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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, at the outset of the debate we have been engaged in, I expressed my hope that we could do something about our Nation's broken immigration system. Millions of men and women are living among us without any documentation or certainty about what the future will bring for themselves or their families. Many of those who come here legally end up staying here illegally. We have no way of knowing who or where they are. And current law simply does not take into account the urgent needs of a modern rapidly changing economy.

Beyond all of this, it has long been a deep conviction of mine that from our earliest days as a people immigration has been a powerful force of renewal and national strength. Most of the people who have come here over the centuries have come as dreamers and risk-takers, looking for a chance for a better life for themselves and for their children.

I can think of no better example of this than my wife, who came here at age 8 in the cargo hull of a ship because her parents did not have the money for a plane ticket. When she entered the third grade at a public school in New York, she did not speak a word of English. Yet, in just a few short decades, she would be sworn in as a member of the President's Cabinet--an honor and an opportunity she could hardly have guessed at when she was just a little girl. This is the kind of story that has made this Nation what it is. Legal immigration makes that possible.

So, yes, I had wanted very much to be able to support a reform to our Nation's immigration laws. I knew it would be tough, and the politics are not particularly easy either. But the fact is that our constituents did not send us here to name post offices and pass Mother's Day resolutions; they sent us here to tackle the hard stuff too.

Broad bipartisan majorities agree that our immigration system needs updating. In my view we had an obligation to our constituents at least to try to do it, to try to do it together and in the process show the world we can still solve national problems around here and reaffirm the vital role legal immigration has played in our history. So it is with a great deal of regret--for me, at least--that the final bill did not turn out to be something I can support. The reason is fairly simple. As I see it, this bill does not meet the threshold test for success that I outlined at the start of this debate. It just does not say--to me, at least--that we have learned the lessons of 1986 and that we will not find ourselves right back in the same situation we found ourselves in after that reform.

If you cannot be reasonably certain the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there is no way to be sure millions more will not follow the illegal immigrants who are already here. As others have rightly pointed out, you also cannot be sure that further Congresses will not just reverse whatever assurances we make today that border security will occur in the future. In other words, in the absence of a very firm results-based border security trigger, there is no way I can look at my constituents, look them in the eye and tell them that today's assurances will not become tomorrow's disappointments.

Since the bill before us does not include such a trigger, I will not be able to support it. It does not give any pleasure to say this or to vote against this bill. These are big problems. They need solving. I am deeply grateful to all the Members of my conference and their staffs who have devoted so much of their time and worked so hard over a period of many months to solve these problems. I am grateful to all of them.

While I will not be voting for this bill, I think it has to be said that there are real improvements in the bill. Current immigration policy, which prioritizes family-based immigration, has not changed in decades. This bill would take an important step toward the kind of skills-based immigration a growing economy requires. Through new and reformed visa programs, for instance, this bill would provide many of our most dynamic businesses with the opportunity to legally hire the workers they need to remain competitive and to expand. Some industries, such as construction, could and should have fared better, but on balance I think the improvements to legal immigration contained in the bill are very much a step in the right direction.

We have learned an important lesson in this debate. One thing I am fairly certain about is that we will never resolve the immigration problem on a bipartisan basis either now or in the future until we can prove--prove--that the border is secure as a condition for legalization. This, to me, continues to be the biggest hurdle to reform. Frankly, I cannot understand why there is such resistance to it--almost entirely, of course, on the other side. It seems pretty obvious to me, and I suspect to most Americans, that the first part of immigration reform should be proof that the border is secure. It is simply common sense.

Hopefully, Democrats now realize that this is the one necessary ingredient for success and they will be a little more willing to accept it as a condition for legalization because until they do, I for one cannot be confident that we have solved the problem, and I know a lot of others will not be confident either.

So this bill may pass the Senate today but not with my vote. In its current form, it will not become law. But the good news is this: The path to success, the path to actually making a law is fairly clear at this point. Success on immigration reform runs through the border. Let me say that again. Success on immigration reform runs through the border. Looking ahead, I think it is safe to say that is where our focus should lie.


Mr. President, briefly on another matter, another day has passed and the majority leader has still not confirmed that he intends to keep his word, which was given back in January of this year, with regard to the rules of the Senate. To refresh the memory of my colleagues, we had a big discussion at the end of the year about the rules and procedures in the Senate on a bipartisan basis.

Out of those bipartisan discussions came two rules changes and two standing orders that were passed consistent with the current rules of the Senate. In the wake of that bipartisan agreement, the majority leader gave his word to the Senate that the issue of the rules under which we would operate this year was settled.

Regretfully, he continues to suggest to outside groups, and occasionally on the floor as well, that maybe he didn't mean that, and that if our behavior--meaning the minority's behavior--doesn't meet his standards, he is still open to breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate.

We all know how this would occur if it did occur. The Parliamentarian would advise the occupant of the chair the way to change the rules of the Senate is with 67 votes. The majority leader, under that scenario, would move to overrule the Chair and with 51 votes establish a new precedent that would turn the Senate into the House.

It has been suggested maybe that would only apply to nominations, but as Senator Alexander and I pointed out last week, of course, that would not be the case. The next time the other side had a majority--my side--I would have a hard time arguing to my Members we should confine a 51-vote majority to simply nominations, and I would be under intense pressure to say: Why not legislation. Senator Alexander and I laid out what some of the top priorities would be that he would recommend to me--and many of them I agree with--for an agenda I would be setting instead of the majority leader. These are things such as the national right-to-work, repealing ObamaCare, establishing Yucca Mountain, the national nuclear repository. One gets the drift. These are many things the current majority would find abhorrent.

I hope this crisis will be averted. All it requires from my friend the majority leader is simply an acknowledgment that he intends to keep his word.

I yield the floor.


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