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Public Statements

Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, at any given time in our Nation's history, lawmakers have been faced with many pressing challenges. Some, by their very nature, demand immediate action. Others simply build over time, so forcing action on them usually involves some combination of both foresight and persuasion.

The great challenge of our own day, in my view, is figuring out how to reform government programs that are growing so big so fast that, unless we act, they will eventually consume the entire Federal budget. This is an issue I have devoted a lot of time and energy to over the last few years and that I had hoped the two parties could resolve in a way that would win the support of the public and the markets. As it turned out, the President wasn't as interested in that kind of an agreement as I was, so last year I reluctantly concluded we wouldn't be able to do anything significant about entitlements anytime soon. Without Presidential leadership, something such as that is just simply impossible. Hopefully, the President will have a change of heart at some point on the most important issue of our time.

None of this means we can't try to do something about any of the other big issues we face, and that includes immigration. There may be some who think our current immigration system is working, but I haven't met them. I haven't met anybody who thinks the current immigration system is working. And as an elected leader in my party, it is my view that at least we need to try to improve the situation that, as far as I can tell, very few people believe is working well either for our own citizens or for those around the world who aspire to become Americans.

Everyone knows the current system is broken. Our borders are not secure. Those who come legally often stay illegally, and we don't know who or where they are. Our immigration laws last changed almost three decades ago, and they failed to take into account the needs of our rapidly changing economy. So what we are doing today is initiating a debate.

We are all grateful for the hard work of the so-called Gang of 8, but today's vote isn't a final judgment on their product as much as it is a recognition of the problem--a national problem--one that needs debate.

The Gang of 8 has done its work. Now it is time for the Gang of 100 to do its work--for the entire Senate to have its say on the issue and see if we can improve the status quo.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the bill has serious flaws. I will vote to debate it and for the opportunity to amend it, but in the days ahead there will need to be major changes to this bill if it is going to become law. These include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security, government benefits, and taxes.

I am going to need more than an assurance from Secretary Napolitano, for instance, that the border is secure to feel comfortable about the situation down on the border. Too often, recently, we have been reminded that as government grows, it becomes less responsible to the American people and fails to perform basic functions either through incompetence--incompetence--or willful disregard of the wishes of Congress. Our continued failure to secure major portions of the border not only makes true immigration reform far more difficult, it presents an urgent threat to our national security.

Some have criticized this bill for its cost to taxpayers, and that is a fair critique. Those who are here illegally shouldn't have their unlawful status rewarded--rewarded--with benefits and tax credits. So the bill has some serious flaws, and we need to be serious about trying to fix them. The goal should be to make the status quo better, not worse, and that is what the next few weeks are about. They are about giving the entire Senate, indeed the entire country, an opportunity to weigh in on this important debate to make their voices heard and to try to improve our immigration policy. What that means, of course, obviously, is an open amendment process.

Let me be clear. Doing nothing about the problem we all acknowledge isn't a solution. Doing nothing about the problem is not a solution, it is an avoidance strategy. The longer we wait to have this debate, as difficult as it is, the harder it will be to solve the problem.

We tried to do something 6 years ago and didn't succeed. We may not succeed this time either, but attempting to solve tough problems in a serious and deliberate manner is precisely what the Senate at its best should be doing, and that is what we are going to try to do in this debate.

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