Mr. President, I come
to the floor today to enter the debate on comprehensive immigration
reform. It is a debate that will touch on the basic questions of
morality, the law, and what it means to be an American.
I know that this debate
evokes strong passions on all sides. The recent peaceful but passionate
protests that we saw all across the country--500,000 in Los Angeles
and 100,000 in my hometown of Chicago--are a testament to this fact,
as are the concerns of millions of Americans about the security
of our borders.
But I believe we can work
together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites the people
in this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our
worst instincts and fears.
Like millions of Americans,
the immigrant story is also my story. My father came here from Kenya,
and I represent a State where vibrant immigrant communities ranging
from Mexican to Polish to Irish enrich our cities and neighborhoods.
So I understand the allure of freedom and opportunity that fuels
the dream of a life in the United States. But I also understand
the need to fix a broken system.
When Congress last addressed
this issue comprehensively in 1986, there were approximately 4 million
illegal immigrants living in the United States. That number had
grown substantially when Congress again addressed the issue in 1996.
Today, it is estimated that there are more than 11 million undocumented
aliens living in our country.
The American people are
a welcoming and generous people. But those who enter our country
illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law.
And because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our
borders, we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States
undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. Americans are right to
demand better border security and better enforcement of the immigration
The bill the Judiciary
Committee has passed would clearly strengthen enforcement. I will
repeat that, because those arguing against the Judiciary Committee
bill contrast that bill with a strong enforcement bill. The bill
the Judiciary Committee passed clearly strengthens enforcement.
To begin with, the agencies
charged with border security would receive new technology, new facilities,
and more people to stop, process, and deport illegal immigrants.
But while security might start at our borders, it doesn't end there.
Millions of undocumented immigrants live and work here without our
knowing their identity or their background. We need to strike a
workable bargain with them. They have to acknowledge that breaking
our immigration laws was wrong. They must pay a penalty, and abide
by all of our laws going forward. They must earn the right to stay
over a 6-year period, and then they must wait another 5 years as
legal permanent residents before they become citizens.
But in exchange for accepting
those penalties, we must allow undocumented immigrants to come out
of the shadows and step on a path toward full participation in our
society. In fact, I will not support any bill that does not provide
this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population--not
just for humanitarian reasons; not just because these people, having
broken the law, did so for the best of motives, to try and provide
a better life for their children and their grandchildren; but also
because this is the only practical way we can get a handle on the
population that is within our borders right now.
To keep from having to
go through this difficult process again in the future, we must also
replace the flow of undocumented immigrants coming to work here
with a new flow of guestworkers. Illegal immigration is bad for
illegal immigrants and bad for the workers against whom they compete.
Replacing the flood of
illegals with a regulated stream of legal immigrants who enter the
United States after background checks and who are provided labor
rights would enhance our security, raise wages, and improve working
conditions for all Americans.
But I fully appreciate
that we cannot create a new guestworker program without making it
as close to impossible as we can for illegal workers to find employment.
We do not need new guestworkers plus future undocumented immigrants.
We need guestworkers instead of undocumented immigrants.
Toward that end, American
employers need to take responsibility. Too often illegal immigrants
are lured here with a promise of a job, only to receive unconscionably
low wages. In the interest of cheap labor, unscrupulous employers
look the other way when employees provide fraudulent U.S. citizenship
documents. Some actually call and place orders for undocumented
workers because they don't want to pay minimum wages to American
workers in surrounding communities. These acts hurt both American
workers and immigrants whose sole aim is to work hard and get ahead.
That is why we need a simple, foolproof, and mandatory mechanism
for all employers to check the legal status of new hires. Such a
mechanism is in the Judiciary Committee bill.
And before any guestworker
is hired, the job must be made available to Americans at a decent
wage with benefits. Employers then need to show that there are no
Americans to take these jobs. I am not willing to take it on faith
that there are jobs that Americans will not take. There has to be
a showing. If this guestworker program is to succeed, it must be
properly calibrated to make certain that these are jobs that cannot
be filled by Americans, or that the guestworkers provide particular
skills we can't find in this country.
I know that dealing with
the undocumented population is difficult, for practical and political
reasons. But we simply cannot claim to have dealt with the problems
of illegal immigration if we ignore the illegal resident population
or pretend they will leave voluntarily. Some of the proposed ideas
in Congress provide a temporary legal status and call for deportation,
but fail to answer how the government would deport 11 million people.
I don't know how it would be done. I don't know how we would line
up all the buses and trains and airplanes and send 11 million people
back to their countries of origin. I don't know why it is that we
expect they would voluntarily leave after having taken the risk
of coming to this country without proper documentation.
I don't know many police
officers across the country who would go along with the bill that
came out of the House, a bill that would, if enacted, charge undocumented
immigrants with felonies, and arrest priests who are providing meals
to hungry immigrants, or people who are running shelters for women
who have been subject to domestic abuse. I cannot imagine that we
would be serious about making illegal immigrants into felons, and
going after those who would aid such persons.
That approach is not serious.
That is symbolism, that is demagoguery. It is important that if
we are going to deal with this problem, we deal with it in a practical,
commonsense way. If temporary legal status is granted but the policy
says these immigrants are never good enough to become Americans,
then the policy that makes little sense.
I believe successful, comprehensive
immigration reform can be achieved by building on the work of the
Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee bill combines some
of the strongest elements of Senator Hagel's border security proposals
with the realistic workplace and earned-citizenship program proposed
by Senators McCain and Kennedy.
Mr. President, I will come
to the floor over the next week to offer some amendments of my own,
and to support amendments my colleagues will offer. I will also
come to the floor to argue against amendments that contradict our
tradition as a nation of immigrants and as a nation of laws.
As FDR reminded the Nation
at the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty,
those who landed at Ellis Island ``were the men and women who had
the supreme courage to strike out for themselves, to abandon language
and relatives, to start at the bottom without influence, without
money, and without knowledge of life in a very young civilization.''
It behooves us to remember
that not every single immigrant who came into the United States
through Ellis Island had proper documentation. Not every one of
our grandparents or great-grandparents would have necessarily qualified
for legal immigration. But they came here in search of a dream,
in search of hope. Americans understand that, and they are willing
to give an opportunity to those who are already here, as long as
we get serious about making sure that our borders actually mean
Today's immigrants seek
to follow in the same tradition of immigration that has built this
country. We do ourselves and them a disservice if we do not recognize
the contributions of these individuals. And we fail to protect our
Nation if we do not regain control over our immigration system immediately.