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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

IMMIGRATION -- (Senate - June 28, 2007)

Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak about the immigration reform issue. Before my colleague from Illinois leaves the Chamber, I wish to say that at the end of the day, there were some profiles in courage, people of the heart but also people of the mind who wanted to do what is right for America and for America's future. I cannot think of a better colleague than the senior Senator from Illinois, DICK DURBIN, for his passion, for his wisdom, for his courage, and for his leadership. I look forward to continuing our work together as we work on this and so many other issues that are so important, both to Illinois and to Colorado and to the Nation and to the entire world. I thank my colleague from Illinois.

As I reflect on the occurrences of the last several years with respect to immigration reform, I wish to comment on several things. The first of those is a long history related to an issue that is somehow intertwined with my own life. Four hundred nine years ago, my forefathers and foremothers came to the place we now call the State of New Mexico, today known as the land of enchantment. It was in New Mexico they decided to found what was the first settlement in the Southwest and in that part of the State. They named that city the city of Santa Fe, the city of holy faith. Over the centuries following the founding of the city of Santa Fe, for the next 250 years, my family continued to farm and ranch along the banks of the Rio Grande River, from Santa Fe up to the north through communities such as those named Espanola and Chama. Then in 1848, we didn't immigrate to this country, but the border of the United States of America moved us over to the Rio Grande River to the south. It was in 1848, the Mexican-American war was ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The signing of the treaty gave the people who lived in at that time the Southwestern part of the United States the option of either becoming citizens of these United States or going back not from where they had come but back to the other side of what had been a new border that had been created in 1848.

My forefathers and foremothers at the time having had 250 years of history living in the Southwest, living in New Mexico, living in the southern part of Colorado, made the decision they were going to choose the path of America, the path of the future, the path of what is now the greatest country in the world. It was a good decision. As a result of that decision, we have been now in New Mexico and Colorado for a number of generations. I am a fifth generation Coloradan. My family goes back in New Mexico for 12 generations.

Going back to that history, and recognizing for the first 250 years of my family's settlement of these United States they were part of the Government of Spain, subjects of the Government of Spain for most of that time, and then for about 20 years a part of the Mexican Government when Mexico overthrew Spain in the War of Independence in 1821. So for us there is that history which ties us so much to the lands of the southwest.

Now, for me, when I think about that history, and when I see what America has done for my family, I see very much an America that has been an America in progress.

I look to the Civil War, where there were over 600,000 people in America who died, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, to give a new birth of freedom to America. That was a statement by President Lincoln in which he believed slavery and the separation and ownership of people based on their race was something which was absolutely wrong. He was able to keep our Union together with the blood that was spilled both in the South and in the North.

It was out of that great Civil War of our times that we ended up with what are now some of the more significant amendments of our Bill of Rights. One thinks of the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments that abolished slavery, that created equal protection under the laws, that made sure everybody--no matter who they are, no matter where they come from--had an opportunity in these United States.

But that was not the end of the march for progress because even with the inclusion of those amendments, women were excluded and, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court, in interpreting those amendments, made the decision that the Jim Crow segregation laws of the United States of America were just fine; that it was OK for the Government of America to sanction a place where you could have schools for Blacks, schools for Whites, schools for people who were Hispanic. It was OK, in those days, for women, according to the laws of this country, not to be allowed to vote, to take a subservient and very secondary role in our society. That was after a great civil war where over 600,000 people gave their lives on the soil of our America. But yet America marched forward on a path of progress. And we did, indeed, later on adopt the women's right of suffrage that allowed women to vote in our society.

Through the long civil rights movement, led by great leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, we ended up with a courageous Supreme Court in a unanimous decision of those days where Justice Warren wrote the famous Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. In that 1954 decision by Justice Warren, what Justice Warren said in that decision is that the place of separate but equal had no place in our America. He said you cannot have a doctrine of separate but equal. That ends up branding those who are of a different color with a sense of inferiority and, therefore, under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment there was no room for segregation in the United States of America. That was a significant milestone in our march for progress in America.

We have made major steps since that point in time. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, signed by President Johnson in the 1960s, ushered in a whole new era of civil rights in America. We have continued to march forward.

So, today, as we look at what happened with the end of the immigration reform debate, I remain steadfastly confident and optimistic the tomorrows and the weeks ahead and the years ahead will bring about a resolution to this issue of immigration which we deal with today, and in that resolution of how immigration legislation is passed, to fix a system which is in chaos and in disorder today, what we will find is, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, change in our immigration laws will bend toward the arc of moral justice; that justice is where that arc will lead us as we deal with the issue of immigration reform.

I believe very strongly we had a good bill. It was not a perfect bill. It was a bill that, obviously, had its critics, both on the left and on the right. But I think it is important for us to step back and ask ourselves what it is we were trying to do, those of us who worked so hard on this legislation.

I believe, first and foremost, what we were doing is trying to address the national security issues of the United States. We were trying to do that by strengthening our borders and making sure we had enough money to be able to hire the personnel and do the things we have to do to enforce our borders and also to enforce our laws within our country.

How can we sit here today in the United States of America and know there are millions of people we do not know, or what their backgrounds are, who are here illegally, how can we be satisfied that our national security is taken care of when the borders are as porous as they are today? This national security issue is an inescapable force that will ultimately lead us to have the right resolution to dealing with the issue of our broken borders.

We also have a system of immigration which is simply broken. It is not working. What ends up happening is people point a lot to the border to the south, Mexico, as though that is where the issue of immigration, which has become so contentious, is rooted. Yet in reality, when you talk to the Irish who live in New York or in Chicago or other places, there are many undocumented Irish who live in those communities.

There are undocumented people in this country who come from over 140 countries all around the world. Indeed, no matter how big a wall we build, no matter how tall the wall, no matter whether that wall is as big as the Wall of China, the fact is, we have a system inside of our country that is not working because about 40 percent of the people who are here in an undocumented status actually came into the country legally, and they have overstayed their visas. So we have an immigration system within our country that simply is not working.

Finally, there are the moral and human issues that are at stake, including the human and moral issues with the 12 million people who live here in the shadows of our society. Our quest was to bring those 12 million people out of the shadows of darkness and pain they currently live in, into the sunlight of our society.

We made it very clear in our statement that it was not a free ride. We said to them in our legislation they would have to pay significant fines, they would have to pass a background check, they would have to learn English, they would have to live through a time--to use a Catholic metaphor--a period of purgatory for up to 8 years before they would be eligible to even become citizens. For most of them it would have meant a period of up to 11 years.

So this was not the free ride that was characterized by some of the opponents of the legislation. This was, indeed, tough, fair, and practical legislation that we proposed. But that legislation will not be heard on the Senate floor further for who knows how long. But at some point in time those forces that drew us together are forces which are not going to go away.

We have to continue to figure out a way to fix our broken borders. We have to have the courage to stand up and ensure that fix of a broken immigration system. What we have to do is have the courage to say we are going to do something that is moral and just and humane with the 12 million undocumented workers who have toiled in our hotel rooms, in our fields, who work at construction sites, who work as chicken pluckers, as my good friend said in South Carolina, who work in those kinds of conditions every day.

So I leave the end of this day with a sense of hopefulness, a sense of optimism, and with a sense that these inescapable forces that impel us forward will now not allow us to fail. We will get this job done.

As we get this job done, it is also important to reflect on the fact that there have been many people who have gotten us to the point where we are today. There is a lot of work that has gone on on this issue of immigration.

As Senator Reid, and I, and others have spoken about this issue of immigration, we have reminded people that since 9/11 there have been 36 hearings on the issue of immigration. There have been 6 days of committee markup. There have been 59 committee amendments. There have been now probably 25 days of this Senate debating the issue of immigration. And during that course, there have been almost 100 Senate floor amendments that we have voted on as we have moved forward with immigration reform.

We will get there. But through that whole effort, there have been some tremendous people who have been profiles in courage. Some of them are newcomers to our Senate family. Some of them are Democrats who have been around a long time and who have inspired the people of America and the people who work here every day--day after day after day. Some of them are Republican. Some of them are Democrat. I want to say a word about some of these individuals.

Senator Kennedy, yes, some people love him; some people hate him. But there is no person who has more of a passion and a sense of justice in America. When you think about the contributions the Kennedy family and Senator Kennedy have made to this Nation, they are one of those historic and heritage families of whom we can all truly be proud. It has been an honor for me to work with him.

Senator Lindsey Graham did not have to get involved in the issue of immigration. He is up for reelection. It is not a popular issue. He comes from a tough State, South Carolina. Yet he worked every day and gave it everything he had, his whole heart and soul. He deserves a profile in courage for what he did.

Senator Feinstein has labored so much because she cares about those people working in the fields. She cares so much about making sure we have a program that works for business and for agriculture. She is concerned about the human and moral issues. She partnered up with our colleague, Senator Larry Craig, to get 800 organizations behind the legislation for AgJOBS. She did an incredible job in moving us forward, along with Senator Larry Craig.

Senator Bob Menendez, we heard him speak earlier on the Senate floor. He truly has added a tremendous dimension to this body, and his leadership will continue to bring us to a solution that is a fair and humane and just solution to this issue of immigration about which he cares so much. When he talks about family reunification, for him, he knows what that means in the context of immigration in a personal sense. So we need to honor and respect his perspective, which I support.

Senator Reid, without his leadership, and without his bringing ``Lazarus'' up to life again on the floor of the Senate on immigration, we would not have gotten anywhere. So I thank our leader for having given us the opportunity and having stood with us on some very tough debates. He is a tough guy. He is a boxer. He knows how to fight. That is the kind of leadership America needs.

Senator Leahy, as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has done such a great job in the functioning of that Judiciary Committee, helped us move this legislation forward. I thank him for his leadership.

Senator Kyl, the chairman of the Republican Conference Committee--get that--the chairman of the Republican Conference Committee, was in the trenches. He was in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, trying to make this thing happen; Jon Kyl from Arizona deserves one of those profiles in courage as well; Senator McCain and his leadership. He is running for President. This is not a popular issue to take up.

Some people are saying that perhaps this is an issue that might take him to a lesser standing in the polls. But I will say this about Senator McCain: He is a hero of America, and he is a hero of America because he has the courage of his convictions to stand up for those things he believes in. You think about those years he spent in captivity in Vietnam and what kind of courage was honed into his consciousness and into his humanity. He truly is a person of great leadership.

Senator Specter, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a Republican who helped shepherd this legislation forward. Day after day he worked to make this happen because he knew of the national imperative we were dealing with. He also is one of those people with great courage.

My colleague from Florida, Senator Martinez, worked hard for a very long time trying to get us across the finish line. For me, he is a brother. For me, when he tells the story of being a Peter Pan child, he exemplifies the dream and hope of what America is. We very much look forward to continuing our working relationship together on issues that affect America.

I say to his colleague, the Presiding Officer, Senator Nelson from Florida, I appreciate his great work and hanging with us, even on what was a very tough vote at the end.

I also want to say a quick word about a couple of other people who are freshmen, about whom some might say: What were they doing involved in such a big issue? But then I guess they did it because they learned and because they were doing it for all of the right reasons. Sheldon Whitehouse, my colleague from Rhode Island, I called on him and said: You need to be a part of this group. You need to be a part of it because, No. 1, you are on the Judiciary Committee; and No. 2, you were a great attorney general of Rhode Island; and No. 3, you will learn so much in working with great names such as Kennedy and Specter, Leahy, and others. So he joined us, and day in and day out he was there, laboring to get us across the finish line.

Amy Klobuchar, the new Senator from Minnesota, has a way of trying to bring people together. She has a way of trying to bring people together. She labored mightily to get us to where we ended up today, with at least as many votes as we were able to get.

But it is not just those who work who have the title of Senator--and I might add Senator Trent Lott also did a Herculean job of trying to get us across the finish line, and I thank him for that.

But there are many people behind each of these Senators. We get the honors, we get the label of Senator, but we couldn't do it without the wonderful floor staff we have, including the Parliamentarians and the clerks and others who help us every day, but also the staffs of each of our offices.

From Senator Kennedy's staff, I thank Ester Olavarria, Michael Myers, Janice Kaguyutan, Melissa Crow, Mary Giovagnoli, and Todd Kushner; for Senator Feinstein, Amy Pope and Jennifer Duck; for Senator Menendez, Chris Schloesser; for Senator Reid, Serena Hoy, Marcela Urrutia, and Ron Weich; for Senator Durbin, Joe Zogby; for Senator Leahy, Matt Virkstis and Ellen Gallagher; for Senator Graham, Jen Olson and Matt Rimkunas; for Senator Kyl, Elizabeth Maier and Michael Dougherty; for Senator McCain, Becky Jensen; for Senator Specter, Michael O'Neill and Juria Jones; for Senator Martinez, Nilda Pedrosa and Clay Deatherage.

I thank all the staff who have made this possible.

In conclusion, let me say I have great hope. I have great hope and I am optimistic. I am optimistic we are going to be able to deal with the great issues of our time in the 21st century. We are going to be able to figure out a way to resolve the issues in Iraq and in the Middle East, because the greatness of America depends upon us restoring the greatness of America around the world. We will move forward with a clean energy future for the 21st century, which is what we worked so hard on and what we passed in this Chamber last week. We will work very hard to address the issues of health care which affect so many Americans and their families and so many American businesses. Yes, we will continue to work on the issue of immigration. It is an issue we must resolve, and I am optimistic.

I am optimistic because when I think of that generation I come from, that generation of World War II, the parents of the Presiding Officer and mine, people who lived through those very difficult times of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, people who fought in World War II, veterans such as my father who went to war, my mother who served in the Pentagon during World War II, that generation of World War II, where half a million Americans gave their lives in the name of preserving civilization and freedom; if they could take on those challenges of their time, then there is no reason why we in the Congress cannot take on the challenges of our time and restore the greatness of America and make sure that the legacy they left to each and every one of us is not a legacy we forget or that we do not pass on in an even better shape to our children. I do not want our generation to be the first generation in American history that passes on the baton to the next generation in worse condition than we inherited it from our parents.

I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.

Mr. President, in my haste to thank everybody I forgot to say something about someone who has now been through three immigration battles with me in my office, and that is Felicia Escobar. Felicia will be going to law school soon. For the last 3 years she has labored mightily, putting in sometimes 100-hour work weeks to make sure we are doing the right things on immigration, and I wanted to personally thank her on the floor for her great efforts.


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