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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act-- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON. Madam President, I wish to address the issue being debated in front of the Senate. I thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee for the leadership he has offered. The chairman has a strong and firm but fair hand. He has allowed the bill to be here and has been assisted by very able lieutenants on the Judiciary Committee, not the least of whom is Senator Schumer of New York who, as the subcommittee chairman, has been absolutely key.

I also wish to compliment our colleague from Florida Senator Rubio. People in this highly charged partisan atmosphere say, How can a Democrat or a Republican, or vice versa, say good things about each other; and, of course, I am not only willing to do so but do so at the drop of a hat, to give credit where credit is due. It is too bad so much of the discussion is based on ideological philosophies and is so partisan-charged and tinged. We seem to be looking for that slight little advantage in the next election so that we get to the point where we can't come together.

I think what we are going to see on display in the Senate over the course of the next several weeks is that the Senate can function and it can function in a bipartisan way. I give no small amount of credit to the bipartisan group in the Gang of 8. They have arrived on the scene at the right place at the right time.

A number of us have been trying in this Chamber, and previously when I was a Member of the House of Representatives, going back to when I was a young Congressman, to get comprehensive immigration reform. I voted on it in the 1980s. We actually passed a bill. It is instructive to know at that time, in the 1980s, there were less than 3 million illegal aliens or undocumented individuals, however we wish to refer to them, in the country. That attempt at immigration reform failed because there were no safeguards to make sure the law was followed--especially among employers--to make sure the people they were hiring were legal. As a result, over the ensuing decades, the law wasn't followed. So what happened? The amount of undocumented individuals in the country rose from less than 3 million in the 1980s all the way to where it is now, which is about 11.5 million.

So the time and the place has arisen to do something about it. It is too bad it hasn't been done, but what is done is done. Now we have a chance to change that.

If one happens to come from a State such as my beloved State of Florida that has such a rich mixture in the fabric of our society of so many different peoples from so many different parts of the world, then, of course, a person ought to be a little more sensitive to the broken system we have.

Thus, it was not unusual that when it came time that suddenly a case exploded in the newspapers of a child, a DREAMer who had come here as a child with parents who were undocumented, the child never even knew he or she was not American and it gets down to the end of their graduation in high school and they want to go off to college or they want to go into the military and, lo and behold, they are now under the order of deportation.

Of course, this Senator, similar to many other Senators, has had to try to intervene in these very egregious cases. I wish to mention one, and it illustrates the ridiculousness of the present system that is so broken.

A child brought at age 6 months from the Bahamas now grows up in America thinking he is American. He is a Floridian. He goes into the Army. How he missed the checks there that he was undocumented I do not know. But he goes into the Army. He serves two tours in Iraq. He has a top secret rating.

When he comes back, after the two tours, going into the private sector, he enlists in the Naval Reserves, and because of his top secret clearance, this particular now Navy reservist on Active Duty is sent to the very sensitive position--because of his top secret clearance--of being a photographer at the Guantanamo detention facility for the detainees, and he serves in that position admirably.

Somehow in the process after this, back in civilian life, this particular former Army, now Navy, reservist, in applying for an application for a passport, answers something incorrectly on the passport application--because he does not know he is not an American--and he gets arrested and he is thrown in jail and is in jail for 3 going on 4 months, until this Senator finds out about this case--because I am reading it in the newspaper--and, of course, once we blew this up to the attention of the public at large, even the Federal judge asked the prosecutor: Why in the world are you prosecuting this case? That shows the ridiculousness of existing law because it is so broken.

That, of course, had a good outcome. It did not have a good outcome while somebody who had a top secret clearance is sitting in jail for over 3 months, but it is illustrative, again, that we have to do something about the existing system.

Thus, we have in front of us a compromise. Remember, the art of legislating is respecting the other fellow's point of view, reaching out, trying to bridge the differences, with the goal that we want to achieve a result.

There are some here who do not want to achieve that result, and they are going to try to torpedo it. They are going to try to put poison pills that are so seductive as amendments that will kill the bill. They are going to make a lot of the Senators on both sides of the aisle take tough votes on things they would ordinarily support, but they are going to have to reject them to keep the integrity of the compromise in order, at the end of the day, to pass an immigration reform bill and then hope we get a big enough vote so that there is such a momentum--and with all the different advocacy groups, including businesses, farmers, the immigration community, pro-immigration reform community, all of them--to start to lean heavily on the House of Representatives, and maybe at that point we can get the bill passed.

As we consider this bill to fix this broken immigration system, many of us are going to disagree about details, but we have to remember what is the goal at the end of the day. This bill includes important things to secure the borders. You think the borders are secure now? By the way, they are a lot more secure now than they were just a few years ago. They are catching some 60 percent of all the people who are coming across the border now, but that is not good enough. Forty percent is still coming across. This bill is going to try to take it up to 90 percent.

They are going to reform the visa program. They are going to make it easier, at the end of the day, because of the technology we have, where you can swipe the passport. Some countries desperately have wanted to get into a visa waiver instead of having families come hundreds of miles to the consulate. Because of the information that is going to be contained on that passport--biometric information--we are going to be able to streamline that process.

Certainly, at the end of the day, we are going to be able to supply the workforce needs of the country if the employers will follow the law. So now this reform bill is going to make it mandatory upon those employers to follow the law so they can have a legal workforce instead of what is the case now: Do not look. I have to have them for my business or my farm, my agriculture--whatever the business is, I have to have them--but do not look because I know they are illegal. That is going to be changed.

Then there is another component. What about those people who came here on a legal visa, but now they have overstayed the visa. We are going to be able to check because now, with that biometric information, they are going to swipe as they leave the country that information so it matches with the information we got when they came into the country on a legal visa. Now we are going to know who is staying behind.

By the way, those countries that want to be in the visa waiver program, such as Chile or Brazil, they have to keep those defaults under 3 percent of the total visas. Lo and behold, now those countries that want to keep the visa waiver to make it easier on their citizens to travel to the United States--how about all those Brazilians who want to come to Disney World--now they have an incentive to help their own people by keeping those defaults under 3 percent of the total visas for that country. This reform of the visa program is very important.

What about the people who are here? Does anybody think the solution to the problem is to deport 11 million people? We cannot do that. But if we could, what would happen to this national economy? It would collapse. So we are going to make a very lengthy path to getting a green card, of which they are going to have to pay fines, they are going to have to pay the taxes, they are going to have to learn English, and they are going to have to go to the end of the line, but they are going to be here legally so they can be employed, and they have to stay employed. If they do not stay employed, they are out.

Anybody who does not abide by all of that presently--we do not have a requirement that they have to learn English. Now they are going to have to learn English. So anybody who does not make all of those requirements is going to have to leave.

I have just scratched the surface of the bill. But I think we can see it is a good-faith attempt to bring together all of the interests, using a little common sense to try to reform what is a broken system. I hope we will get a huge vote out of the Senate. I hope this vote exceeds three-quarters of the Senate. That will send a real message to the House.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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