Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator Marco Rubio
Posted on 2013-06-11
RUBIO. 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the quorum call be rescinded.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. RUBIO. Mr. President, I am happy to be on the floor today as we get ready to proceed to the immigration bill and start to debate it. I wish to lay out a couple of points as we move forward on this debate which I fully anticipate we will do. We need to do so as a country, actually for many of the reasons my colleague from Alabama raised, because of these problems we face with regard to our immigration system.
Let's take a step back and analyze the issue a little while for the people who are tuning in for the first time or maybe people are visiting Washington and are perhaps listening to us talk about it, to provide a fundamental understanding of what we are addressing. Let's begin by saying the obvious, which is that all Americans understand immigration because it is their story, whether it is you, your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents. One of the defining characteristics of the United States of America is that it is literally a collection of people from all over the world or descendants of people from all over the world who have come here in search of a better life.
I think it is important to understand why that distinguishes us from the rest of the world and the attitudes of the rest of the world throughout history. If we look at the countries that have been organized throughout human history, the nation states, all of these countries have largely been organized because these people had a common ethnicity or a common race or they came from the same tribe or the same family clan or what-have-you. The United States is very different. The United States was actually founded on the notion that we are going to create a country that believes fundamentally in the God-given right of every single human being to go as far as their talent and work will take them. People such as myself who have been born and raised here our entire lives, sometimes we take that for granted, but we need to understand that throughout history it is a rarity. In fact, throughout history, what people have been told by their leaders is: You can only go so far in life because that is what your parents did, that is where your parents come from, so that is all you are allowed to do. But we were different, and thank God we were.
What we said is, We don't care how poor you were the day you were born; it doesn't matter to us that your parents weren't well connected and well heeled; we don't even care that you are from another country. If a person wants to work hard and build a better life for him or herself, we want that person. That has been the history of the United States: a collection of go-getters from all over the world who have come here and built this extraordinary country and, as a result, the influence this country has had not just on human history but even to modern day is unbelievable culturally and economically, in terms of ensuring peace, especially in the aftermath of World War II. All of it is the result of this particular reality about who we are as a people and as a Nation. We have always had immigration, and we will always need immigration, to keep the nature and the essence of who we are as a people.
But times change and the immigration system has to change with those times. In essence, the immigration system we had 100 years ago, 150 years ago--people forget this: What was the immigration system of the United States? Not so long ago, this was the immigration system in the United States: If you got here, you were allowed to stay. If you made that dangerous voyage across the Atlantic, if you found your way to this country, if you were processed through Ellis Island or somewhere else, you were allowed to stay. We can't do that anymore. We have to have a controlled immigration system, especially in the 21st century, to measure who is coming here, who they are, and why they are here. That is the way it has to work now in the 21st century. We understand that.
Adding to that, by the way, is the reality that the 21st century is so different from the 20th. We are actively engaged in global competition. It wasn't so long ago, such as when my parents came in 1956, the United States was still a national economy. The people we traded with and sold with and competed against lived in this country, probably in one's own State or in one's own community. No more. Today we are actively involved in global competition for business, for clients, and for talent, so we have to understand our immigration system has to reflect these changes. The way people immigrate and who immigrates here now has to reflect the 21st century reality, which is reason No. 1 why this country needs immigration reform.
All the attention is being paid to illegal immigration, and, look, that is a serious problem. I am going to talk about that in a moment. But issue No. 1, the fundamental reason we have to do immigration reform, is because we do not have a 21st-century immigration system. Our immigration system today is largely built on the idea that if you have a relative living here, it is easier for you to come than if you have a special skill or talent that you are offering to the country to contribute.
We do not have a merit-based system, we have a family-based system. I say that as someone whose family came on a family-based system. My parents came here because my mom's sister [[Page S4081]] claimed her in 1956. But the country is so different, the world is so different--so different from 2006, not to mention 1956--and our immigration system has to reflect that.
The problem is we have a broken legal immigration system. It does not reflect the realities of the 21st century. The result is that even if we did not have a single illegal immigrant in the United States, we should be on the floor of the Senate debating immigration reform because we must modernize our legal immigration system. That, as much as anything else, is the reason my colleagues should be excited about the opportunity to have this debate, because we have to modernize our legal immigration system so it is a benefit to our country.
I give this anecdote because I think it is appropriate: We are in the NBA finals--which, by the way, the Miami Heat won game 2 in a resounding fashion, and we are very happy about that. We will see what happens tonight. But imagine for a second if there was now the hottest basketball player in the county, who played at some college in the United States--6 feet 10 inches, never misses a shot, just an unbelievable player. Do you think in your wildest dreams we would ever let that person go play in Italy or Spain or some other country? There is no way in the world we are going to allow the best basketball player in the world--no matter where they were born, no matter where they came from, no matter their immigration status--there is no way in the world we are going to let a future NBA star leave the United States and go play basketball in some other country, in a European league or the Greek league or whatever. They are going to stay here.
So my question to you is, If that is how we approach sports--which is important, I guess, but it is a game--shouldn't that be the way we approach our economy? Should we be deporting the best graduates at some of our universities--world-class physicists and scientists and people in technology and engineering and math? Yet that is the way functionally our immigration system works right now. I am not making this up. We have heard the testimony. We have heard the people who come into our offices. There is not a Member in this body who has not had a meeting in their office, or their staff has not, with someone from the tech community who will come to you and say: We are going to college campuses, we are making job offers to the best and brightest, and we cannot keep them here--not because they do not want to stay here, not because they are not qualified, not because we do not have a job opening, but because we cannot get them a green card or a legal status. So they are learning at our universities, at the expense of the American taxpayer, and then they are leaving the United States to compete against us.
That makes no sense, nor does, by the way, the system of getting workers for agriculture, which I would argue in many respects is skilled labor. If you do not believe me, go watch some of these people in the fields as they work, doing the work they do.
But American agriculture, you talk about energy security. If you want to cripple a country, cripple their food security, cripple their agricultural security. Agriculture is an important industry in most of the States of the country and certainly for the United States of America. That industry depends on a workforce, and there is a demand for labor in that workforce. The fact is, and has been for over 100 years, that the only way to fully fill all the jobs available in agriculture is through seasonal and temporary labor from abroad. There is a real demand for that labor, and there is a real supply of people who want to do that labor. Supply and demand will always meet. But because we do not have a functional legal immigration system that allows the supply of foreign workers to meet the demand of domestic jobs in agriculture, supply and demand are meeting, but they are meeting in a chaotic and broken way. That needs to be reformed, as well as a bunch of other aspects.
The immigration system is very bureaucratic and complicated. In fact, our broken legal immigration system is one of the leading contributors to illegal immigration. Over 40 percent of the people in this country illegally today came legally. They did not jump a fence. They did not sneak in. They came on some sort of temporary visa and they overstayed it. One of the leading reasons they overstay is they think it is too costly, too time-consuming, and too bureaucratic to come back again legally in the future.
So I guess my point is, even if we did not have a single illegal immigrant in the United States, we need to do immigration reform because we must modernize our legal immigration system, and it must reflect the 21st century.
The second point I will make to you is our immigration laws are only as good as our ability to enforce them. We do not have enforcement mechanisms that work. All the attention is paid to the border, and it should be, because the border is not just an immigration issue, it is a national security issue. That means the same routes that are used to smuggle in immigrants can be used to smuggle in weapons and terrorists and other things--and drugs.
So we must secure the border. That is not easy to do because there is no such thing as one border. The border is broken up into about nine different sectors. Some are doing much better than they ever have; others are not doing very well at all. We must secure the border of the United States for national security reasons as well as immigration reasons. I know it is hard to do it, and I know there have been efforts in the past that have failed, but I am telling you that I refuse to accept the idea that the most powerful country on Earth, the Nation that put a man on the Moon, is incapable of securing its own borders.
Our sovereignty is at stake in terms of border security. Border security is not an anti-immigration or anti-immigrant measure, it is an important national security measure. But it is also an important defense of our sovereignty. We must protect our borders.
Likewise, we have to understand that even if we protect our borders, the magnet that is bringing people to the United States is employment. So we have to create a system, which we are capable of doing in the 21st century, we must create a system that allows employers to verify that the person they are hiring is legally here; hence, all this talk of E-Verify. Last but not least, because 40 percent of the people who are here illegally entered legally, we have to have a system that tracks when visitors enter and when they leave.
My colleagues will tell you that is already required by law, and it is. The problem is that the way it is required right now will never work. That is why this bill deals with that. We have to have a system so when you are visiting the United States on a temporary visa--as a tourist, on business, whatever it may be--we track you. You log in when you come in and you log in when you leave.
Every hotel in America knows when their guests come in and when they leave. Every hotel in America knows that. Multiple businesses track people when they come in and when they leave. We do this every single day as a matter of routine in our lives. The Federal Government should be able to do that, and it must do that. This bill requires that they do that, and it creates a real incentive to do that, and I will talk about that in a moment. But, basically, the incentive is that the green card process, for those who are here illegally in this country--that does not start until that system is fully in place. By the way, it also does not start until E-Verify is fully in place. These are significant security measures we must undertake.
When you hear people say: Well, the bill weakens the status quo and the law, the problem is that the status quo is not working. There is a reason we have 11 million people here illegally, and it is because the status quo--the current law--there is a flaw in it. There is a flaw in E-Verify. The flaw in E-Verify is that you basically show up at your employer and you show them a Social Security card. It may not be your Social Security card, but that is all you have to show them. It is happening all the time. People are either falsifying the document or borrowing someone else's, and they are using someone else's legal documentation to find a job.
We have to create a new E-Verify, one that allows us to verify that the person holding that card is actually that person; otherwise, arguing in [[Page S4082]] favor of the status quo is arguing in favor of continuing the fraud. We have to stop that from happening. So we have to have security elements as part of this bill--border security, E-Verify, and entry-exit tracking.
The last issue--and it is the one that gets all the attention--is what to do with the people who are here illegally now. Let me begin by saying to you that I do not know anyone who is happy about the fact that we have approximately 10.5 million to 11 million human beings living in the United States illegally. I would also remind you that every one of their stories is different. I would caution people not to lump them all into one basket because they are all very different. Some came legally and overstayed, others entered illegally and have been here ever since. Some came in as very young children and did not even know they were illegal until they tried to go to college. The point is there is real diversity in that group of people.
So we have three options. Option No. 1 is we can ignore it, leave it the way it is, pretend it is not there. I think if this bill fails, or efforts like it fail, that is exactly what will happen. For those who oppose amnesty, I would tell you that is de facto amnesty. De facto amnesty is having 11 million people living among you illegally. The only consequence to it is they do not have documentation. Obviously, they are working somewhere because they are providing for their families. They do not qualify for any Federal benefits. They are all around us, everywhere you look, whether you know it or not. They are here. Most have been here for longer than a decade. We can ignore it, but if we do, if we leave it in place, if we do nothing--if we do nothing--if this bill fails and we do nothing, that is de facto amnesty.
The second option is we can make life miserable for them. We can basically put E-Verify in place, continue to secure the borders, and make life so tough on people that they will just leave on their own.
I do not think that is a practical approach. I do not think it works. I do not think most Americans would tolerate what we would have to do in order for that to happen. I do not think most Americans would tolerate the humanitarian costs of approaching it that way. At the end of the day, I still think many will not leave anyway. They will figure out a way to survive and endure. I do not think that is a practical approach. If someone else thinks it is a practical approach, I would encourage them to come to the floor and convince me otherwise, come here and explain to us why we should try to do that. I have not heard anyone make that argument. I am not saying anyone is, which proves my point.
What is the third option? The third option is to deal with it, to deal with it in a way that is reasonable and compassionate, but also in a way that is responsible and good for the country. That is what we have endeavored to do as part of this bill.
So let's be clear what this bill does. First and foremost, this bill says to people who are here illegally: Come forward. We have a process for you that you are going to have to undergo if you want to be in this country legally. Here is the process: No. 1, you are going to have to undergo a background check. They are going to have to fingerprint you. You are going to have to undergo a background check for national security and for crimes. If you have committed serious crimes, you are not going to qualify for this legalization.
You are going to have to pay an application fee. You are going to have to pay a fine because that is a consequence of having violated our immigration laws.
When I hear the word ``amnesty'' used, it reminds me that amnesty means the forgiveness of something. We have seen amnesties all the time. I was recently in the great State of Hawaii. We had a great visit there, a personal visit. They have a box called an amnesty box. It allows you, when you get off the airplane, if you have any banned agriculture--plants, fruits, or whatever--to put it in the bucket, no questions asked. That is amnesty. Amnesty is turn it in and nothing will happen to you, no price to pay. That is not what this bill does.
This bill says: Come forward, and you are going to have to undergo a background check for national security, a background check for crimes. You are going to have to pay a fine. You are going to have to pay an application fee. You are going to have to get gainfully employed and start paying taxes. You are not going to qualify for any Federal benefits--no ObamaCare, no food stamps, no welfare, nothing. That is all you are going to be able to have for 10 years, which leads me to my second point about the legalization.
There is this notion out there that this is permanent legalization, that once you get this you are legal forever. Not true. This is like all other nonimmigrant visas. This is renewable. Under the program we envision in this bill, every 6 years you are going to have to come forward and reapply. Every 6 years you are going to have to come forward and undergo all the same things again--another fine, another application fee, another background check. In fact, when you go renew it the first time, you are going to have to prove you have been gainfully employed and paying taxes for the previous 6 years.
The legalization that people are going to be able to get, the so- called RPI--registered provisional immigrant--the key word there is ``provisional.'' It is not permanent. There are people who are going to qualify for RPI at the beginning who, when it comes time to renew, are not going to qualify because they were not gainfully employed and paying taxes, because they committed a crime, or because they cannot pay the fine. That is going to happen. We do not think it will be prevalent, but it will happen. It is not permanent; it is provisional.
The third aspect of it is that once you have been in RPI for 10 full years--after you have been in RPI for 10 full years, which means the first 6 years, and then you reapplied and qualified, and you have been in it another 4 years--then here is the only thing that happens: The only thing that happens is that you are now qualified to, you are eligible to, apply for a green card. It does not mean on the 10-year anniversary of getting RPI you show up at some office and say: I am here. Give me my green card. That is not true. You have to apply for it. You have to undergo the same green card process, with all the same checks and balances.
I have filed an amendment to improve it even further. I am saying when you apply for that green card, after the 10-year period and more has expired, you are going to have to prove that you are proficient in English because I think assimilation is important. I think assimilating into American society is important. I think learning English is not just important for assimilation, it is important for economic success. You cannot flourish in our economy, you cannot flourish in our country if you are not proficient in English. We are going to require that at the green card stage.
Now, what is the debate here going to be about over the next few weeks? Well, a couple things are going to have to happen.
First, like any other bill, there are some technical changes that are going to have to be made, and those will be made. I think there will be improvements to the bill on other issues, such as what I have just talked about, this amendment I have making English proficiency required at the green card stage.
Then I think we are going to move on and have a debate about the cost of this bill and ensuring that we truly tighten this. But look, the American people are very generous and open, especially to a process such as this, but they want to make sure it is not costing the American taxpayer. So we are going to have to make sure people are not qualifying for these Federal benefits. We have to make sure people who have violated our immigration law, one of the consequences of that is that they are not a burden on the American taxpayer.
If we talk to many of these immigrant groups and the immigrations themselves, they will tell us that is not a problem. That is not what we are here for. Good. Because you are not going to qualify for those things. We are going to make that even clearer in some of the amendments Senator Hatch and others are working on.
Then I think we have to get to the final point; that is, the security element of this bill. I personally believe that more than half of my colleagues [[Page S4083]] on the Republican side, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, want to vote for an immigration bill. They want to modernize our legal immigration system, they want to improve our enforcement mechanisms, and they want to deal with the 11 million people who are here illegally.
But they are only willing to do that if they can go back to their folks at home and say: We took steps in this bill to make sure this will never happen again; we did not repeat the mistakes of the past; this is not going to happen again. That is going to be the key to this bill passing. I think we can do that. That is in our principles, by the way. The guiding principles before this bill was unveiled talked about border security. One of the ways I think we can improve that is by not leaving the border and fence plan to chance.
Let's not leave it to the Department of Homeland Security. One of the objections we have heard from opponents of the bill is we do not trust Homeland Security to come up with a plan that works. Fine. Then let's put it in the bill. Let's put the specific plan in the bill, the number of fences, the amount of technology. Let's mandate it in the bill so we are not leaving it to guesswork, so when we vote for this bill, we are voting for a specific security plan.
I have heard people say we think the E-Verify portion should be improved. Let's fix it now. Let's put it in the bill. We think the entry-exit tracking system can be improved. Let's put it in the bill, so that when we vote for this bill, we are also voting for a plan. That is important. That is not unreasonable. I want Members to think about this for a second. The immigrant who is illegally here comes forward. They get legalized through this pretty difficult process. They are now here legally. They have qualified because they have met these conditions. They are now here legally. They are working. They are paying taxes. They are not in the shadows anymore.
But before we can move to a green card, which is permanent residency, all we are asking for is that we ensure that this never happens again. That is not an unreasonable request. Not only do I not think that is an unreasonable request, I think that is a very responsible request, because none of us wants to be here 5 years from now or 10 years from now saying: Boy, they truly messed up in 2013; we have to do this all over again. None of us wants to be here 5 years from now facing 5 million illegal immigrants more, another wave of illegal immigration. We can get that right. We can get it right in this bill.
If that happens, I believe this legislation will pass in a historic way out of this Chamber. It strengthens the chances it can pass in the House and be signed by the President. That is the opportunity we have to get something such as this right.
I could go on and talk to you about the economic benefits of legal immigration reform and what that will mean for our economy. We will have plenty of time to have that conversation. Trust me when I tell you, I think we will work on it to convince you, it will be a net positive for America to have a legal immigration system that works.
That is why this debate is so important. I think we can do something that is good for the country and responsible and once and for all solve this problem so we do not have to continue to deal with it, so it does not continue to hold us back, so we, a nation of immigrants, built on a heritage of legal immigration, can have a legal immigration system that works, that we can be proud of, that helps our country, that takes this issue off the table, that gets rid of de facto amnesty, that protects our sovereignty and our borders and the security of our people. That is what we have a chance to do.
To the opponents of the legislation, I would say, look, I respect your views very much. I do. I think you raise very valid concerns, which we have attempted to address in this bill and which we will continue to address in this bill. I am not one of those take-it-or- leave-it-people with regard to legislation. I always think that no matter what idea I have, the more people who are exposed to it, the more input I get, the more suggestions I get, the better we can make it.
Ultimately, that is what I am interested in being a part of. I am not interested in being part of passing a bill as a talking point or a messaging point, nor am I interested in the political calculations of this issue. What I am personally interested in is solving a problem that is hurting America. That is how I will close. That is why I am passionate. The reason I am passionate about this issue is because this thing is hurting America. The fact that we have 11 million people leaving here, we do not know who they are, we do not know where they are, they are not paying taxes, they are not incorporated into our economy, that is hurting America. It is bad for them, but it is very bad for our country. The fact that we cannot enforce our immigration laws because the systems we have in place do not work, that is bad for America. The fact that we have a legal immigration system that hurts our economy and hurts our future, that is bad for America.
What we have today on immigration in America is bad. It does not work for anyone, unless you are a human trafficker or someone who is benefiting at the expense of cheap illegal labor. Who else is being helped by the status quo? Who else likes what we have right now? The answer is nobody. Leaving this in place is not an alternative. It is not an option. This is a problem that is hurting our country. The only way I know how to solve a problem is to get involved in trying to solve it. That is why I came here. I did not come to the Senate to sign on to a bunch of letters and give a speech once a week on the floor. I came here because I believe, I know, I know with all my heart, that what we have is a unique, exceptional, and special place. But to keep it that way requires us to take seriously, not just our constitutional charge but take seriously the opportunity we have to solve historic problems in a historic way. I think this bill done right gives us the opportunity to do that. I look forward to the opportunity to be part of it. I hope my colleagues who are openminded about it will remain openminded as we work to improve this product and give the American people something that helps our country, solves our problem, and makes us all proud.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Heitkamp.) The Senator from Virginia.