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Public Statements

Department Of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I think we are all concerned that we get border security right. The Graham amendment offered us that opportunity. It looks like we may get there tonight.

Let the Senate understand there is a Catch-22 to what we are doing. While Americans want their border security--my guess is what the majority leader is proposing we adjust to will pass by the unanimous support of this Senate. The Catch-22 is that American agriculture is now in crisis, in part because we have failed to pass an immigration bill that addresses their guest worker need problem and the border closes and the human labor flow stops. We want it stopped. We want the illegal movement to stop, but we need a legal system tied to this to solve a problem.

Last agricultural season, underemployed by 25 percent, $3 billion lost at the farm gate, the consumer picked up the bill. Then we struggled mightily to solve the problem, and we could not. Now we are heading into another harvest season, with 35 percent underemployment, with a projected $5 billion to $6 billion loss in American agriculture--fruit, vegetables, and nuts left hanging on the trees and oranges rotting in the orange groves.

The Senator from California and I have said, please, help us a little bit and reinstate a guest worker program with border security; give us a 5-year pilot temporary program to solve a near disastrous problem for American agriculture. We fumble through and we cannot do it. So what are America's farmers doing--the ones who can afford to? They are taking their capital and equipment and they are moving to Mexico and Argentina and Brazil and Chile. America's investment will move south of the border.

Here we are now, 60 percent dependent on foreign oil to fuel our cars. Are we going to become 60 or 70 percent dependent on foreign countries to produce our fruits and our vegetables? If this Senate cannot get it right within a decade, that is where we will be--maybe even less time than that.

So while we debate border security--and while we are all for it, and while I have been aggressive in moving legislation with Senator Byrd, starting 2 years ago, to tighten our borders--always in my mind tied to that was reform of the guest worker program and getting a workforce for American agriculture that was legal, that was transparent, that came and worked and went home. But we can't do that. We would not do it. We refuse to do it because of grounds of political intimidation.

Shame on us if we destroy American agriculture because we cannot get it right. So the Senator from California and I are left with no alternative. Do we object to unanimous consent to secure the border? Of course we would not. We cannot and we should not. But we will ask this Senate to vote time and time again and either say you are for American agriculture or you are against it.

Therein lies the question this Senate has yet to answer, and they must answer if we are to supply America with its fresh fruits and vegetables and the kind of abundant food supply that we have grown use to--but more important that we expect.


Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, I would like, for a moment, to react to the Senator from Georgia. It is oftentimes confused that AgJOBS was two bills that were merged together--two problems solved. One was to create a new, modern, guest worker--or I should say flexible guest worker program that fits the needs of American agriculture. That was over here. We reformed the H-2A program. But over here was, what do you do with 1.2 million illegals who are here and are now working in agriculture and have been here for 4 or 5 years? That was the other side of it.

We said: If you stayed here and worked and became legal and met these qualifications, there would be something at the end of the road because we believe if you don't do that, if you say: Oh, yeah, you can stay and you can work, but you have to stay in agriculture to do so--specific to agriculture--you have created indentured servitude. You and I do not want that, nor do we want to be accused of that in any respect.

So we have to look at the two realities. The two realities are an H-2A program that does not meet the need of American agriculture today and a current workforce that is here and illegal.

How you bring legality to that workforce that is here and is illegal remains the question on which we differ. I think we have come awfully close to agreeing on a new guest worker program. And in that, the Senator from Georgia is right: It is very clear: They come, they work, they go home. That is a true guest worker program. Now, that is not today, that is tomorrow. Today is how do you meet the needs and solve the illegality problem of those currently here? Therein lies our struggle.

Somehow we have to be able to fix that and require compliance and not be accused or meet the test of not producing indentured servitude by saying the only way you can become legal is to stay in agriculture. That is not very fair either. So I guess they all have to go home. Some would like that, too.

You and I will never escape the definition of amnesty because anytime we touch an illegal and give them anything, we will be accused by the anti-immigration forces in this country of having morphed a new form of amnesty. At the same time, they are forcing us to refuse dealing with the real problem and solving it, or at least they are forcing some to run for cover in search of something that is impossible, and that is zero amnesty. You can't get there. I don't believe it is possible.

If you touch an illegal in any way, and in any way give them something that offers them some stability in the current environment, tomorrow morning Lou Dobbs will say: Amnesty. And it is a new creation he thought of overnight while in one of his 1932 labor dreams.


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