should pay exactly the same income tax that every other worker earning the same pay and supporting the same size family pays--no less and no more. We should not be designing a special punitive Tax Code for immigrants that makes them more than everyone else. Yet that is exactly what the Sessions amendment seeks to do.

The Session amendment would result in highly inconsistent treatment of legal immigrant residents, and would drastically increase the amount of tax that many of these families had to pay. They would be subject to income and payroll taxes in the same manner as other workers but would be denied the use of a key element of the Tax Code that is intended to offset the relatively heavy tax burdens that low-income working families, especially those with children, otherwise would face.

Most of the EITC is simply a tax credit for the payment of other taxes, especially regressive payroll taxes. The EITC was specifically designed to offset the payroll tax burden on low-income working parents. The Treasury Department has estimated that a large majority of the EITC merely compensates for a portion of the federal income, payroll, and excise taxes paid by the low-income tax filers who qualify to receive it.

A significant share of families that receive the EITC owe federal income tax before the EITC is applied, in addition to paying payroll taxes. Low-income working immigrant families in this category who would be denied the EITC under the Sessions Amendment would consequently face a dramatic increase in their income tax bill, requiring them to pay much higher taxes than other taxpayers with similar earnings.

Other families with even less income would not receive a refund to offset the disproportionately large payroll taxes they paid, unlike other workers with comparable wages and dependents.

To qualify for the EITC, under current law, a taxpayer must satisfy the following criteria: 1., Be a US citizen or legal resident; 2., have a valid Social Security number for both the worker and any qualifying children; 3., have earned income from employment or self-employment; 4., have total income that falls below a certain level, and; 5., file an income tax return.

Current law already clearly prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving the EITC. No immigrant can receive the earned income tax credit unless he or she is a legal resident who is a low wage worker paying payroll taxes and filing an income tax return. These are men and women who are conscientiously fulfilling their responsibilities to their adopted country and they deserve to be treated like all other workers in America.

This amendment would hurt children. The United States has more children living in poverty than any other industrialized country. We need to help children, not hurt them. And they should not have to pay for the sins of their parents.


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