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We Need To Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Madam Speaker, I will be joined throughout the course of this evening by some of my colleagues, including the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Ellison) and others who might join us. We want to speak tonight about a topic that's been in the news lately and is incredibly important to the American people, and that's the topic of immigration, securing our borders, immigration reform. A lot of us were, frankly, shocked at some of the steps that Arizona took a couple of weeks ago which has sent a powerful message to us here in Washington that we need to act.

It's not up to States to patrol their borders, to protect who is here, and to enforce workplace laws; it is the responsibility of the Federal Government. The Federal Government has failed to enforce our immigration laws. It's time to act now to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I have heard the message from Arizona loud and clear, and I hope that that passage of that bill provides an impetus for us to take the politically challenging but critical steps necessary to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Today was an exciting day for immigration reform. In the Senate, they introduced their conceptual proposal for immigration reform. This was introduced today by a number of Senators. Now, it's not a bill. We have a bill in the House that I proudly joined as a cosponsor of with about 100 Members to fix our broken immigration system. But this is the first step towards a bill in the Senate, which I hope will be introduced soon and will be bipartisan. It starts out 1(a), ``securing the border first before any action can be taken to change the status of people in the United States illegally.'' As long as we have a porous border and we are failing to secure our border, there won't be any meaningful reform in our own country. There will continue to be people who enter our country extralegally.

It's absolutely ridiculous that in this day and age, a sovereign Nation, the greatest Nation on Earth, cannot secure our own border. It's also critical that we know who's here. The Senate plan and the House plan that I am a cosponsor of require our undocumented population to register and undergo a background check. That's an important step, because right now we don't even know who is here in our own country. That's a security threat that every American should take seriously, and I think it's critical that we know who's here.

Arizona has triggered a national crisis and underlined the critical need for action at the Federal level. This ridiculous measure that Arizona passed--and I should point out that we should expect, if Congress continues to fail to take action, other States to pass some misguided and extreme State laws. But this Arizona law has triggered a moral crisis by forcing American citizens, families who are American citizens, to live in fear.

What does this law mean? It means that as American citizens are going about their business, going to school, going to the 7-Eleven, whatever they're doing, and if an officer thinks, thinks, suspects that they might be an illegal immigrant--could it be the clothes they wear? Could it be their race? Could it be an accent they speak with?--that officer can then demand proof, proof of their legal status in the U.S.

Now, I ask you, who carries the proof of their American citizenship with them? I know I don't when I go out shopping. I know I don't when I go for a walk. So these Americans will be detained. They could spend days, weeks, even months away from their families as they have to prove their American citizenship and request the documentation to do so. That can frequently take a long time, and I have been to these immigrant detention facilities. We have one in Aurora, Colorado. That is the type of facility that an American citizen will be taken to simply because they are not walking around or going about with the documentation of their American citizenship.

This threatens to turn Arizona into a police state. It threatens to strike fear in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, particularly Arizonans of particular ethnic heritages. That's why I feel very strongly this bill is a racist bill, one born of xenophobia, but one that will affect the rights of American citizens. Will it lead to the apprehension of more undocumented immigrants? It might. It will, on the margins. But it will lead to the detention of American citizens accidentally because American citizens, as we go about our own business in our own country, should not have to carry with us proof of our citizenship in this great Nation.

Where does this overreach of government end? This new law has triggered a political crisis in Arizona, effectively causing the law enforcement community, which has strongly opposed this bill in Arizona, to face the choice of going after people based on their race or protecting people from crime.

The fastest growing segment of our electorate will continue to pay attention to this issue. Latinos want to know that we have an interest in fixing the broken immigration system and making sure that no other States overreach and go after American citizens like Arizona does.

And yet we can all understand--me from Colorado, others across the Nation--why Arizona felt it had to fall to them to take action on this issue. It's because the Federal Government has failed to act on comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration is a national issue that requires a national solution. It can't be solved on a State-by-State basis. We need the Federal Government to take bold and decisive action, and we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform now.

We stand with the Arizona Association of Police Chiefs, the Yuma County sheriff, Mesa police chief and other law enforcement officials who are opposed to Senate bill 1070 in Arizona because it makes Arizonan

communities less safe and threatens American citizens with detention. If people are afraid that their families and neighbors and friends will be rounded up by police, they live in constant fear of a government and a police that are there to serve and protect.

The Arizona immigration enforcement law is an example of the chaos that's been created by the Federal Government's failure to protect our borders and act on comprehensive immigration reform. The new Arizona law is an attack on our American values. President Obama's acknowledged that Arizona's law undermines the basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans. This is a challenge of who we are as a Nation, who we are as human beings, and whether we're going to stand up for American ideals or reject those to appeal to our worst instincts and the worst among us.

Let's do the right thing and fix our broken immigration system. That is a challenge to us here in Congress, and it shouldn't take courage from Members of Congress to talk about, support, and pass immigration reform. Quite to the contrary, it should take courage to avoid passing immigration reform, because the American people overwhelmingly want immigration reform, and those Members of Congress who stand in the way of securing our borders and ensuring that only people can work legally risk not returning next year and having a different voice that demands the action of the United States Congress.

This is one of the few issues that has broad agreement among my constituents in Colorado. I have said this to a number of audiences. When we talked about health care, there were many of my constituents who supported health care reforms and many who opposed it. With regard to immigration, I have not found one constituent on the left or the right that believes that we are doing everything right with regard to immigration. It is broken. Conservatives agree it's broken. Liberals agree it's broken. Nobody believes our immigration system works perfectly.

We have an undocumented population of over 10 million people. We have thousands, hundreds of thousands of businesses across this country that violate the law every day. The rule of law across our great Nation has been challenged and undermined. But we in Congress--I hope that we in Congress have heard the cry from Arizona, the cry from the 49 other States, the cry from the American people demanding that we in Congress take action to fix our broken immigration system and may restore the rule of law to this great Nation.

I see I am joined by my friend from Minnesota, who I will yield to.


I appreciate Mr. Ellison bringing up employer verification. One of the key components of the Senate outline requires biometric employment verification. So this is not a Social Security number that could be used by somebody who is 6 foot 1 and 52 one day and someone who is 5 foot 3 and 42 the next day. This is a real biometric ID. No later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this proposal, the Social Security Administration will issue biometric Social Security cards that will be fraud resistant, tamper resistant, wear resistant, be machine readable, contain a photograph and an electronically coded microchip processor which possesses a unique biometric identifier for the authorized card bearer. It could be a fingerprint, eye scan.

We are going to be serious about knowing who can work and who is not legally employable. We need to be serious about making sure that it is the right person that we are talking about.

Again, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of violations of this area of employment law every day in this country, and we are not even remotely serious about cracking down on those. That is why we urgently need, why Arizona and the rest of the country has called on Congress to address this issue and why we only ignore them at our own peril.

We are joined by the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Chu) who, in her time here, has already become a champion of comprehensive immigration reform and making sure that we can fix our broken immigration system. I am glad to welcome Congresswoman Chu from California.


Thank you, Congresswoman Chu, for your leadership on this issue. Those are very powerful words that you shared. The stories that you shared, those individuals are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people across our country every day who have powerful stories about what has happened to them through our immigration system.

Let me briefly mention something that the Congresswoman alluded to about detention. It could be an American citizen or somebody who is undocumented and taken to detention, that means that taxpayers are paying their way. Taxpayers are paying $120 a day on average in these detention facilities. So if this Arizona law leads to more undocumented people being apprehended, then we are putting them up for free at a government hotel. So rather than working and not being a burden on American society, Arizona's new law forces taxpayers to put up illegal immigrants, feed and clothe and house them at taxpayer expense.

I bet if the people of Arizona knew that, they would have second thoughts about this law. But that is exactly what will happen. Not only that, there will be American citizens who are swept up in this. You go out for coffee, run your errands, don't bring your proof of citizenship with you, boom, you're in a detention facility. American taxpayers are paying $120 a night for you, and it might take a week, a month, however long it takes until you can get your documentation. God forbid you are visiting from Alaska, visiting from Florida, were born to a midwife and don't have a hospital birth certificate, you could be in that detention facility even though you are an American citizen for months, all at taxpayer expense.

I think the solution that the American people want is a lot better than that. I don't think that the American people want to put up illegal immigrants in hotels for months or years at a time. I think the American people want to make sure that we don't have an undocumented population in this country. That is exactly what the House conference of immigration reform bill would do, as well as the Senate proposal that was outlined. The Senate bill would require that anybody who is here has to register and have a background check and they would get a prospective immigrant status, a transitory, temporary status to be here.

And eventually if they learned English, went through all of these steps, they could become a permanent resident. But that is quite a long way down the road. And to ever achieve lawful permanent residence, they would have to speak English, have basic citizenship skills, updated terrorism, criminal history and background checks, pay all Federal income taxes, fees and

civil penalties and register for selective service after 8 years on the temporary status.

No, the American people don't want to put illegal immigrants up in hotels like the Arizona legislature are proposing. The American people don't want to have a large undocumented population.

I would also like to point out the problems that this law has interposed on one of our Nation's most important strategic relationships, and that is our relationship with our neighbors to the south, Mexico. I am the founder here in the Congress of the U.S.-Mexico Friendship Caucus to facilitate one of our most important trading partners. The flow of ideas and goods between the U.S. and Mexico is an important part of the prosperity we have here, and the growing economy in helping Mexico meet the demands of its growing middle class. And yet this law is hurting our bilateral relationship with Mexico.

You know, before I got to Congress, I occasionally used to travel internationally. I had been to places like Tunisia and Egypt and Australia. And on our Department of State, there is a site where they list any country with a warning. Don't go to this country because it has a civil war or it has terrorists. My mother wouldn't have liked it very much if our own Department of State said you might die if you go there.

Well, you know what, Mexico is now advising their citizens, their tourists, not to go to Arizona. Yes, one of our very own States is being warned against visiting by a country that sends many tourists to our Nation.

I represent some of the ski resorts, Vail, Beaver Creek and Copper Mountain in Colorado. We have tens of thousands from Mexico every year. It is one of our larger countries that sends tourists that keep Americans employed and spend money in Colorado. But by criminalizing a whole status of people, any Mexican tourist would have second thoughts about going to Arizona. And it saddens me as an American, having looked at these warnings that our Department of State has and always seeing Third World developing countries, saying glad I don't live where that civil war or dictator is, well, now one of our closest and most important friends and neighbors, the great country of Mexico, has listed one of our States on their warnings.

That's a blow to the American pride. I am proud to be an American, and to think that our country has some of these problems that only developing countries or dictatorships or police states have had in the past is not only disgraceful, but it will undermine the economy of Arizona. Tourism will dry up.

And it won't be just Mexico and Arizona. I have a feeling that many other countries will follow suit from East Asia and Latin America because who wants their citizens to be apprehended and placed in detention for months at a time. And that would be a very reasonable response. I hope that this law in Arizona is tossed out as soon as possible.

Again, it is important for us to understand why Arizona passed it. It was a message, a message to us in Congress that Congress has failed the American people. Congress has failed to enforce our borders and implement real employment enforcement, real security. Indeed, Congress' lack of action is leading to the undermining of American sovereignty not only in Arizona, but in many States, including my home State of Colorado, that has hundreds of thousands of people who live extra-legally--we don't know who they are, we don't know where they are--work, in most cases, extra-legally because Federal enforcement has been a joke.

This is a solution that we can solve. It's not a solution that should involve posturing from the left or the right. It's one that the American people and the people of Arizona, very rightfully so, have demanded action on with a shot across our bow.

I hope the people of Arizona don't suffer too much under this law because I understand and sympathize with their goals. I hope it's overturned soon. Certainly, if it's allowed to continue, it will hurt their economy, they will lose jobs, Arizonans will lose work, and Americans will be forced into detention at taxpayer expense. I hope that that doesn't happen. I hope this law is overturned before that happens. But the shot across the bow has been received, and I hope that it provides the urgent impetus for those of us here in Congress to move forward now on comprehensive immigration reform.

I yield to my friend from Minnesota (Mr. Ellison).


The people of this country are tired of this problem being used for political purposes from the left and the right. The American people just want to see this issue solved. The American people are smart; they recognize that the longer we delay taking action the bigger the problem gets.

Our immigration laws should reflect our interests as Americans and our values as Americans; but we need to treat this as something to solve, not an opportunity for politicians to score points on the left or points on the right by preying on our legitimate or illegitimate concerns or prejudices. Yes, we truly are a Nation of laws, but we are also a Nation of immigrants. We need to make sure that immigrants obey our laws, learn English, and pay their taxes; and then we welcome them as our American brothers and sisters.

It's amazing to see some of the nonconventional alliances, some of the groups that have been pushing for immigration reform. Among the strongest has been the

faith-based community. Now, while I have many people who have supported me in the past who are of the Catholic faith, the archbishop, Archbishop Chaput in Denver, is somebody who I don't agree with on a lot of social issues; he and I disagree on many issues, such as a woman's right to choose, but on this issue, he and I joined together in an event in Denver in support of immigration reform that 1,500 people, on a Sunday after mass, packed into a church in strong, universal support for comprehensive immigration reform across the faith-based community. From the evangelicals to the Catholics to the Jews to the Muslims to the humanists and the atheists, there is strong support for comprehensive immigration reform.

There is also support--and this is very unusual in the context of politics--from both the organized labor community and unions and businesses in the chamber of commerce. Among the strongest advocates for immigration reform have been high-tech businesses, chambers of commerce, arm and arm with their workers, their unions. It's very rare to see that happen here in Congress. And yet, why hasn't Congress achieved anything? It seems like politicians on both sides of the aisle have preferred to keep this issue out there. Is it to rally their base? Is it to talk about the undocumented, about why they need more time to do something? And yet both sides have refused to take action. And it will take both sides working together to solve this issue with an American solution.

Obey our laws, learn English, pay taxes, and welcome to America--that has always been our message. And it needs to continue to be the underlying values with which we construct an immigration system that works, restores the rule of law to our Nation, and is an opportunity for us in Congress to rise to the challenge that the people of Arizona have put before us, that frustrated voters in cities and States across the country have put to us. And if Congress doesn't act to pass comprehensive immigration reform and solve this issue, I believe that the American people will elect a Congress that will.

I will yield to my friend from Minnesota (Mr. Ellison)


Thank you.

I am glad that my friend from Minnesota brought up the important issue of detention. The Department of Homeland Security and ICE had 380,000 people in 2009 who were detained at taxpayer expense. One of the things we fear with the Arizona law is that these could actually be American citizens out working one day.

Oh, you don't have your papers. You're in detention. It could take a week. It could take a month.

There are many Americans who might have difficulty furnishing those records. Again, I point in particular to those who were born of a midwife or who are very elderly or whose birth hospitals have been subject to fires or to disasters, where records are unable to be located or where they've been lost or where it simply has been human error. Each of these 380,000 people who were detained last year were detained at taxpayer expense. Now, I would argue that that is not good for them and that it's not good for us, the taxpayers.

First of all, as my colleague from Minnesota mentioned, 107 died, in many cases, due to medical treatment being withheld, due to abuses. In the incarceration system, in many cases, they are put in with actual criminals who have been convicted of crimes. Again, these are people who are not serving criminal sentences. They are being detained while awaiting decisions on their immigration proceedings. They might either then be released into our country or expelled through a different country, but despite that, they are held in prisons and jails, and they're often mixed with the general prison population, putting them at risk for their lives and limbs, all at taxpayer expense.

To the extent that it allows for the apprehension of more people, the Arizona law will simply result in the greater taxpayer expense of putting people up at the tune of $120 a day. You know, that's what it costs. When I looked at it, I said, Gosh. We can put them up at Motel 6 for a quarter of that cost. Yet we continue, the taxpayers across our country, because of our complete failure to protect our borders and to have real immigration policy that works for our Nation. Over 300,000 people were incarcerated at taxpayer expense last year.

Comprehensive immigration reform is an American solution. It's common sense. It's fair. It's balanced. It has overwhelming support from the American people. Eighty-one percent agree that comprehensive reform is a balanced approach and that it's fair to taxpayers.

Voters across the board, from liberal to conservative, believe it is unrealistic to simply try to deport our way out of this problem. Seven in 10 voters agree that, in addition to increased enforcement and securing the border, illegal immigrants should be required to register and to meet conditions for permanent status. A comprehensive approach to immigration reform secures our borders, cracks down on employers who hire illegally, makes sure that we have real verification of who is able to work, and requires that illegal immigrants pay taxes and learn English to be eligible for permanent status. Voters should know that comprehensive immigration reform is an orderly process and that it will turn what has been completely uncontrolled and chaotic into a controlled flow of immigrants that continue to build our Nation and to reestablish the rule of law across our great Nation.

Americans are tired of the posturing on the left and the right. They are tired of the lack of solutions coming from Washington. They don't want to hear us complain about this, complain about that, hyperbole on this, hyperbole on that. What the people of Arizona have very clearly said they want and what the people of our country have very clearly said they want is for us here in Congress, the only place that this problem can be fixed, to fix this problem.

Border security is a joke. Enforcement of our laws at the workplace is a joke. We have over 10 million people violating the law in our country every day. The rule of law--our sovereignty--has been undermined. Taxpayers are putting up hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals a year at the cost of over $100 a day. Why not put them up at cheap hotels and save three-quarters of that? I don't know, but this is what we're doing.

Does this make sense to anybody, Madam Speaker? The answer is no.

I have brought this up at almost all of my town hall meetings in Colorado, and I have yet to find a single constituent--and I have a lot of diversity among my constituents. They range from the Tea Party patriots on the right to the socialists on the left and everything in between. Not one of them is happy with the immigration system in this country. Not one of them is happy that we are putting up 300,000 people a year at the cost of $120 a day. Not one of them is happy that we have an undocumented population of 10 million working illegally in this country. Not one of them is happy. Yet, to this point, Congress has failed to hear and to act upon that.

I believe that we will continue to fail at our own peril and that it is incumbent upon this Congress, with the fiercest urgency that the American people have placed on this issue before us, to solve this issue. We are a Nation of laws, and we are also a Nation of immigrants. That's why we need to make sure that our laws, our immigration laws, reflect our interests as Americans in order to create jobs for Americans, to provide safety and security for Americans and to help American businesses grow and succeed, which is why immigration reform is supported by chambers of commerce, by business interests as well as by unions, by faith-based communities, and by law enforcement.

We here in Congress should not be afraid of talking

about solving the immigration issue. We should be afraid of not talking about solving the immigration issue. Every day that goes by without bills being moved forward or with bills being dropped or without solutions being discussed is a day that the American people will hold their Members of Congress accountable for not doing anything to solve this pressing national issue.

I yield to my friend from Minnesota.


I thank the gentleman from Minnesota.

With due respect, it is really the American people who have kept the fire under this issue. The American people do not want Congress to continue to ignore our broken immigration system.

What would ignoring immigration do? What if we just said we're not going to deal with it, you know, that there's too much to work on? We've got, you know, health care. We've got energy. Why bother doing immigration?

You know what? Failure to act on immigration reform will mean that we will likely have twice as many illegal immigrants in 10 years than we have now--twice as many. Instead of 10 or 12 million, we could be talking about 20 or 25 million. The longer we wait, the bigger the problem gets.

The goal of immigration reform needs to be to eliminate--to bring to

zero--illegal immigration. If immigrants who have been living in our country illegally want to become taxpaying American citizens, they need to pass a background check, pay extra taxes, work towards citizenship, learn English, register.

We need immigration reform that is both principled and pragmatic. We in this country have the right to decide who lives in our country and who doesn't, but we haven't been exercising that right. We've been allowing millions of people to live here without knowing who they are or what they are doing. Yet we continue to refuse to take action, and we do so at our own peril.

Yes, we should hear very clearly from Arizona and from other States that they are demanding action of the Federal Government. There is no good solution for a county or a State. I sympathize with our cities, our counties, and our States which are dealing with the failure of a Federal policy to protect our borders--Federal policies that undermine the rule of law and our national sovereignty, but it falls to the United States Congress to act to fix our broken immigration laws. People should not be able to cross the borders or to overstay their visas without permission, and businesses should not be able to exploit cheap labor off the books, undermining jobs for American citizens.

We in Congress have a unique opportunity now to take action. The American people are tired of excuses. They are tired of demagoguery. They want a solution that works and that ensures that we will have zero illegal immigrants in a year and in 10 years and in 20 years rather than seeing an increase from 10 or 12 million to 20 million or to 25 million or to 30 million.

What does ``national sovereignty'' mean if you don't even know who is within your borders or what they're doing or whether they're criminals? Why are we putting over 300,000 of them up at expensive hotels at over $100 a day at taxpayer expense? Is that part of the solution?

It doesn't sound like part of the solution that the people of Arizona want. It doesn't sound like part of the solution that the American people want. Obey our laws, learn English, pay taxes, and welcome to America. We need to replace a broken system with one that works.

I call upon my colleagues in this Chamber and in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle to stop playing political games with an issue that the American people are crying out for a solution on and to act and bring forward a real solution along the lines of the proposal that was introduced in the Senate today, along the lines of the House comprehensive immigration reform bill to demand that Congress move towards fixing this problem, restoring security to our borders, sovereignty to our Nation, preventing the undermining of the rule of law that this Nation was built upon, and strengthening our economy and providing jobs for American families.

Madam Speaker, I hope that my colleagues join me in moving forward immediately on comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken laws and replace it with a system that works and is enforced.

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