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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-06-10

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    Read More about Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed

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 President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, this week we begin a historic debate. For the first time in 25 years we will actively debate the comprehensive reform of America's immigration laws.

    I will be the first to admit that I come to this debate with a prejudice, with a bias. Similar to many Americans, I am the child of an immigrant.

    In 1911, 102 years ago, my grandmother came to this country with three little children. One of those children was my mother. She was 2 years old when she arrived in America, in Baltimore. My grandmother didn't speak a word of English, but somehow she managed to get my mom and my aunt and uncle on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train to St. Louis, MO. They were on their way to East St. Louis, IL, to meet my grandfather.

    Just one floor and a few steps away is my desk for the majority whip office. Behind my desk is a naturalization certificate from my mother. I keep it as a reminder of who I am and where I came from and the fact that the Durbin family--and in her case the Kutkaite family--were immigrants to this country. I am sure my grandmother never imagined that one of her grandchildren would be standing here today representing the State of Illinois in the Senate of the United States. That is my story, that is my family's story, and it is America's story.

    Perhaps it is partly because of this family history, but I believe immigration is the defining positive force in America.

    How can you tell when a country is in decline, when immigrants stop wanting to come to it. Many other developed countries have had this experience. They have watched their economies decline and fail. That has never been the experience in America. Look at our history. Every generation, immigrants coming to our shores from around the world have made us stronger. Immigrants do not take away. They add to society. They are hard-working men and women with the courage to leave everything behind and to come and try to build a new and better life for themselves and their children. Every succeeding wave of immigrants, every generation of immigrants brings new life to America.

    But today our immigration system is broken and doesn't reflect our heritage as a nation of immigrants. There are millions of undocumented immigrants in our country who want to be full-fledged Americans. They have strong family values. They contribute to our economy and take some of the hardest jobs in our Nation. But under current law there is no way for many of them to even get in line to be legalized. We can't turn our backs on the people who are already in this Nation, already yearning to be officially part of the American family.

    They sit next to us in church. Their kids go to school with our kids and grandkids. They are the ones who serve our food at the restaurants and clean up the tables afterward. They clean our homes. They care for our kids and grandkids and they care for our elderly parents and grandparents.

    When I first came to the Senate in 1997, I got a surprise phone call from Ted Kennedy. I was still pinching myself, thinking I am going to serve in the same place as Ted Kennedy. He said: I have a request for you, Dick. I would like you to be a member of my Immigration Subcommittee on Senate Judiciary. He was the chairman. I accepted his invitation.

    I had sat in that gallery and watched Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator [[Page S4034]] Bobby Kennedy on the floor of the Senate. I was just a student at the time. I thought, I am going to have a chance now to sit in the same committee room with this man and speak to the issue of immigration. I didn't think 16 years later I would be standing on the floor of the Senate, with Senator Kennedy gone, and we would still be struggling to fix America's broken immigration system. We have been through a lot in that period of time.

    Twelve years ago I wrote a bill called the DREAM Act. That bill would allow immigrant students who came to the United States as children to earn their citizenship by attending college or serving in the military. I have been fighting to make that the law of the land. I have called it for a vote on the Senate floor. We have received majority votes, but I could never ever break the filibuster. I could never get the 60 votes I needed.

    In the last decade, with the leadership of Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator John McCain, we have made serious efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, but we have always fallen short.

    Prior to this particular debate, I can recall sitting in a room right off the Senate floor with another young Senator named Barack Obama working on immigration reform. It has been our challenge. Now the Senate is going to take up this issue again this week. This is the best chance we have had in 25 years to finally get this job done.

    Six months ago I sat down for the first time with seven other Senators, four Republicans and three other Democrats. On my side of the table: Chuck Schumer of New York, chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee; Senator Bob Menendez, a leader with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who knows this issue firsthand from his State; on the other side of the table, John McCain; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Jeff Flake of Arizona. They started calling us the Gang of 8. I have been in so many gangs around here, I think I need to get some tattoos, but I am not likely to do that. But these gangs are constructive efforts to solve problems.

    This is a diverse group. Think about sitting across the table from McCain, Rubio, Graham, and Flake. There sits Schumer, Durbin, Menendez, and Bennet--a lot of differences. But what brought us together was the realization that if we couldn't reach an agreement, neither would the Senate. If we couldn't bridge the differences between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and others in our negotiations, the Senate never would.

    We set out to get the job done. Several times I wasn't sure if we were going to be successful.

    The Republicans had a bottom line. They wanted strong measures to secure our border with Mexico and to prevent future illegal immigration. We had a bottom line on our side of the table, too: a tough but fair path to citizenship offered to 11 million undocumented immigrants. We met for 4 months. We met 24 times, long and difficult sessions. A couple of those sessions I thought were the last ones, we would not be back another day, but we returned. We made concessions. Everybody gave a little. At the end of the day we reached an agreement.

    We announced in January our set of principles and then we started the hardest part, drafting the actual legislation. By the middle of April we finally had a bill almost 850 pages, if I am not mistaken. It is here now. I probably ought to take a look and make sure I got the page numbers correct. This version is a lot longer because it is the committee substitute, but it is more than 850 pages.

    We heard testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee from dozens of witnesses, supporters, and opponents. Then in May we sat down for a markup, which is where we actually amend the bill. I have been a member of the Judiciary Committee for 15 years and I have never been through a markup like that. Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, President pro tempore of the Senate, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pledged he would make this markup open and fair to both sides--and he did. It took us 3 weeks. We met 5 times for a total of 37 hours on this bill. More than 300 amendments were offered. We debated and voted on 212 of them, including 112 by Republicans and 100 by Democrats. Mr. President, 136 amendments, or changes, were adopted and all but 3 of those 136 passed with a bipartisan vote. The spirit of bipartisanship was in the Senate Judiciary Committee as it was in our meetings leading up to it.

    Finally came the vote for reporting the bill out of committee. It was one of those historic moments which no Senator present will ever forget. When Chairman Leahy announced the 13-to-5 vote in favor of this measure, the room erupted in applause and cheers. People stood up at their seats and came up and embraced one another, realizing we had just made history.

    Let me go through the basics of the bill. First, our bill will secure the border and stop future illegal immigration. The border of the United States today is safer and stronger than it has ever been in 40 years. We have invested billions of dollars. We have doubled the number of Federal personnel working on the border, monitoring the coming and going of people across that border every single day. We have reached a level of competence and security we never dreamed of. Now we are going to do more. We have promised the Republicans at the table we will secure that border with even more technology and more investment.

    Each year we spend about $18 billion policing the border between the United States and Mexico--$18 billion. That is more than the combined expenditures for all of the Federal law enforcement agencies--FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and U.S. Marshals Office. We spend more than that each year on the border and now we will invest even more.

    For those who argue we are not serious about border protection, believe me, we are. The investments will be made with the very best technology, with the advice and cooperation of the States affected by these decisions, to make that border as safe as humanly possible. We have made amazing progress.

    We can do more. The Border Patrol agents, over 20,000 of them at work today, are better staffed than at any time in the 88-year history of that agency. The Department of Homeland Security has completed 651 miles of border fencing out of the 652 miles mandated by Congress. I was a skeptic when they said they would put fences on the border. I really was. My belief was if you build a 10-foot fence it was an invitation for a 12-foot ladder, and my belief was they could easily overcome it. They put fences in places where they could work and they put other devices in places where fences won't work. Significant results have been shown. Cities on the southern border are among the safest in the country. Violent crimes in the border States have dropped an average of over 40 percent over the past 20 years and the top 4 big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border States: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, Austin.

    Our bill will do more. We set a clear, tough target for border security. The bill requires the Border Patrol to have 100-percent persistent surveillance of the southwest border. In other words, the Border Patrol will have to be able to see in real time every single person who crosses that southwest border illegally. We also required a 90-percent effectiveness rate for southwest border sectors. In other words, the Border Patrol will have to stop 90 percent of all people who attempt to enter the country illegally in each border sector. It requires the Department of Homeland Security to create a southern border security plan and a southern border fencing strategy within 6 months after the bill is passed. The border security plan will spell out the personnel, infrastructure, and technology necessary to achieve this 90-percent effectiveness rate.

    The bill approves $3 billion for this border plan, $1.5 billion more for a fencing strategy. If the Department of Homeland Security does not reach 90 percent effectiveness within 5 years, the Border Commission, made up of southwestern State officials and bipartisan Presidential and congressional appointees, is empowered to employ additional steps to secure the border. Our bill appropriates up to $2 billion in additional spending, if necessary, for those measures. Anyone who takes a [[Page S4035]] look at this--and you will hear many of the critics in the next few weeks say ``they are just not serious about the border''--believe me, we are. We have been. We continue to be. We put the resources on the table, with the cooperation of the States bordering Mexico, to make sure we have done absolutely everything within our human capability to keep that border safe and strong and secure.

    Of course, improving border security overlooks one very obvious weakness: Forty percent of the undocumented immigrants in the United States did not cross the border illegally. They came into the United States legally on visas: students, visitors. Similar visas were given to them and they overstayed. They were supposed to come to go to college and they stayed after college. They were supposed to come for a vacation or family event and they overstayed their visas, so 40 percent of the undocumented people overstayed their visas. We address that.

    This bill requires the electronic tracking of people who enter and exit America. We require, in this bill, that all visas, passports, and other travel documents for immigrants who are entering or exiting the United States be in the form of a machine-readable document which can be scanned as they enter and leave the country so we will know who is coming and going. The bill mandates this machine-readable system be interoperable with the databases that are used by Federal immigration and law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community. We are trying to integrate all of this information about people coming and going and living in this country, to make us safer and make the system work.

    This gives the authorities real-time access to information to connect the dots across law enforcement data bases, including the FBI fingerprint check, name check, and the NCIC list. The new machine- readable entry-exit system will access this information when determining whether to issue a visa or deny entry.

    I say to those observing this debate, when you hear just the two things I have mentioned, you have to say this bill, S. 744, is going to make America safer. The border is going to be stronger. We are going to know who is coming and going in America.

    And there is more. We also need to address the job magnet that brings illegal, undocumented people into the United States. We need to make it more difficult to hire undocumented people. Our bill does it. We require all employers to use a mandatory electronic employment verification system to verify the employees are legal. Job applicants would have to show identifying documents such as a U.S. passport, drivers license, or biometric work authorization card that includes photo identification. The employer in any business, in any town across America, with access to a computer goes to the E-Verify system, enters the vital information about the person sitting across the table, pushes the button and waits to see if the photo that comes across the computer screen is the same photo as the one that has been presented. There is the verification. The employment can continue to go forward.

    Our bill will reform our legal immigration system to strengthen our economy, our families, and our workers. We need to ensure that families who have been separated for many years can be finally reunited. Employers should be given a chance to hire an immigrant worker when truly needed, but first--and I insisted on this throughout--we require that you have to offer the job to an American before you bring in a foreign worker.

    Our first obligation, whatever State we represent, is to the people we represent, particularly those who are out of work. This bill requires when there is a job opening, before you can offer it to a foreign worker you must offer it to an American. Maybe they cannot fill the job. Maybe they do not have the qualifications. Maybe you need some specialty. Then you can go forward under specific conditions here, with limitations, in hiring that foreign worker.

    We have been told by the business community, especially high tech, that there is a need for more high-skilled workers in our country. Last week I went to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. There was an incubator there. In small suites of offices, amazing things are underway. Some of them I cannot even explain to you. I am a liberal arts lawyer, OK? The closest I ever got to real science was political science and that doesn't count. I tried to listen and absorb as much as I could about what they were doing at this fabulous institution. Some of the things they are doing there are dramatically reducing the cost of producing biological vaccines and medicines--medicines that are used, for example, in cancer therapy--to cut the cost in half. They have been experimenting on new ways to do that.

    I met a young man named Bo Sung, from China. The man who was introducing us was from India himself and he was the head of the project. He said: ``This young man came to the Illinois Institute of Technology, and to Chicago, to get an advanced degree. He is possibly,'' he said, ``the smartest student I have ever had in any class--straight As in China, learned English and came here to learn more.'' He is working on this project. I got to meet him. He was kind of shy, friendly, in a way, standing off to the side. They brought him over.

    I said to him: Let me ask you, Mr. Sung, would you be interested in staying in the United States and developing this project? He said: If I could, I would.

    Here was a man, brought for education in the United States, who will soon be given a choice to go back to China or to stay in the United States. His preference was to stay here. We require in this bill that if you have an advanced degree in STEM subjects--science, technology, engineering, and math--an advanced degree, and you have a job offer, that you be offered a green card. A green card is a path to legalization and citizenship. I think that is a smart thing to do.

    I can recall attending the graduation at the same school a few years back where it seemed every advanced degree was going to someone from India or South Asia. I thought to myself: What a sad situation. We are handing them advanced degrees, which they earned in the United States at the best schools, and we are handing them a map on how to find their way back to O'Hare and leave.

    This is a better approach. If there is a job offer, we need to keep this talent in America. It will not just employ that person, it will employ many others who can work for the companies they are going to help. Employers, under our bill, will be given a chance to hire temporary foreign workers when they truly need them, after they have tried to recruit Americans for the same jobs. We also require that any employer who hires a foreign worker must pay a fee to be set aside for a fund to help train Americans.

    Let's put the cards on the table here. If you go to the graduation ceremonies at these schools, the best engineering schools in America, you will find a majority of foreign students. That is the reality today. So let's change the reality. Let's take the fees we will collect when these foreign workers, trained in the United States, are brought here to work--take the fees and create, as we do in this bill, scholarships and college funds for American engineering students. Let's grow our own in this country. Let's make sure we have young people coming out of our high schools and colleges who are prepared to get advanced degrees who are from America. There is nothing wrong with that. That is our first obligation, and this bill will do that.

    In Illinois, more than 40 percent of the students who earned master's or doctoral degrees in a STEM field are temporary nonimmigrants.

    In 2011, almost 2,700 specialists in advanced fields such as computer science, programming, and biomedicine who earned degrees in Illinois could not obtain visas upon their graduation. Yet in Illinois alone we will need 320,000 STEM graduates in the next 5 years.

    It makes no sense. They are trained at the best schools in Illinois, we need them in Illinois, and then we tell them to leave? It makes no sense.

    Our bill allows employers to sponsor for a green card any student who graduates from a U.S. school with an advanced degree in STEM fields if they will be working in a STEM job. We also have a significant increase in H-1B visas for skilled workers. We now have a limit of about 65,000 H-1B visas a [[Page S4036]] year. It can go up to 115,000, depending on the supply and demand, and even as high as 180,000.

    For the first time employers will be required to post the job on the Department of Labor Web site for 30 days before they hire a foreign worker, which goes back to the point I made earlier--first, the job is offered to an American.

    Under current law, employers are permitted to pay H-1B visa holders substandard wages. We changed it. We raised the wages to be paid to the H-1B workers. We don't want to create the incentive to bring in low- wage foreign workers. We want a good wage to be offered to an American first.

    We also take important steps to crack down on the biggest abuse of H- 1B visas--outsourcing of American jobs. When most people think of H-1B visas, which are visas to bring in professionals, most people think of high-tech companies such as Microsoft and Google hiring engineers they need and paying them top dollar. The reality today is dramatically different.

    In fiscal year 2012 all of the top 10 H-1B visa applicants were outsourcing foreign firms. These 10 companies used 40 percent of all the H-1B visas. Under current law employers can legally use the H-1B visa program for outsourcing. We changed it. We phased out the abuse of the H-1B system so that those using the H-1B program will be actually hiring the employees they need.

    One of the items in this bill near and dear to all of us--certainly on our side of the table--is a path to citizenship.

    During the last Presidential campaign one of the candidates on the other side advocated what he called self-deportation--that is the phrase he used--of undocumented immigrants who are currently living in our country, to leave. He was basically forcing undocumented people to leave.

    It wouldn't work, it is impractical, and I think it is fundamentally wrong. Instead, we need a fair and firm solution strengthening our national security and our economy that is true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants. Our legislation creates a tough but fair path to citizenship.

    What it boils down to is we need to say to the 11 million undocumented people in America: If you can prove you were here continuously before December 31, 2011, you have a chance to step forward, register with the government, and submit yourself to a background check. If there is a serious problem with your criminal background, you are finished. Leave. You cannot become a citizen. But if there is not, you can pay your taxes, pay a fine, live legally in America, work legally in America, travel, and come back into this country, and work towards citizenship over time.

    It is a long process. They will be monitored. They will be forced to learn English to make sure they and their children can be part of America and its future. We would do this over a 13-year period of time. What we have today is de facto amnesty. We have 11 million undocumented people, and we don't have a law to apply--at least not one that is enforced on a regular basis. Our new law, if passed, will create a level playing field.

    According to the Center for American Progress, if our bill becomes law, undocumented immigrants will increase their earnings by 15 percent over 5 years, leading to $832 billion in economic growth and $109 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years. It also will create an estimated 121,000 jobs.

    I have sat down with workers, particularly union workers, in my State. They say: Senator, what are you doing to us? You are bringing in all of these people who will now be competing with us in the workplace.

    I asked them to stop for a moment and reflect on the following: These undocumented workers are competing with them today. We can find a brick layer, a plumber, somebody who can put on a roof in virtually any major city in America, and many of those folks are undocumented. In many cases they are getting paid many times less than a minimum wage, and they are competing with other workers legally here in America. We change all of that. They come forward, identify themselves, and they are bound by the laws of this country. It is going to help them ultimately, but it helps workers in general so they are not facing this unfair competitive advantage.

    I see Senator Cornyn is here, and I want to give him a chance to say a few words. But first I want to close by speaking about two things before I do.

    At the beginning I mentioned that 12 years ago I introduced the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act was a response to a call to my office in Chicago. There was a young girl in the city of Chicago who came to that city from Korea through Brazil. Her mother and father brought her into Chicago with her brother and sister, and they were very poor.

    Her father wanted to be a minister and have a church. He never realized that dream, and he stayed at home and prayed for that dream every day. Her mother finally said: Somebody has to earn some money. So she went to work at a local dry cleaners.

    Well, the kids were raised in a one-room efficiency with hammocks so they could sleep, get by with what little they had, and it was a pretty desperate circumstance. This young woman, whose name is Tereza Lee, had to basically go to school and look through the wastebasket after lunch to find food that other kids had thrown away so she could eat. That is how desperate she was.

    Somewhere along the way she was invited to become part of the Merit Music Program. What a wonderful program. About 10 years ago a woman in Chicago said: As my legacy, I want to create the Merit Music Program which offers free musical instruments and musical instruction to the poorest students in our public schools. It has worked miracles. One hundred percent of the kids in the Merit Music Program go to college. Well, Tereza Lee was one of them.

    It turned out Tereza Lee was an accomplished music student who learned the piano. They finally gave her a key to the Merit Music Program building because it was warm, and she liked to stay there late at night and play the piano. She got so good they said: You have to apply to the Juilliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

    She got the papers---- The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

    Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask for 4 additional minutes.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. DURBIN. She had the application to fill out, and it asked for her citizenship and nationality. At that point, she turned to her mom and said: What should I put there? Her mom said: I don't know. When we brought you here, you were on a visitor's visa, but we never filed any more papers.

    Tereza said: What are we going to do? Her mom said: Let's call Senator Durbin.

    They called my office, and we checked the law. The law was not very kind to a young person in that circumstance. It said she had to leave America immediately and stay away for 10 years and apply to come back.

    She was 17 years old. It didn't make any sense. She didn't do anything wrong. She was brought here as a baby.

    I introduced the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act said young people who came to the United States under the same circumstance as Tereza and were brought here before the age of 16, finished high school, had no serious criminal issues, and could finish at least 2 years of college or enlist in the military would have a chance for citizenship. I have been trying to pass that ever since.

    These DREAMers, which they now call themselves, have started stepping forward and telling their stories. They are in some peril when they do this, but they want America to know who they are. Some of them have amazing stories to tell.

    I will tell two stories very quickly. This is Alejandro Morales. He was brought to the United States from Mexico at the age of 7 months and raised in Chicago. His dream was to become a U.S. marine. He enrolled in the Marine Math and Science Academy in Chicago and excelled in school in the Young Marines Program. He eventually rose to become the City Corps staff commander, the highest ranking cadet of 11,000 junior ROTC students in Chicago.

    In a letter he wrote to me he said: I want to serve and fight to protect my country. I am an American; I know nothing but the United States.

    [[Page S4037]] Last week, in a sad, tragic, mean-spirited vote, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to deport DREAMers such as Alejandro. It is a shameless display of lack of understanding of this fine young man and thousands more just like him who want to be a part of America's future. Losing him will not make us any stronger.

    Let me introduce another DREAMer. This is Issac Carbajal and his mother Victoria. Issac was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was 5 years old. They settled in the suburb of Portland, OR, and he went to high school there. A military recruiter told Issac he could have a promising career in the Armed Forces.

    He sought the advice of a family friend, Dr. John Braddock. John and his wife Kim came to think of Issac as another son. Issac met the Braddock family shortly after arriving in this country.

    In a letter to me John wrote that Issac ``loved this country, his country.'' They both believed the recruiter who told Issac he could enlist in the military and apply for citizenship in 2 years.

    In January 2011 when Issac went to San Diego to enlist in the military, he was immediately arrested, turned over to ICE, and deported to Tijuana the next day. He was dropped off alone in a country he had not seen in almost 15 years with no identification and nothing but $18 in his pocket.

    Now he is barred from returning to the United States for 10 years. He originally went to enlist in the military. Although it has been almost 2\1/2\ years since he has been deported, he still wants to come back and serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.

    There are so many stories just like this of these DREAMers who want to make this a better Nation. The strongest DREAM Act provisions that have ever been crafted are included in this bill and agreed to on a bipartisan basis.

    Let's pass this bill. Let's end this debate after a fulsome exchange of ideas and amendments. Let's end this debate with a strong bipartisan vote that says both Republicans and Democrats understand that this Nation of immigrants must renew its commitment to every generation to our heritage. We need to renew our commitment to those people in our families who had the courage to get up and come to this great Nation, face great sacrifice, and succeed and build what we call home: the United States of America.

    Now it is our turn. Let's not only prove we can do the right thing for them and the heritage of this Nation, let's prove that every once in a while this great institution of the Senate can actually get some important work done.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican whip.

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