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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, one of the things I have found intriguing, and was glad to hear, was the bill sponsors of S. 744--the comprehensive immigration bill--indicated they had a plan that would move us to a more merit-based system of immigration. They made that promise.

It is something I advocated in 2007. I had the opportunity to meet with the chairman of the Canadian system while in Canada and we talked about their merit-based system. It is a very significant system, a major change in how they handle immigration in Canada. He was very pleased with it. Fundamentally, they sought to admit people into Canada who would have the best chance of being successful in Canada. They can't admit everybody into Canada. No other country I know of has no limit on the number of people who enter. But they wanted to say who could be the most successful, who would do the best, and who should flourish in Canada, so they gave points for people with more education, people who already spoke English, people who had the job skills Canada needs, younger people, and matters such as that. It was designed to serve the Canadian national interest. It has been in place for a number of years now, it actually works, and they are very happy with it.

So when I heard this might be a part of the immigration reform bill, I was pleased. It is important to emphasize, first, that merit-based immigration is separate from the doubling of the guest workers who come in under the bill. Because guest workers come in under other categories. I am referring now to immigrants--people who come to the country with plans to stay permanently. The merit-based system, as I understood it, was to focus on that group and rightly so. The merit-based provisions don't include the temporary workers. They have their own category.

But when I actually review the bill, it is clear this promise of a merit-based system is not met. The promise is not met to any significant degree. It is another example of the promoters of the legislation overpromoting and selling something that is popular, but when one reads the bill, it is not there. So I wish to talk about the legislation and go through it on this particular subject.

The bill is 1,000 pages and deals with quite a lot of issues and each one of them are very important. The merit-based system has had almost no discussion in the process so far and it needs to be discussed. It is the reason, I believe, we would be better off to have brought up pieces of legislation that deal with the characteristics of the people we would like to have enter the country in the future, to deal with border security, to deal with the visa system, to deal with workplace enforcement, and to deal with internal enforcement, individually and separately.

But, no, we have this monumental 1,000-page bill, with all kinds of things in it. The sponsors say: We have taken care of this problem. We have taken care of border security. We have taken care of the visa system, and, by the way, we have a great plan. The system is going to be merit based now.

The proponents of the legislation have said the bill decreases annual family-based immigration by reducing the cap on family-based visa systems. These are immigrants who come to the country based on relationships with people here. They say: We will reduce that from 226,000 to 161,000. However, the bill actually increases overall family-based immigration by allowing an unlimited number of visas each year for children and spouses of green card holders. It grows the number further by allowing the visas that would have gone to them under the old system to be used by other family-based visa applicants.

The bill also does not change current law, which allows an unlimited number of family-based visas for parents of U.S. citizens each year. One of the largest and fastest growing chain migration categories is parents. According to the Department of Homeland Security yearbook statistics in 2012, 124,210 parents adjusted their status to legal permanent resident through this category.

Canada does the opposite. Canada says it benefits more if they have young people come. They have a full working life, they pay into the pension plans, and that is fine. That works well. But they give less points for older people for the very same reason.

This is a big increase we are seeing there. And the number of merit-based visas pales in comparison to the family-based visas under the bill. So the total number of merit-based visas in this category is much smaller than the family-based visas in this legislation.

For example, the new merits section allows for up to 250,000 a year. These are people who would apply and claim they have certain merit qualities that justify being ranked higher on the list. That is almost exactly the number of petitions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently receives every year in just sibling and married sons and daughters family-based visa category. So the 250,000--the maximum number under the merit system--is almost exactly the same as the number of brothers and sisters and married sons and daughters in the family-based category.

According to the liberal group the Center for American Progress, the annual flow of family-based immigrants will be over 800,000--three times higher than the number of merit-based visas offered each year.

The Migration Policy Institute notes this:

The Senate bill would lift numerical limits and increase the number of permanent visas issued on the basis of nuclear family ties.

The Migration Policy Institute effectively and correctly notes this:

The Senate bill would dramatically expand options for low- and middle-skilled foreign workers to fill year-round longer term jobs and ultimately qualify for permanent residence.

So this is a serious matter. Does the bill move to a merit-based system or does it dramatically expand immigration of low- and middle-skilled foreign workers to fill long-term jobs and move to qualify for permanent residence? I think there is no doubt about it. The Migration Policy Institute is correct in that analysis. It would be so good if we had moved a lot further in the merit-based system, but the bill just doesn't.

The bill's proponents also suggest that the bill reduces chain migration by eliminating siblings--brothers and sisters--and married children categories from the family-based visa system. However, the bill awards points in the new merit-based system to siblings and married children, allowing the same chain migrants to receive merit-based visas ahead of many highly skilled and educated merit-based visa applicants. So what I am saying is that the merit-based system gives points, but it also gives points if you have family here--a lot of points.

Proponents of the bill argue that the merit-based system will ensure that more highly skilled and educated aliens will receive visas because the point system favors education, employment, and English proficiency. However, points are also allocated for nonmerit-based factors, such as family ties, civic involvement, and by virtue of being an alien from a country from which few aliens have emigrated. That is sort of like the former diversity visa. The merit-based visa system favors chain migrants over highly skilled and educated applicants by allocating more points to nonmerit-based factors.

Let's look at it. For example, an alien who wants to apply to the United States who has a college degree, a 4-year bachelor's degree, is given 5 points because they have more education. However, an alien who wants to come to the United States can also receive 5 points for simply being a national of a country from which few aliens have been admitted. Also, an alien who is a sibling of a citizen of the United States would receive the same amount of points as an alien with a master's degree--10 points--and 5 more points than an alien with a college degree. So this brother or sister would also receive more points than an alien with 3 years of experience in an occupation requiring extensive preparation, such as a surgeon.

So what I am saying is that through a backdoor way they claim they have a merit system, but, again, vast advantages are given based on family connections. So we could have two people from Honduras apply to come to the United States. One was valedictorian of his high school class, has a 4-year college degree, speaks English, and is anxious to come to America and go to work, and the other one dropped out of high school, doesn't speak English, and doesn't even have a high school degree. Well, if that one had a brother in the United States, he would be accepted before the more educated student graduate. I think that is wrong.

In tier 2, a brother or sister of a citizen would receive the same amount of points as an alien lawfully present and employed in the United States in an occupation that requires medium preparation, which can include air traffic controllers, commercial pilots, and registered nurses.

But this is only a fraction of the chain family-based migration that will occur over the next 10 years under this legislation because the 11 million illegal immigrants who are given green cards and even citizenship will be able to bring in their families as well over time, and they can be approved on an expedited basis.

For example, there are an estimated 2.5 million who would benefit under the DREAM Act provisions of the legislation. If they came here as children, they get accelerated process; they will be eligible for citizenship in 5 years. Again, that 2.5 million will be able to bring their parents also. DREAM Act beneficiaries will also be able to bring in an unlimited number--without any count--of parents, spouses, and children, and those spouses, children, and parents will get permanent legal status in an additional 5 years and will be eligible for citizenship in 10.

An estimated 800,000 illegal agricultural workers today would become legal permanent residents, green card holders, in 5 years and will then be eligible to bring in an unlimited number of spouses and children. An estimated 8 million additional illegal immigrants who are here today would be given legal status, including recent arrivals from as late as December of 2011. Millions of visa overstay persons will receive legal status and work authorizations.

These 8 million will be able to bring in their relatives as soon as 10 years from now, and those relatives, over time, will be able to bring in spouses, children, and parents. None of those will come in on a merit-based system. They are not depending on their education. They are not depending on their health. They will just be able to come under the rules that will be set forth in this bill.

There are an estimated 4.5 million aliens awaiting employment and family-based visas under current cap limitations. We have 4.5 million who have applied to come, but there are limits on how many people can come per year under the current law. But large parts of those caps and limits will be completely eliminated under the legislation. So an estimated 4.5 million who are waiting now outside of America for their time to come will be cleared over a period of years, not subject to the family-based annual cap, thus freeing room for more family-based migration that would be subject to an annual cap.

Over the next decade the bill would legalize well over 30 million applicants. Colleagues, we need to understand that. Under current law, our processes call for the legalization of 1 million people a year. We are the most generous Nation in the world, but you have to know that if this bill passes, we will be giving permanent legal status to 30 million people in the next 10 years. Over 2.5 million of those people would be through the new merit-based system. So out of 30 million, only 2.5 million would be admitted under the merit-based system, and even among those 2.5 million, many will be admitted because they get extra points for being family members.

But there is a larger issue as well. Median income has declined in America since Congress last considered immigration reform. Income in America for working Americans has been declining. I hate to say it, but it is true. I have seen recent statistics. From 1999 to today we have seen an 8-percent reduction in real take-home pay of working Americans. Some say that for the last 30 years we have had a basic erosion of the salary base of working Americans. That is very serious. Yet this bill roughly triples the annual flow of legal immigrants--largely low-skilled legal immigrants, not high-skilled college graduates--and doubles the flow of temporary guest workers, which is an entirely separate group from the one I have been talking about.

Do my colleagues have any concerns about how this will impact the falling incomes of our middle-class American citizens? Has any thought been given to that? Has anybody considered that if we bring in more people than the economy can absorb, this will create unemployment, place people on welfare and dependency, deny men and women the ability to produce an income sufficient to take care of their families, make them dependent on the State because we simply don't have enough jobs? Well, we don't have enough jobs now. That is an absolute fact. We had an increase in unemployment this last month. We had a decline of 8,000 jobs in manufacturing. The bulk of the increases in jobs was in service industries, such as restaurants and bars, and part-time workers.

We have a serious problem, and our colleagues need to be asking themselves, can I justify this kind of huge increase in immigration when we can't find jobs for current Americans? And what about the millions living in poverty today and chronically unemployed? What about the nearly one in two African American teenagers who are unemployed today? They need to get started in the workforce, but if they have to compete against somebody who came here under a work visa program who is 30 years of age who would be glad to work for minimum wage or lower, they don't have a chance to get started.

Can one of the sponsors explain to me the economic justification for adding four times more guest workers than proposed in the bill in 2007 at a time when more than 4.6 million more Americans are out of work today than in 2007? Can one of the sponsors answer this basic question: How will this legislation protect struggling American workers? How will it help them? Oh, it may help some meatpacker or some large agribusiness. They may get a gain from it. But will it help the millions of middle-class working Americans who need jobs, need pay raises, need to be able to have health care and retirement benefits? I am worried about that. We need to talk about that. Some people are talking about it on the outside, but it is almost not discussed within this Chamber.

Will the flowing of this many new workers raise wages or reduce wages? Will it make it harder for a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a grandchild or a granddaughter to get a job at a decent wage? Wages have been going down, unemployment is up--the lowest percentage of people in the workforce in America today since the 1970s. How can we justify this? Somebody needs to talk about it.

We have people who are optimistic. They think we will just bring in millions of people and somehow jobs will accrue, but it doesn't appear to be so.

To whom do we owe our loyalty? To some business that would like to have more labor? Or to the American people who fight our wars, obey our laws, raise their children and pay their taxes to this country--when they are working and can pay taxes? To whom is our loyalty owed? We need to ask those questions.

I appreciate the fact that the Gang of 8 has stated they believe in a merit-based kind of program that would bring in more people and convert our system from low-skilled immigration to a higher skilled immigration. Unfortunately, it makes far too little advancement in that regard. We cannot accept such a meager alteration in our system. Canada went much further toward a merit-based system than we did, and that is what we need to do.

There are a lot of statistics out there that show that an immigrant who comes to America with 2 years of college or more, speaking English, does very well in our country. They tend to flourish, tend to do well financially. They tend to pay more in taxes than they take out. But for those who are less skilled, the opposite is true. It is obvious the Nation should seek to advance its national interest by welcoming more people who have the ability to be successful and flourish in our great country.

I yield the floor.


Mr. SESSIONS. I would note that Senator Grassley just offered in a few minutes to commence voting on two amendments in the normal way we proceed. I think that was a very reasonable request. We have to be careful. These amendments represent important changes to a historic piece of legislation. We cannot just throw up a bunch of amendments here at the beginning, when people have not had time to digest them. So I think that as we proceed, we are going to need to be sure that it is not some situation where people are bringing up an amendment and it has to be voted on an hour or so later. People have not had time to fully digest it. I think the offer by Senator Grassley is very reasonable.


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