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Unanimous Consent Request - S. 2823

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CRAIG. I ask unanimous consent to speak as if in morning business for a period of 5 minutes.

Mr. REID. No objection, as long as the time continues to be counted against the 30 hours.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.


Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Calendar No. 711, S. 2823.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

(Several Senators addressed the Chair.)

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The objection is heard.

The Senator from Idaho.

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, you can see by my unanimous consent request the alarm I brought to the Senate floor just now. The reason that happened is because I was attempting to bring to the floor a very critical issue that this Congress and this Senate have refused to address this year. It is a bill called AgJOBS. It is a bill that has more than 60 Members of this body as cosponsors, and yet it is a bill that nobody wants to talk about right now and nobody wants to deal with in the final hours of this 108th Congress.

The reason I brought it up now, and I worked it through the Rule XIV process over the last several weeks, is because when we talk about homeland security, we are talking about border security, we are talking immigration reform, we are talking about identifying 8 to 12 million undocumented foreign nationals in this country.

We have seen this Congress, this Senate, toil mightily over the last 2 weeks to try to address the 9/11 Commission's study and to reshape our intelligence community, to enhance our national security and homeland security. But this Congress has left one part of that effort unfinished.

This year, we have refused to address one of the greatest problems in our country, and that is an immigration policy that has resulted in 8 to 12 million undocumented workers.

For the last 5 years, I and others have tried to deal with one small aspect of this issue, those foreign nationals who come to our country in agriculture. There are about 1.6 million individuals in our agricultural work force, and most of them are undocumented. Yet they come here to work and harvest our fields and to process our foods, to allow this great agriculture of ours to be the most abundant in the world, and yet we will not give them a reasonable and legal status so they can continue to work, continue to return home across our borders with a degree of fluidity, without fear to go to their families. The current system has effectively locked them inside this country, in the shadows.

We have created for ourselves a monstrous problem, and the American public knows it. It is all about homeland security, and it is all about border security, and yet, oh, my goodness, we just could not get to it this year.

I have worked for several years to produce the AgJOBS legislation. It is bipartisan. Senator TED KENNEDY is my primary cosponsor, and we have worked very hard to keep it bipartisan. The numbers on the same bill have grown rapidly in the House, because this is an issue whose time has come and yet somehow we just do not have time to get to it.

So I thought it was important one more time, in the waning hours of the 108th Congress, to try to bring it to the floor and at least talk a little bit about it. When I risked bringing it to the floor, my goodness, papers flew and chairs tipped over as people rushed to the microphones to object. Is it a matter of timing? Is it a matter of opposition to reform? Oh, no, it is a matter of, gee, we just do not want to talk about this issue this year.

Let me serve notice to the Senate right now-I do not oftentimes do this-but when there are more than 60 Members of this body who are ready to debate an issue and vote on it, We will get a vote. With a bipartisan coalition nationwide of more than 400 groups that have come together, from the American Farm Bureau to the United Farm Workers, saying, for goodness' sake, Government, get your act together, solve this problem, create a program that moves us forward, that gives a legal status for people to work in this country who do the kind of work that many Americans would choose not to do, we will get a vote. That is what the AgJOBS is about. It means the reduction of illegal immigration by a reasonable program that allows that kind of safe, productive, economically beneficial movement in our country.

Of the nearly 12 million undocumented population, the vast majority do not create or even pose any threat. They are here, they are hard working, they work 12 and 14 hours a day, and they save their money, because they want to feed their families, they want a better life for their children, they want the same opportunity that has always beckoned hard working people to America. Some of them would like to be U.S. citizens; many would not. Many want to go home to their families across the border or overseas at the end of the work season. They are here to better themselves and to better their families, something all Americans can understand.

By their presence, they better us. They make our lives better, and in this issue with American agriculture, there is no
question, they help to produce the abundance on the supermarket shelves and the family tables of America.

When I said "serve notice," here is what I am serving: I will not give up on getting a vote on this bill and passing it. The bill is ready to move now. Its time has come. I have been trying to move it this year. If we don't move it this year, when we get back this next Congress, this bill will move. We will vote on this issue. If not the old Congress, then the new Congress will face this issue. They will face it in a variety of ways.

Some will say, let us do a large, all-inclusive immigration bill. Fine, while the committees are spending the 10 or 12 months or 2 years to try to figure that one out, we are going to vote on this one because it is a small piece of a very large puzzle, but it is the right piece. It will show we can cooperatively do what we ought to do in a fair and responsible way to create an earned status so these folks can work here in a legal way and can move freely back and forth across the borders, dominantly between the United States and Mexico, but clearly with other countries of the world, too. We want to eliminate these human hazards of the kind that have been created along the Mexican-American border, where last year more than 300 people died, many of them in the deserts, in the hot sun, or being smuggled in the back of trucks, trying to get here to work, because we have a program that does not function.

That is why I came to the floor, and I am sorry if I caused undue alarm on the part of some of my colleagues. I was quite confident that at some point someone would object because some would argue this issue's time has not yet come. It will come. It may be January, February, or March of 2005, but it will be on this floor for a full, constructive, and positive debate and a vote up or down, possibly with the opportunity for some amendments, because this is legislation that now demands our consideration.

Americans want our borders controlled. They want undocumented foreign nationals identified in our country. This is a small step in the right direction of that effort to accomplish that goal.

Amnesty is not the solution. It has been tried before and it has failed.

The current system has not worked either, and opposition to amnesty should not be an excuse for tolerating a dysfunctional status quo.

AgJOBS avoids the problems and limitations of past initiatives and other proposals. AgJOBS is the only proposal that
addresses the problem for both the short term and the long term.

In the long term, when willing American workers can not be found to work in our fields, that shortage would be addressed
through a reformed H-2A program. The current program is so burdensome and costly that it now supplies only about 2 percent of our farm workers. It will take time to implement reforms that allow H-2A to meet our needs with legal guest workers.

In the short run, while H-2A reforms are being implemented, the earned adjustment program in AgJOBS would stabilize our current agricultural work force. Trusted, proven workers who have already been working here in 2003 and 2002 and before would be allowed to stay and continue to work.

A reformed H-2A program, made workable with the red tape cut out, would meet future work force needs and mean the earned adjustment program would not have to be repeated.

A realistic, workable guest worker program actually would reduce illegal immigration.

The last time the United States had a substantial agricultural guest worker program, apprehensions of undocumented workers actually plummeted, from almost 900,000 in 1953 to a low of 45,336 in 1959.

Whatever other aspects of this so-called "bracero" program were subject to criticism, history proved that its 500,000 farm workers entered our country legally, worked in jobs citizens did not want, obeyed our laws, returned home at the end of the work season, and dramatically reduced the demand for, and supply of, undocumented labor.

Increased enforcement of our laws is part of the solution, and we've made progress.

In the last decade, we have tripled the number of agents enforcing border and immigration laws.

Worker identification checks have intensified.

Apprehensions have skyrocketed above 900,000 a year and formal removals have increased sixfold.

High-tech initiatives are coming online.

We are poised to take up the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which again increases resources in this area.

However, more enforcement is only part of the answer.

This is demonstrated by the fact that, despite more enforcement, over the last decade, the undocumented population has more than doubled.

The self-described "experts" who say, "Just round them up and deport them," are only proposing an excuse, not a solution, while the situation just gets worse. That is the cruelest amnesty of all.

Instead, we must manage our borders and our immigration system better.

AgJOBS is a critical part of doing just that-managing our borders better and improving our homeland security by bringing hundreds of thousands of individuals up out of the shadows and into a legal system.

We can never neglect the humanitarian side of this, as well, that we should treat with dignity and humaneness those who labor to put the food on our families' tables.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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