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Public Statements

Enforcement -Only Immigration Bills

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I regret to see that the Republicans are at it again--offering unworkable solutions to complex immigration issues that only make the problem worse and cater to the basest instincts of the far right fringe.

For 7 years, Republicans have failed to fix the broken immigration system, offering only empty rhetoric and unrealistic proposals. Democrats recognize that our country deserves better--we need to overhaul our broken system, uphold our values as a nation of immigrants, ensure our national security and protect American jobs.

It is unacceptable to have 12 million people in our country who are outside the system. Our illegal immigration problem has skyrocketed because employers know they can get away with breaking the law and abusing illegal workers. And the past 7 years have shown us that deportation alone is not the solution.

It is time to stop coddling employers who break our laws and undercut American workers. It is time to make sure employers follow our immigration and labor laws so that the law is respected, wages are fair, working conditions are decent, workers' rights are valued, and unscrupulous employers are punished. And it is time to treat immigrants with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

I have to ask why the Republicans have failed to address these very real problems. They controlled Congress for 6 years. They have occupied the White House for almost 8 years. Where have they been this whole time?

I can tell you where they have been. They have been cynically using the immigration problem to stir up local resentment and fear to divert attention away from their inaction. They have vilified immigrants, especially Latinos, making them the new unwanted class, the new untouchables. They have tried to convince Americans that declaring English the official language will solve our problems, when in fact English is already our national language, but the Government sometimes needs to use other languages to respond to health care and law enforcement emergencies. They have engaged in targeted attacks on people who are contributing to our communities.

I urge them to drop their rhetorical attacks that cater to the extreme right wing of their party. I urge them to listen to the American people, who want real solutions. Americans understand that immigration is a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive solution. They know that we need to address the situation of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, requiring them to register with the Government or face deportation; that we need to deport those who have committed serious crimes or represent a threat to our national security; that we need to meaningfully go after employers who flaunt the law by hiring those who are not authorized to work; and that we need to ensure that American workers are not harmed by U.S. immigration policy.

We can do this. We can uphold the rule of law. And we can do it without sacrificing our proud tradition of immigration.

The American people understand the issues. Why can't the Republicans?

Instead, they are proposing to deny local communities funding for community policing because such communities recognize that working with immigrant communities helps combat crime and lawlessness. They would force all American workers to prove eligibility to work based on a database that is so flawed it will result in denial of employment to millions of authorized workers, including American citizens. They would impose jail sentences on illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes, further overloading U.S. prisons. Those are just a few of the unworkable proposals they have introduced today, blithely ignoring the untold harm such ideas will cause to the American public.

This Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform in 2006. That bill faced head on the many aspects of the immigration system that are broken. It recognized that it is impractical to deport 12 million illegal immigrants. And it is undesirable--the majority of these people are playing a key role in the U.S. economy, taking care of our children, mowing our lawns, and harvesting our crops.

But that legislation also recognized that the Government must seize control of our immigration system. Border enforcement that is both effective and humane must be implemented. Employers who knowingly break the law and hire illegal immigrants must be punished. By hiring people who are not authorized to work, these bad actors are also violating labor protections in place to protect American workers.

The 2006 bill failed in the House, where the Republican majority instead chose to grandstand the issue and push an enforcement-only bill. Now we are seeing our Republican colleagues in the Senate do the same.

Let's stop the sham. Let's negotiate a real solution. Let's go back to the table, roll up our sleeves, and give the American public what it deserves: an immigration system that works, that is orderly, and that ensures that the system works for Americans. Anything less is unworthy of the people we represent, and that is why I oppose this effort launched today by my Republican colleagues.

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