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CBC Hour: Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JEFFRIES. Today we are here as members of the Congressional Black Caucus to weigh in on the important issue that confronts this Nation as it relates to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. It's my honor and my privilege to represent the Eighth Congressional District anchored in Brooklyn and parts of southwest Queens, one of the most diverse districts in the country; a district that has blacks and whites, Asians, Latinos, and immigrants from every corner of the world. I recognize in the capacity of my representation in that district the significance that immigrants have given both to the communities that I represent as well as to the city of New York, the State, and the Nation.

I'm proud that we've been joined by several distinguished members of the Congressional Black Caucus which, for more than four decades, has been known as the conscience of the Congress. And in that capacity, the Congressional Black Caucus has, year after year, spent time trying to perfect our democracy and create a more perfect Union. We confront that moment right now, here, in this great country of ours as we try and figure out how we deal with creating a pathway towards citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants who are forced to toil in the shadows.

We've been joined today by a co-anchor for this next hour, a distinguished classmate of mine from the great State of Nevada, the gentleman Steven Horsford, who had the opportunity, I believe, last week to be present while President Barack Obama delivered his remarks as they relate to immigration reform. And so I'd like to ask Mr. Horsford if he might comment on the President's remarks and weigh in on the immigration debate from his perspective as a representative from the important State of Nevada.


Mr. JEFFRIES. I thank the gentlelady from Ohio, the distinguished CBC chair, for her remarks and her observations.

I think there were several important points that were raised by our chair, Congresswoman Fudge. First, sometimes the immigration reform debate has been characterized as perhaps just a Latino issue. At other times it's been characterized as perhaps an Asian issue. There are times that the immigration reform debate is characterized as an Eastern European issue. But really, immigration reform is an American issue. It cuts to the heart of who we are and what we will become. It affects every community. And as Congresswoman Fudge indicated, there are black immigrants in the United States to whom the issue of creating a pathway towards citizenship is extremely important.

It's estimated that there are 3 million black immigrants in this country. Approximately 400,000 are undocumented. Who are these immigrants of African descent? Some are from the Caribbean, two-thirds of which are from nation states such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Haiti. Others are from the continent of Africa. They are from countries like Nigeria and Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

I'm pleased that we've been joined by the distinguished gentlelady from the Ninth Congressional District in New York, who represents one of the largest immigrant populations for a congressional district not just in the city of New York, but anywhere in this Nation. She's been a dynamic leader on this issue.


Mr. JEFFRIES. I thank the gentlelady from Texas for her very pointed observations on a variety of different issues concerning the comprehensive immigration reform issue.

I would just like to amplify for a moment one point that was made as it relates to the significance of the diversity visa lottery program. It's a program that in its conception is designed to make sure that immigrants from underrepresented parts of the world have an opportunity to come to America and participate in the American Dream. And in the context of this diversity visa lottery program, approximately 20 percent of the African immigrants who are here in this country are here as a result of participating in that program.

It has been an instrumental vehicle for ensuring diversity as it relates to the presence of immigrants from the African continent, who by the way, statistics have shown, tend to be more educated in their attainment of college degrees than any other immigrant group. As a result, they are very much contributing to moving the society forward. And for that reason I believe it will be important for the CBC to continue to stand up for this program as we move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, and so I thank the gentlelady for those observations.


Mr. JEFFRIES. One of the things that we hope to accomplish today as we move forward in the context of advancing this immigration reform debate is making sure that the facts surrounding the issue of immigration are well known. This is a Nation of immigrants, and it's a Nation of laws. And some have articulated the concern that we must secure the border before we can move forward and create a pathway toward citizenship for those who are in the country and undocumented.

Much has been made about the southwestern border in particular. And the gentleman from Nevada, I believe, has some statistics that he can speak to as to the progress that has been made in securing the border, points that were also made by the gentlelady from Texas.


Mr. JEFFRIES. I thank the gentleman from Texas.

As he indicated, the time is now for us to move forward--to find common ground and to figure out how we can advance this issue in a manner that respects the security concerns that have been articulated but which also recognizes that, 6 years ago, several benchmarks were set forth for security measures to be reached in order for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway towards citizenship to be created.

Six years ago, there was a call for at least 20,000 border protection agents. Right now, there are 21,400 border protection agents. Six years ago, there was a call for a fence to be constructed along the southern border of approximately 670 miles, although our border security folks have said they believe a fence would be adequate that is 652 miles, 651 miles of which have already been constructed. There was a call for video surveillance assets--these are cameras and radar--deployed along the borders of this country. Six years ago, the call was for 105 such video surveillance assets. Mr. Speaker, right now, there are more than 250 deployed in the United States of America. We have met or exceeded the security benchmarks that have been set. That's why it is time for us to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

We have also been joined by another distinguished colleague of ours, the gentleman from Newark, New Jersey (Mr. Payne), and I recognize him at this time.


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