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Public Statements

Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, picking up where I left off, I don't think we, Congress, need to micromanage this process. We don't need congressional enforcement officers, so to speak. Rather, we need to spell out the goals, the priorities for border and port security which this bill does. We need to give the Department of Homeland Security the tools, skills, resources, and flexibility it needs to get this job done, which this bill also does. Then we need to let DHS do its job while at the same time continuing to provide responsible and robust oversight, not just here from Washington but along the border itself.

That is why now in my Committee on Homeland Security that is what my colleagues and I will want to do to be sure this bill is implemented strongly and effectively.

Still, as strong as our border defenses have become and despite how much stronger this bill will make them, we cannot defend our Nation entirely at the border. One of our witnesses earlier this year noted that we often look to our borders to solve problems that originate elsewhere. In other words, we are so preoccupied with the symptoms we are missing the underlying causes which can make finding a solution all the more difficult. We have to address the root causes that are drawing people to our country illegally in order to fully secure our borders and ensure we are not embroiled in the same debate 20 years from now. I am pleased to say this bipartisan legislation addresses the root causes in a way that I believe is tough, is practical, and is fair.

My friend and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute recently told me we have to strike the right balance between enforcing security policies at our borders and ports of entry, to keep bad actors out while facilitating and while encouraging commerce between the United States and our neighbors to the north and south, two of our biggest trading partners. This bill provides, as I said earlier, for 3,500 additional officers to work the our ports of entry--not ports along the water, actually land-based ports where a lot of traffic moves through, a lot of commerce moves through, and 3,500 additional officers actually will make a big difference. We need them.

We also need to modernize our ports so these additional officers have the resources and tools they need to process legitimate travelers and trade while focusing on bad actors.

Here are some of the examples of what we have done to upgrade our ports of entry. I am not going to use all of these, but we will use a couple of
them. This is a before. This is a shot, probably about 6 years before. We had limited, I think, very limited percentage of traveler queries. We had limited technology and we had minimal signage.

This is today. We have nearly 100 percent traveler queries on land borders, the expansive use of RFID-enabled documents and increased efficiency by 25 percent. We have new READY lanes to encourage our use of RFID documents as well.

Here, it is hard--this is like signage, simple, a lot of printed stuff. Here we have gone electronic. We can just stop.

When trucks are coming, when vehicles are coming, we have the ability to read the license plates before they ever get to the officers. We have the ability, if people are coming across, to use devices that read their passports and give us some idea who actually is coming up to the officer, Customs and Border Patrol officer. We use gamma rays. We are able to look inside trucks. We have detection, the ability to detect radiation on any vehicles that are coming through. It is a massive change. We don't just do it because we want to secure the vehicles and make sure what is supposed to be in them is actually in them and not some contraband or drugs or whatever, but we want to be able to expedite the movement of these vehicles.

We want them to have a better throughput because there are huge economic consequences for us and for Mexico. We want to strengthen our borders. One of the reasons why we

are making these investments is it is a tool to make them more secure, to keep bad people and bad stuff out, and do a better job of facilitating trade. It is smart business. It is a smart way to do business with the help of this legislation.

I think that is all we are going to look at in terms of these ports of entry. I could move along. I think properly balancing commerce and security is critical because facilitating trade with our neighbors to the south and also to the north not only strengthens our own economy but also strengthens the economies throughout North, South, and Central America.

Why do we care? We want their economies to be stronger so they don't want to come up here and live with us, come here illegally and try to be a part of this country, although we appreciate their desire to do that. We want to make sure their countries are strong economically too.

For most who live in the United States illegally, though, what draws them to our country and enables them to stay here without legal status, as we know, is jobs. We need, obviously, a system that makes it easier for employers to do the right thing and to verify who is eligible to work. Too often today that is not the case. We also need to hold employers who normally break the law hiring undocumented workers accountable for doing that.

I believe, again, the legislation that is before us comes close to achieving those goals. It requires all employers to use a strong electronic verification system, starting with large employers down to small employers over time, but a strong verification system, designed to give employers quick assurance that the new employees are eligible to work, that they are considering hiring. For many workers these will include photo tools that let the employer verify the person applying for the job is indeed the person who applied for the worker eligibility document. The law increases fines for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and increases them by more than tenfold and includes a significant criminal penalty for those who systematically abuse our workplace laws. These new penalties, including jail sentences of up to 10 years, will provide a strong deterrent to unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit undocumented workers for their own gain.

We also need to convince those who want to come here for a better life that the way to do that is through legal rather than illegal immigration. While we crack down on the bad actors who try to hire undocumented workers, we also need to make sure that employers who are playing by the rules have ample access to the talent they need to keep our economy growing--and encourage people from other nations to come here legally when we do not have the talent here in this country able and willing to do some of the work that needs to be done. This legislation does help by modernizing our outdated visa system to supply sufficient workers when needed, particularly in critical areas such as high-skilled and agricultural employment. These approved legal pathways for workers and their families will shrink the flow of undocumented migrants and help our border forces to concentrate on the most serious threats at the border.

Ultimately, I believe the most effective force multiplier, as much as I like the idea of these drones, fully resourced with the VADER systems on them, as much as I like the idea of the C-2006 aircraft with the right kind of surveillance, and as much as I like having the blimps with all the technology they can carry, as much as I want to have helicopters to move our border surveillance up and down the border and have all kinds of surveillance equipment, as much as I think fencing helps and access routes and all these investments help, I still think maybe the most effective force multiplier for protecting our border is to take away the need for people to come here illegally in the first place.

As we address the root causes, we have to address another challenge and that is the 11 million people who are here without proper documentation, living in the shadows today. Ironically, 40 percent came in on a legal status, on a student visa, a tourist visa, a work visa. They overstayed their welcome and overstayed what the law allows.

Some critics argue that the bill before us grants immediate amnesty to those 11 million undocumented people. I don't think that is true. What they get is not amnesty but, rather, a long, I think a hard path toward possible citizenship, one with many hurdles and no guarantees. It kind of reminds me of the trek a bunch of them took through Mexico just to get to the border, getting across the border without getting caught, trying to escape, in many cases, these coyotes who took advantage of them, robbed them, in some cases raped them, and once they got into this country avoiding getting detained. And a bunch got detained and ended up in the detention centers. That is not an easy path.

I don't think the path this lays out ahead for those undocumented today is an easy path. Just to reach the first step, becoming what is called a registered provisional immigrant, individuals would have to clear multiple background checks, pay back taxes, pay a hefty fine. If they committed any kind of significant crime they are disqualified from pursuing legal status.

Once an applicant has cleared the first hurdle, registered provisional immigrants must remain employed, pay even more taxes and fines, learn English, maintain a clean criminal record, and demonstrate they are living not below the poverty line but above the poverty line; they are gainfully employed. Most importantly, these people have to go to the back of the line, not ahead of people who are waiting to get ahead who have played by the rules, but behind them, at the end of the line--behind

the folks who are here legally, who are going to get processed, as they should, first. It is going to take about 10 years before those folks who are undocumented will have a chance to even qualify for a green card.

Three years after getting a green card, these immigrants would finally be able to apply for citizenship. We are not talking about 13 weeks or 13 months, we are talking about 13 years. Once again, they have to pass extensive background checks in order to successfully move forward in that process.

So to our colleagues who are suggesting this bill would immediately begin legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country right away, I would simply ask: Does that sound like an immediate process to you? It doesn't to me. This is not an easy path, and, frankly, a lot of people won't make it, just as a lot of people who have tried to get into this country have not made it either. I think the process we have laid out over those next 10, 13 years, if you will, is a tough, fair, and practical approach. Call it a lot of things, but I would not call it amnesty.

We also need to make sure the men and women around the world know this Nation is making unprecedented investments to improve and modernize our legal immigration system in addition to making it very difficult for folks who try to come here illegally. We are dedicating significant resources to detaining and deporting those who try to go around the rules--spending roughly $2 billion a year on this effort. In fact, since President Obama took office, removals have increased from 291,000 people in 2007, or just under 300,000 folks, to more than 400,000 last year, when we returned a record number of people to their home countries.

Our Nation must also work with our neighbors to improve the process and decrease the time it takes to return our detainees to those countries of origin. When we were in Texas recently, I learned we have an agreement with Guatemala where they issue electronic travel documents to their citizens almost as soon as we apprehend them along our border--mostly Texas. This process cuts down on detention times for Guatemalans from 30 days to roughly 7 days.

It has a real positive effect on the Guatemalans we arrest and take into custody because they spend less time in detention--not a pleasant experience. It saves us millions of dollars because we have to hold them, feed them, and give them a place to stay for a shorter period of time. We need to take the Guatemalan model where we dramatically reduce the detention time and see if we cannot replicate their program with our other nations, especially particularly nations such as Mexico.

Finally, I will conclude by admitting this legislation is not perfect. On the other hand, I have not seen a perfect piece of legislation. Even the Constitution we adopted in Delaware on December 7, 1787, to become the first State wasn't perfect either. We amended it again and again. We amended it over 30 times.

While I do believe there is certainly room for constructive criticism and debate about this bill, I am certain this legislation represents an improvement over our current system. I believe we can make it even stronger in the coming weeks, and I hope we will.

I plan to offer some amendments, and my guess is the Presiding Officer will offer amendments as well as our colleagues. We ought to offer them, debate them, and vote them up or down.

We must come to this debate with an understanding that the status quo is unacceptable. If we don't modernize our immigration system to allow employers to fill the jobs our economy needs and our citizens are unwilling or unable to do, we are hurting our children's future while at the same time making our Nation less secure.

As a Nation founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we simply cannot tolerate a shadow economy of 11 million people who are scared to live freely, who generate black markets to produce false identity documents, and who drive down the wages of U.S. citizens.

To my colleagues who are still uneasy with legalization, I ask this: What is the alternative? It is not practical to find and deport 11 million people. Most of the undocumented immigrants in this country have lived here more than 10 years. Many have children who are U.S. citizens. They have deep roots in our society and contribute meaningfully to our national interests.

I think the American people would want us to be tough, but they also want us to be humane and realistic. I believe this legislation offers that path, that balance, and now is the time to take that path.

In closing, I am reminded of something that binds all of us together. If we actually look above where you are sitting, there are some words in Latin. If we look up there, we will see the Latin phrase ``e pluribus unum,'' which means ``out of many, one.'' It is a phrase that adorns our Nation's seal. It suggests that while we all come from many different places, in the end we are one Nation.

With that thought in mind, I will simply say to our colleagues and to those who are following this discussion tonight, we have a choice. We can work together to make this bill better and adopt it in a bipartisan manner or we can remain in gridlock and let the American people down.

I know what I want to do. I know what the people of Delaware want us to do. They want us to legislate, and I want us to legislate as well. I want us to make our immigration system better. I want to show the American people that Congress can come together--Democrats, Republicans, and a couple of Independents--on an issue of great importance to our country's economy and great importance to our national security. We need to get this done, and I am encouraged with the grace of God we will.

Mr. President, you will be glad to know that I am done, but our work remains to be done. I look forward to working with the Presiding Officer and 98 of our colleagues to get the job done for the American people.

With that, I yield the floor.

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