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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Fine. I yield myself 5 minutes.

Mr. President, this has been a long journey to try and bring our broken immigration system and our broken borders to the place where this Senate can take action. Today's action is going to be absolutely key to whether we will be able to continue and finalize this legislation at the end of the week. So today's vote is a critical vote, key vote, perhaps the most important vote we have had here on this issue over the period of the last 3 years.

Our Judiciary Committee has been working on this legislation. Senator Specter has been a key part of this whole effort. It has been a bipartisan effort. Our quest has been a bipartisan effort here on the floor of the Senate.

Those of us who are committed to this issue believe we have an important responsibility to try to achieve something. We believe the reason for us being here, whether it is from Massachusetts or Pennsylvania or from other States, is to deal with the public's business, the Nation's business. This is the Nation's business. I think outside of the issue of the war in Iraq, this is front and center for our country.

People in my State are concerned and affected by it, and they are in other parts of the country as well. We have 900,000 nonnative-born individuals in my State of Massachusetts. Of those 900,000, 200,000 are undocumented. We have more than 3,000--in the city of Boston--more than 3,000 small businesses directly responsible for 34,000 jobs, more than half a billion dollars in pay and sales taxes in my State by those who are born in other countries. They represent probably less than 10 percent of the State's population, and 17 percent of the job market. The workers in our State, 17 percent are nonnative born, a demonstration that those individuals who have come here to the United States want to work. They want to work. They also are men and women of faith. They are men and women who care about their families, by the fact that more than $48 billion is returned every single year to the countries in Central and South America.

They care about their families. They want to work. More likely than not, they are all men and women of deep faith and religious belief. That is reflected in many of our communities in my State and in travels around the country. You see that day in and day out.

Also they want to be a part of the American dream. We have seen that reflected in the total numbers of individuals who have served in the Armed Forces of our country. Some 70,000 have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many have lost their lives. But in a number of instances, individuals, the undocumented, have crossed the line in terms of immigration, drawn here by the great economic magnet, the economic magnet that is on this side of the border that says: Look, we need you over here to make the American economy work. We want to pay you over here when you are unemployed over here. We will provide you the resources so you can look after your family. People have been attracted to that magnet. We have them here.

For those toward the end of this discussion and debate, as we have heard on the floor, we know what they are against. We do not know what they are for. Time and time again they tell us: We do not like this provision; we do not like that provision; we do not want that part of it. They ought to be able to explain to the American people what they are for. What are they going to do with the 12 1/2 million who are undocumented here? Send them back? Send them back to countries around the world, more than $250 billion; buses that would go from Los Angeles to New York and back again? Try and find them? Develop a type of Gestapo here to seek out these people who are in the shadows? That is their alternative? That is their alternative?

This country and this Senate is better. We have a process that said: Look, okay, you are here and undocumented. You are going to have to pay a price. We are going to take people who are in the line who have said they want to play by the rules. They go and they wait, and you wait and you wait and you wait. You pay and pay, and you pay and you pay. You pay your fees, you pay your processing fees, your adjustment fees. You pay not only for yourself but the other members of the family. You demonstrate you are going to learn English, you demonstrate you worked here, that you are a good citizen, that you have not had any run-in with crime, and then maybe you get on that pathway with a green card, and, perhaps, in 15, 18 years you will be able to raise your hand and be a citizen here in the United States. This is the issue. Are we going to have a constructive and positive resolution of this issue, or are we going to be naysayers, bumper sticker sloganeers who say: We are against amnesty, or, we are against this bill?

America deserves better. The issue is too important. Now is the time, this is the place. The Senate is the forum where we have to take this action.

I am hopeful that America is watching this and will understand what is at stake here. This is an issue and this is a vote of enormous importance. We talk of votes here. Some are more important than others. A few are of enormous significance and consequence. A few of them are going to have a defining impact about what kind of society we are going to be in, how we are going to treat each other, whether we have a respect for our fellow human beings and our fellow individuals who are here in this country, and whether we believe that our greatest days are yet to come.

Are we going to respond to the voices of fear? And that is the issue. Are we going to have a positive resolution, a constructive resolution, that is going to continue to be shaped as it goes to the House of Representatives, shaped there as well by different responsible figures? It may have somewhat of a different view. Or are we going to say no, no, we have listened to those voices of fear who say: Absolutely not. We are going to take the status quo. Every person who votes ``no'' is going to know that this situation is going to get worse and worse and worse.

We are going to say that: Oh, yes, sure, we will do something down on the border. But you are never going to have the kind of workforce enforcement, you are never going

to have the kind of absolutely essential identification system that any responsible immigration system is absolutely required to have.

This is a vital vote about the future of our country or the past. That is going to be the issue in question when the time comes to vote.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I ask to be notified when I have 30 seconds remaining.

We are called today by the ancients, the Founders of this Republic. Are we going to form a more perfect union? It was in this Chamber a number of years ago that we knocked down the great walls of discrimination on the basis of race, that we knocked down the walls of discrimination on the basis of religion. We knocked them down regarding national origin, we knocked them down with regard to gender, we knocked them down with regard to disability. Here in this Senate we were part of the march for progress.

Today, we are called on again in that exact same way. This issue is of the historical and momentous importance that those judgments and those decisions were. When the Senate was called upon, it brought out its best instincts, values, and its best traditions. We saw this Nation move forward. Who among us would retreat on any of those commitments? Who among us would say no to that great march for progress that we had in this Nation?

The question is: Is it alive? Is it continuing? Is it ongoing? Those who vote ``aye'' say it is ongoing, that we are continuing that march toward progress.

Year after year, we have had broken borders. Year after year, we have the exploitation of workers. Year after year, we see people who live in fear within our own borders of the United States of America. This is the opportunity to change it. Now is the time. Now is the time to secure our borders. Now is the time to deal with the national security issue. Now is the time to resume our commitment to family values, to people who want to work hard, men and women of faith, people who care about this country and want to be part of the American dream, who have seen their sons and daughters, in many instances, fight and lose their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is the challenge.

Now is the time. This is the place. This bill is strong. It is fair and practical. Today, my friends, we have the choice: Are we going to vote for our hopes, or are we going to vote for our fears? Are we going to vote for our future, or are we going to vote for our past?

This is the place. Now is the time. This is the vote. Vote ``aye'' for America's future.


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