IMMIGRATION REFORM -- (Senate - June 07, 2007)
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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I want to make a few comments about the legislation we have been working on so hard. The overall comment I want to make is, failure on this issue is simply not an option. Failure is not an option. The people of America deserve the Congress to resolve this issue because of the very important values that are at stake.
I want to say, first, before I make some other comments, that we would not be here, frankly, if it had not been for the leadership of Majority Leader Reid in setting aside this time for us to debate this issue of such national significance. So I appreciate him and all the leadership he has provided in this effort.
I also appreciate the leadership of both my Democratic and Republican colleagues who have worked hard on this issue for the last 4, 5 months. Indeed, it has been more than a 4- or 5-month debate and struggle.
Indeed, it has been more than a 4- or 5-month debate. We were on this floor for a month last year casting some 30, 35 rollcall votes, and we have been on this issue now for the last several weeks. We had a warning it was coming up. But there has been a lot of work that has gone into this legislation. It is my hope, with the sense of optimism expressed by my good friend, Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts, that Senator Reid and Senator McConnell will lead us to some resolution of this issue.
I want to say a quick word about why I don't think failure is an option. I don't think anybody here ought to be saying the immigration reform package is dead, because it isn't. It isn't. We are very close to coming up with legislation that will address the fundamental values we have been trying to address from the very beginning. In my mind, I want to say what I believe some of those fundamental values are.
First and foremost, we have to fix our borders. We have a system of broken borders in this country where people come across the border and we don't know who is coming into this country. We don't know who is coming into this country. In a post-9/11 world, that is absolutely unacceptable.
We also have a broken immigration system within the country, because when people come into the country, we don't know where they are and we do know that many of them overstay their visas. Forty percent, fifty percent of the people come into the country legally and simply overstay their visas. How can we have a system of national security when we don't know where these people are? So national security compels us to make sure that we get to a solution, and that is why failure is not an option.
Secondly, there are significant aspects to this legislation. I look at the great work Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN and Senator LARRY CRAIG have done with respect to AgJOBS, a piece of legislation that has been almost a decade in crafting. I know about the fruit that rots in places in California. I know about the agricultural disaster problems we have in many places across our country, including my State of Colorado. AgJOBS is an important part of the legislation. People and organizations, both Republican-leaning organizations and Democratic-leaning organizations, from the United Farm Workers to the Farm Bureau of America, and others, want us to pass this legislation because it included AgJOBS. Today, the farmers and ranchers of America ought to be saying to this Senate and to the leaders of this Senate that they want this bill and they want to get it done as soon as we possibly can.
Third, there are moral issues that frankly ought to guide us in dealing with some of these issues that are so important to our country. Sure, there are 12.5 million people who came here to America and they came here to work and to live the American dream. Tonight, many of those people live in fear not knowing what is going to happen to them, not knowing what is going to happen to their families the next day. Because they broke the law, we said in this compromise, in this piece of legislation we put together, that we were going to have them pay a fine. We were going to punish them. That is what we do in America all the time. We pass laws in this body. The Presiding Officer and I served as attorneys general for a long period of time, and what we do is when people break the law, we punish them. So we created a system here that provided punishment to people by requiring them to pay a fine.
We also in this legislation require that they pay fees, impact fees. We require them to pay other kinds of fees. So this was not what some of those people from places around the country have said is an amnesty bill. This was a bill that put people into probation and into purgatory where over a period of time, over a period of 8 years--you wait for 8 years and at the end of 8 years, if you do the time, if you pay the fine, if you stay crime free, if you learn English, you go to the back of the line, you meet all of those requirements, then--then--you become eligible for a green card. So what we crafted was a bill that was in fact a workable bill.
Having said all of that, I think the aim here still is to address those very important strategic interests of the United States of America, and I do not believe failure is an option. I believe that the Democrats, working with the Republicans, can still move forward to find legislation that will address the imperative of fixing our broken borders and our lawless immigration system which we currently have in America.
The last thing I want to say again is the best of times, frankly, for me in the Senate have been when Democrats and Republicans came together to solve the problems of our country. The issue of immigration isn't a Republican issue or a Democratic issue; it is an issue that is an American issue. If we are going to solve an issue that is as difficult as this very contentious issue for America, it is going to take Republicans coming over and working with the Democrats so we can get cloture on the bill, so we can get whatever amendments crafted that are not the poison pills some would try to offer, and we can get that done. I have confidence. I have confidence in my Democratic colleagues as well as my Republican colleagues that we can live up to the optimism--we can live up to the optimism Senator Reid shared with us here tonight.
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