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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 - June 06, 2007)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I think there are 2 minutes left on the discussion of this issue.

I hope our colleagues listened to the extraordinary history of the Salazar family. It is the living of the American dream. It is respect for the Spanish language and Spanish tradition, and the reverence that it has for English today.

I am disappointed in the Inhofe amendment because the Inhofe amendment doesn't add one nickel, it doesn't add 1 hour for those who want to learn English. To learn English in my home city of Boston, MA, immigrants have to wait 3 years in order to gain admission to a class to learn English. There are long waits in all parts of the country. If we had some effort to try and provide the opportunity for those who do not know English to learn English, I think we would be much better off.

Finally, as the Senator from Colorado has pointed out, the great civil rights protections of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Executive order 13,166 as well as protections dealing with public health and safety that we have found to be so important in terms of ensuring the health and the safety and the security of our people. Providing information needed to protect health and safety depend on communication--communication--and we have developed a process, a way of respecting different traditions in order to be able to do that.

The Salazar amendment retains and respects that tradition, and it is the way we should be proceeding and embracing this evening for the reasons he stated so well.


Mr. President, I wish to yield time on the Ensign amendment. I think I have 5 minutes on the Ensign amendment in opposition?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator is correct. The Senator has 5 minutes on the Ensign amendment.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the Ensign amendment basically rearranges what we call the merit-based system that has been included in this legislation. This was the subject of a good deal of debate: Do we want to develop a merit-based system that has been developed in some other countries. It has had some success in some areas, some challenges in others.

During the debate there was a question about how we would develop a merit-based system to take in the needs of the United States. There are important needs in high skills, but we also understand from the Department of Labor that 8 out of the 10 areas of occupations are basically low skill, what they call low skill. Those may be teachers, they may be managers, or professional people in some areas, but they are basically individuals who have very important skills that are essential to the American economy.

We had debate about how we were going to work out that merit system, and in that whole process we worked diligently to find a system that is going to respect the higher skilled but also provides some opportunity for the low skilled as well to be able to gain entry and then to gain what we call the sufficient points to move far forward and able to gain green cards and eventually citizenship.

The Ensign amendment absolutely emasculates that amendment and virtually closes out all of the low-skilled possibilities for people who might come on in as temporary workers or may come on in under other provisions of this legislation. Under the Ensign amendment, all of those individuals, the lower skilled, are effectively eliminated and closed out, make no mistake about it. Make no mistake about it.

Finally, we have provisions in the legislation dealing with the higher skills, called the H-1B provisions. That is directly related to higher skills. We have addressed that issue in other provisions of the legislation.

For those reasons, I would hope the Ensign amendment would not be accepted.


Mr. President, on the Vitter amendment, let me add some additional points to this debate. A great deal of time was spent listening to Secretary Chertoff, to making recommendations about what is going to be in the national security interest to preserve our borders. That was one of the most important parts of the development of this legislation.

Senator Isakson came forward with a very important suggestion and a proposal with regard to ensuring that we were going to have true national security, protection of our national security before other provisions were going to be set forth. We have had good chances during the period of these past months to work with Homeland Security and to work with all of the Members of this body to ensure we were going to have effective provisions to protect national security. We even accepted a Gregg amendment which we believed added to the provisions that were accepted.

It is our belief those provisions are sufficient, the allocations of resources for the border, the utilization of enhanced border patrols, the enhanced border security, which has been outlined time and again during the course of this debate. They are sufficient. So I would hope at the time that amendment is addressed it would not be accepted.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I have opposed the Dorgan amendment each time for very important and basic reasons. We are attempting to secure our borders. We are going to secure our borders. We know, even when we secure our borders, we are going to have pressure on those borders to come through. People are either going to come through the front door or they are going to come through the back door.

What do I mean by that? If they are coming through the back door, they are going to be the undocumented and the exploited undocumented workers, such as we have seen in my own city of New Bedford, where they are arrested and exploited and are driving down wages. If they come through the front door, they are going to meet the needs of American industry when we find there are no existing options for American workers. There is going to be the requirement that you have to get American workers first. We have accepted that and restated that with the Durbin amendment. But if they are able to gain entry into the United States, they are going to have the kind of protections that are included in the legislation.

I have listened to those who have been opposed to the temporary workers, saying there are no rights and protections for these temporary workers. They ought to read the bill. They ought to read the bill, because any temporary worker who is going to be hired is going to be guaranteed the prevailing wage, they are going to be protected by the OSHA provisions, they are going to be protected by workmen's compensation, and they are going to have the opportunity, we believe, over a period of time, if they have come in, to try to improve themselves, to learn English, to involve themselves in an employment program to begin to go up the ladder in terms of getting a green card. So that is the choice.

If we act to eliminate the temporary worker program, we are going to find what we have at the present time, that hundreds of individuals die in the desert; that we are going to have those individuals who are able to gain entry in the United States and are undocumented and they are going to be exploited, as they are exploited today, and they will drive down wages, as happens today. That happens to be the situation.

Some like some temporary worker programs better than others, but we have the one we have in this bill and we have every intention to try and make it work. We have set up a careful system in the bill to accommodate the concerns about the size of the temporary worker program. There is, as well, a market-based adjustment that is crucial to the provision in the bill, and I think it would be a great mistake to effectively emasculate the temporary worker program. That is what the Dorgan amendment would do.

Mr. President, I believe that I am the only one who has time that is remaining. If that be the case, I would be glad to yield back the remaining time.

I ask if the Chair would be good enough to state the amendments, the first amendment that would be before the Senate at this time. We have a series of different votes, and I think we ought to have the opportunity to make sure all of us understand exactly what we are voting on.

I believe the hour of 10 o'clock has arrived, and I yield whatever time remains, and I think we expect yeas and nays votes on all of them.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the merit-based system that is included in this legislation as it exists at the present time is heavily skewed toward the high skills. I would say 75 to 80 percent of those who are going to qualify in the merit-based system are going to be for the highly skilled.

There is the reservation under the skill system, 25 or 30 percent for lower skills because our economy designed high skills, and the Department of Labor says 8 out of 10 occupations that our Nation needs are low skills: teacher's aides, home health aides, and others.

That has been worked out. That is the way it is. Under the Ensign amendment you would completely skew it to shortchange all of the low skills, all for the high skills. We are taking care of the high skills with the H-1B program. If we need to do something about that, then let's have amendments to do it.

But this way effectively is saying to millions of people who have come here and have been absolutely indispensable to our economy that they are never going to have a chance to be part of the American dream.

I hope the amendment will be defeated.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, there was no difference among all of us in trying to ensure that we were going to have a secure America. We worked very closely with Secretary Chertoff. In this legislation, we have increased it to 27,000 detention beds, 20,000 border guards, 375 miles of fencing, 275 vehicle barriers, 70 ground-based radars and cameras, sensors, and 4 unmanned aerial vehicles. We accepted the Isakson trigger, saying that the other aspects of this legislation will not go into effect until these are committed. Then we accepted the Gregg additions. We are in the process now of trying to negotiate with the administration to get mandatory spending to make sure all these are done, and done expeditiously.

The Secretary of Homeland Security thinks we have met our responsibilities. I hope the amendment will not be accepted.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, this is the third time we have dealt with this issue. As much as I respect the Senator from North Dakota, he doesn't care more about American workers than I do.

The fact is, if you have a secure border, workers are either going to come in through the front door or the back door. If they come in through the back door, as they are now doing, they are going to be exploited and humiliated. If they come through the front door, as a result of the fact that there is no American worker prepared to take that job, they are going to get labor protections, the prevailing wage, OSHA protections, workmen's compensation, and they are going to have those kinds of protections which they do not have now.

You may not like the temporary worker program, but we have to have predictability for a period of time. In the legislation are correcting mechanisms for this program. Let us at least give it a chance to work.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I would have to object. We are in the process of attempting to clear up these. We have had a very full day. I want to thank the Senator from Texas for his cooperation. We will try to address these in an orderly way. We have been trying to process some of these back and forth. I think we have made extraordinary progress today. We are trying to make sure everyone's voice and interests positioned on those issues are going to have an opportunity to be heard. Now I have to object. I will work with the Senator and see if we cannot arrange time for consideration.


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