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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the underlying immigration bill, but, more importantly, to talk about an important amendment that I hope can be brought up. I have spoken on the Senate floor about this before and have provided great detail as to why it works to ensure that we have employment verification at the workplace, why it is so important, really, the critical element, I believe, in terms of immigration reform.

I believe strongly if we do not have a stronger employee verification system at the workplace, the rest of this legislation is not going to work. We are not going to have the people come out of the shadows that those who are proponents of this legislation would like to see, and I would like to see. Significantly, we are not going to be able to curtail future flows of illegal immigration.

People come here to work, and it is that magnet of employment that over the years has drawn people to this great country. If we are just going to put up more fences and have more Border Patrol, which I support, we are not going to get at the problem. First, when people want to get here badly enough, they figure out a way to go over or under those fences. They figure out a way to go around them. That has been the story of our country. Every time we have increased enforcement, including some sectors of the border now where there are double fences, people still manage to find their way across in order to find work.

Second, 40 percent of those who are here illegally in this country, we are told, came here legally. They did not come across the border illegally. They overstayed their visas. The only way to get at that problem is to ensure that we have strong workplace verification. Frankly, the underlying bill must be strengthened in order for the legislation to work the way it is promised.

I believe this amendment I am prepared to offer with Senator Tester, my colleague from Montana, is not just bipartisan, it is not just one that has been worked through with the Gang of 8, with the White House, with the chamber of commerce, with the AFL-CIO, with all the groups--we played by the rules over the last month or so to put together a good amendment--but it is one that will actually ensure to the American people that we can have an enforcement in place both at the border and in the interior at the workplace that will enable the rest of the legislation to work.

I have made it very clear over the last several weeks that I cannot support the underlying bill unless it has those enforcement guarantees because I cannot go to my constituents, look them in the eye, and say this is going to work.

So I agree, our immigration system is broken. The legal system is broken. The illegal immigration system, obviously, is broken. But we have to do the right things to fix it or else the promises we make are simply empty promises.

They say everybody wants to go to Heaven, but not everybody is willing to do the hard things to get there. This is an example of that. It is a hard thing. A lot of people do not want to see a tightening at the workplace. But it has to happen, and I think we all acknowledge that.

I was part of the 1986 immigration reform. That dates me, I know. But I was on the commission that helped come up with that. We proposed employer sanctions--it was called at the time--both in terms of the legislation and how it was implemented. Those employer sanctions were never put in place. That is one, although 3 million people were legalized, millions more came--up to 12 million now.

This is the critical part of this legislation, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let's have a vote on it. If we do not have a vote on it, we will not send the necessary message to the House of Representatives of the importance of this piece of the puzzle.

People said: Well, why didn't you include it in the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which was about a border surge? Because it needs to be and deserves to be drawn out as a separate issue, a separate debate, which we have had on the Senate floor. I have spoken on it before, Senator Tester has spoken on it, and we need to be sure that we can show through a bipartisan vote that, yes, we are willing to do the hard things to get to ``Heaven,'' the hard things to make sure this legislation actually works; and that is dealing with this at the workplace, which is the magnet, which is the reason people come to this country.

So I would ask any colleagues on both sides of the aisle, please, let us have a vote. There have only been 10 votes out of the over 500 amendments, apparently, that have been filed. There have been only 10 votes on this floor. Let us have a vote. We will be able to do it in a bipartisan way. We will be able to show the American people, as Republicans and Democrats, we can come together to solve big problems--and this is a big one. If it is not solved, I will tell you, it is not going to work.

The pilot program for the kind of E-Verify that is in the underlying bill has been tested. Do you know what the recent report says on it? Fifty-four percent of those who are illegal got through the system and got a job--more than half. Why? Because the verification does not work. Our legislation strengthens it in a half dozen ways.

Again, I have gone into great detail on this on the Senate floor, and it is all in the Record, and I have shared this with all my colleagues who are interested.

Again, we have done the right thing in terms of working with both sides of the aisle, playing by the rules in terms of being sure the Gang of 8 signs off on it. It is not perfect, it is not exactly the amendment I initially drafted, nor is the underlying legislation perfect. But it does put in place real enforcement to ensure that the legalization will not occur in the absence of enforcement, which would lead not only to fewer people coming out of the shadows, but more illegal immigration coming, as happened in 1986.

The 1986 bill casts a long shadow in this place, and we have to be sure we do not repeat those mistakes. This will ensure we do that.

I urge my Republican colleagues, including the ranking member who has been terrific in this process trying to work with us, to accept a reasonable list and to accept some time limits that are reasonable.

I will say, last July 4th, a year ago, we were kept in session in this place. I was kept in session, as was every Member. I was happy to do it. But, frankly, it was regarding legislation that was more political than it was real. It never went anywhere because it was viewed as kind of a political exercise. I think both sides of the aisle would agree with that. We stayed on Saturday. As I recall, we stayed that weekend.

Here we have a historic bill before us on immigration and we cannot stay for a couple days to be sure we get through some of these amendments? That makes no sense.

Members in this body know me. I am not a partisan. I am not a guy who normally gets up here and rails against the other party about process. But I would say both parties need to figure out a way to come together and to come up with a list of amendments that make sense to ensure that this legislation we are considering is one that not only goes over to the House with over 60 votes but goes over to the House with the kind of substantive provisions that are going to make the legislation work so we can tell the American people and, frankly, tell our colleagues in the House this is something they ought to take up because our immigration system is broken.

I see my colleague from Montana is here. I would yield to him to see if he has any comments to make.


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Montana. I thank him for his willingness to work on this together. This was not an easy process. Let's be honest, a lot of people would like not to tighten up the workplace requirements. There are people on all sides of this issue. The business community sometimes does not want to. Labor unions sometimes do not want to. Other groups are concerned about this. But the reality is, unless we have strong workplace verification provisions in place, the rest of the legislation does not work. It is a critical piece of the puzzle.

I urge my colleagues to give us a vote. Give us a chance. Let's show we can, on a bipartisan basis, do something that will actually create the enforcement that is needed to have the rest of this legislation work.

Again, I am urging both sides of the aisle to work on this together and to come up with a reasonable list of amendments. I am not suggesting anybody else's amendment should not be offered, but I am saying there is a way to get there. If we have to stay in, I hope Members would be willing to do this on an issue this important to the American people and this important to the future of our country.

With that, I yield back the remainder of my time.


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, because there were some comments made about the amendment that Senator Tester and I have offered, let me be very clear. This is about making the underlying bill work.

I do not believe it will work if we do not have strong workplace verification, simply, both because as the Senator from Arizona said, 40 percent of the people who are here illegally did not come across the border, they came because they overstayed their visas and they are here illegally now, and because when folks want to come here badly enough to get work, they will go over, under, and around whatever barriers we put on the border.

I am for more border security. It is a good part of the bill. It does not solve the problem. Fifty-four percent--remember that. That is the pilot program for E-Verify. Over half of the people who are illegal who attempt to get work are getting through.


Mr. PORTMAN. I don't think it is going to affect anybody in this Chamber. I don't think the bill will work. I am not going to vote for it if it doesn't have strong enforcement, because I don't think they are going to come out of the shadows in the way they want to have them, including me. I don't think you are going to be able to stop people from coming in the future. The flows of illegal immigration, as we saw in 1986, cannot be curtailed unless there is strong enforcement at the workplace.


Mr. PORTMAN. I yield to my colleague from Arizona.


Mr. PORTMAN. I thank my colleague. I have explained this on the floor in some detail as to what is in the legislation and why it is so important, including speeding up the time for E-Verify to apply, including a real trigger that is comprehensive, including having the ability to verify somebody's identity--which is the problem now with E-Verify--by photo match, by doubling the amount that goes to the States for them to provide the data.

It also has privacy protections. It also ensures we don't create a new national database that could have potential negative consequences for all of us as citizens who care about civil liberties. It is a great balance.

We have worked with the chamber, we have worked with the AFL-CIO, we have worked with the White House, we have worked with Republicans and Democrats alike. We have worked with people in the Gang of 8. It is not exactly the amendment we initially drafted. Ours was even tougher, I will say, in some respects, but it is an amendment I believe in my heart if we could get passed would create an E-Verify system that would be strong enough to create a deterrent, and right now the incentive to work is so strong that we can't solve this at the border. Plus, as my colleague from Arizona indicated, folks are coming over and overstaying their visas.

Let me say one more thing more if I could, please.

The Senator from Iowa has 34 amendments he wishes to have offered. I don't know if all 34 of those would actually be offered. Some of them, as my colleague from New York said, are being offered by the same Senator. I imagine there will be some voice votes in there. I know, as I said earlier, there has to be a time agreement that has to be reasonable. I know there has to be a limit. It seems to me there is a way for us to get there. This is, again, to show the American people that on a bill this historic we don't just have 10 amendments on the floor, to show we have the ability to hear not just from our amendment, Senator Tester and myself--which is critical to me to having this bill succeed--but also other Members, who as Members of the Senate have the right to be heard.

I would hope we could come together. I misspoke earlier and said it was last 4th of July. It was 2 years ago on the 4th of July. I remember missing the 4th of July events back home because we were here voting. Why? Because we wanted to spend some time on the Buffett rule, and that was fine. We all came back and did it. It didn't go anywhere.

I would only suggest this is even more important. If we have to stay through the weekend, if we have to ensure that we stay up late tonight and tomorrow tonight to get this done, I hope we will do it to provide an ability to find a way forward where we have these amendments. Significantly, we would offer an amendment like this one that enables this bill to work, and it enables us to have even more support as this bill goes to the House of Representatives.

I yield back the remainder of my time.


Mr. PORTMAN. I thank my colleague from Montana. There was some discussion, both by Senator Leahy--who actually was complimented earlier in his absence about the way he handled this bill in committee, by Senator Grassley, because of the amendments he did offer and allowed Republicans and Democrats to offer.

To my friend, the majority leader, and to the Senator from Vermont, yes, we were offered, Senator Tester and I were offered the opportunity to put the legislation into the Hoeven-Corker amendment.

By the way, the idea there was that we had to cosponsor that amendment sight unseen, which ended up being about 1,200 pages. We chose not to do that, Senator Tester and I, for a very simple reason, which is we wanted to have a debate and a vote on this issue.

I have discussed this on the floor now three times, and I will discuss it once more. Apparently the Senator from Nevada wasn't there to hear it.

We believe--and I am passionate about this, as you can tell--that if we don't fix the workplace we cannot have an immigration system that works. It is as simple as that.

And to not have a separate debate and a separate vote on this amendment, on this issue, does not give us the possibility of sending this over to the House with a strong message and maximizing the chance the House of Representatives will see that strong bipartisan vote on this important issue of workplace enforcement to ensure it is part of the final package. It is that simple.

If it had been part of the so-called border surge amendments, rightfully so, Members from the other body and others observing this process would have said it wasn't about E-Verify, it wasn't about the workplace, it was about the border and about the 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, and they would have been right. Let's be honest.

We asked for something simple: Give us an opportunity to have a debate. It is not about us, it is not about politics, it is about the substance of the legislation, to make sure that coming out of the shadows will actually happen because folks will find it more difficult to find jobs if they are illegal, to ensure that we don't have a future flow of illegal immigration because we have, again, an employment verification system that works, and to show that there is bipartisan support for that.

Look, it is, frankly, not a very popular part of the legislation, and over the years it hasn't been. In 1986 it wasn't. That is why it was never implemented, because there is sort of an unholy alliance among employers, among those representing labor union members, among those representing certain constituent groups who feel there might be some discrimination or other issues. That is why we have carefully drafted this amendment to address those concerns, and we wanted to be sure we had a separate debate and vote.

By the way, we are talking about a 5-minute debate, and we still hope we will get it because it makes too much sense. We could not believe--Senator Tester and I could not believe that couldn't be possible in this body, that the world's greatest deliberative body couldn't spend 10 minutes debating this crucial issue to show, on a bipartisan basis, what kind of support there is for not just dealing with the border but also dealing with the workplace, which, in my view, is the critical element here.

We made a mistake in 1986 by not writing the legislation properly and not implementing what we had in terms of employer sanctions. That is one reason. Although 3 million people were given legal status and amnesty, millions more came, to the point where now 12 million people are living in this country in the shadows. We have to be sure that problem is addressed, and that is why legitimately we thought it would be appropriate for this body to take up that issue and have a vote on it.

I stand by that. I think we made the right decision, although I am very, very discouraged by the fact that it now appears there might be some sort of a roadblock here. Let's get a reasonable list, let's get reasonable time limits, and let's work through these amendments. We could be doing them right now. We could have done them yesterday. We could do them tomorrow. We could be here over the weekend.

Two years ago we stayed in over the July 4th recess to talk about the Buffet rule, which never went anywhere. This is not substantive legislation that we actually hope will become the law of the land and have a major impact on all of us as American citizens and the future of our country, a nation of both immigrants and laws?

I ask again, Mr. President, that Republicans be reasonable, Democrats be reasonable, and let's come together with a list that makes sense, and let's vote on these amendments. Let's start doing our work.

With that, I yield the floor.


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