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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I wish to start by thanking the able Senator from Arizona for his statement, for his leadership, and for his incredible work on this bill. I wish to thank all of my colleagues who have been in this so-called Gang of 8, both Democrats and Republicans, including Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and Bob Menendez on the Democratic side. But today I especially want to thank the Republican Members of this group, led by John McCain, and including Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, and Marco Rubio, for their extraordinary leadership. For reasons everybody in this Chamber understands, their willingness to be at the table and to stay at the table was an act of leadership unlike any other I have seen in this Chamber in the 4 years I have served here. We would never be here today voting to fix our broken immigration system were it not for them. So on behalf of the people I represent in Colorado I thank them.

For me this all started in Colorado, because everywhere I went I heard people talk about how the broken immigration system was affecting them. I would hear the peach growers in Palisades say one thing and the cattle ranchers on the eastern plains say something else. The immigrant rights community, many of whom represented children in my old school district, our high-tech community, our ski resorts--everybody was feeling the pain of a broken immigration system that Washington was refusing to fix and they had actually given up hope that Washington would fix it.

They didn't know each other cared about this issue, so we pulled them together over about a 2-year period. We had hundreds of meetings and traveled thousands of miles in the State to create something called the Colorado Compact, a statement of six principles about what Colorado expected immigration reform to look like.

Now that we have come to the end of this process--we have come to the end of the Gang of 8, finishing the Judiciary Committee proceedings, the work on the floor--I can say this bill is entirely consistent--it is not identical, but it is entirely consistent with those principles.

The first of those principles of the Colorado Compact is immigration is a Federal responsibility. This is not something that should be done State by State by State in this country. The Founders themselves recognized this because they put the regulation of immigration in the Constitution and charged the U.S. Congress as our obligation to deal with it. That was the first principle.

The second principle was ensuring our national security. This bill meets that test as well. It is the strongest border security bill ever passed in the Senate. It doubles the number of Border Patrol agents on the southern border. We build 700 miles of fencing. It adds new technologies. We spend nearly $50 billion on border security.

I believe we should have a secure border. In Washington this becomes a trade. For me, it is not a trade. We should have a secure border, and we should have a pathway to citizenship, and this bill accomplishes both.

The people in Colorado who wrote this Colorado Compact called for more effective enforcement of our immigration law, and this bill will give them that. It includes a fully operational, biographic, and biometric entry-exit system, more effective measures to detect fraud and abuse of our visa system, and an employment verification system to be used by all employers. This is all in this bill. That has not been in prior efforts that either passed or failed in the Congress, but it is in this bill, and it is a critical part to making sure we don't end up here again.

The Colorado Compact said we should have a bill that strengthens our economy. This bill meets that test with a visa system much better aligned for our 21st century economy--a merit-based system. We have high-tech and INVEST visas, visas for agriculture that will give our farmers and ranchers a fighting chance to hold on to their farms and to their ranches, and give the people who are working in that industry much-needed relief. There are great benefits for our tourism and ski industry as well. And, on top of everything else, the Congressional Budget Office tells us this bill doesn't increase our deficit but reduces it over the first 10 years by $197 billion and over the next 10 years by $700 billion.

Colorado said we want a bill that is focused on families and keeping families together. This bill does that by clearing the green card backlog and ensuring family members are able to reunite more quickly. There is better protection for children in detention and the immigration court system.

Finally, we call for a commonsense approach to the 11 million, and this bill does that with a tough but fair path to citizenship for the 11 million.

As so many people in this Chamber, my life story is a story of immigration because I am the son of an immigrant. My mom was born in Poland in 1938 while Nazi tanks massed at the border. She and her parents miraculously survived one of the worst human events in our history: The Holocaust. After going to Sweden and Mexico City, they were able to come to New York City in 1950. My mom was almost 12 years old. She is the only one in the family who can speak any English at all.

On my first birthday--this is 1965, so 15 years after they came to the country--my grandparents sent me a birthday card. This is the card they wrote. Here is what they said, in English, by the way. They said this in English:

The ancient Greeks gave the world the high ideals of democracy, in search of which your dear mother and we came to the hospitable shores of beautiful America in 1950. We have been happy here ever since, beyond our greatest dreams and expectations, with democracy, freedom, and love, and humanity's greatest treasure. We hope that when you grow up, you will help to develop in other parts of the world a greater understanding of these American values.

They had only been in this country for 15 years. They didn't speak English when they got here.

They had survived the most horrific event of the 20th century, and this was the place that gave them hope and, more than that, it allowed them to rebuild their lives in the only country in the world where they thought they could.

This bill reaffirms we are a Nation that respects the rule of law and reaffirms our history that we are a Nation of immigrants, and it will keep that hope alive for millions of people, both here and abroad, for years to come.

I urge a ``yes'' vote on this bill.

With that, I yield the floor.


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