Jul 25 2003 -
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, our Nation awoke to the realization that we are not as safe as we once believed. Soon after, we began critical efforts to improve our homeland security. Those efforts remain ongoing today. As we work to improve the security of our homeland, securing our borders remains one of the most difficult and important challenges facing our Nation today. The simple fact is, our borders are not secure, and no amount of money, equipment, or manpower alone will not ensure the safety of our Nation.
Over the past several years, I have supported many efforts to improve border security and address the repercussions of poor enforcement and failed immigration policies. It is imperative that we not shirk from what are Federal responsibilities. We must address the many unfunded mandates born by States and local communities because control of immigration is principally the responsibility of the Federal Government. We must continue efforts designed to improve infrastructure and technology at and between our ports of entry as well as enhance coordination between Federal, State and local law enforcement personnel. However, without comprehensive immigration reform, all of these efforts will be ineffective and meaningless.
In order to address these concerns and to balance the need to secure our borders while addressing the inconsistencies and contradictions of our Nation's immigration policy, I am introducing the Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act. This bill is the first comprehensive immigration reform package introduced this Congress, and I hope that it will serve to initiate an important and necessary dialog so that we may address the security needs of our country and reform our failed immigration system.
The Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act establishes two new visa programs. One addresses individuals wishing to enter the United States to work on a short-term basis while the other will be available for the undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.
Fully cognizant of the failures and abuses of previous temporary worker programs, I am committed to ensuring that this new program prevents abuse and protects the rights of workers. Important protections are built into the new visa program. Complete portability across all sectors will allow workers the freedom to leave abusive employers and seek work elsewhere. This program would allow employers to immediately apply for permanent resident status on behalf of the employee, but unlike previous programs, this bill would allow workers self-petition after 3 years so that no employer could use residency status to manipulate and abuse any worker. Additionally, all U.S. labor laws are applicable to ensure full worker protection.
In another departure from previous visa programs, this legislation does not put a finite number on the available visas, rather it is designed to allow the market to dictate the need for workers. Through the establishment of a job registry system, U.S. employers in need of workers can post available jobs on this registry. To ensure that U.S. workers do not lose out on valuable job opportunities, each job posted on the registry must be available to U.S. workers for a minimum of 14 days before it is open to a foreign worker. Additionally, to ensure that we do not incentivize employers to look abroad for labor that is less expensive than the domestic workforce, all employers will be charged a fee for the worker's visa.
The second visa program included in this bill addresses the estimated 6 to 10 million people currently residing in the United States. Today, undocumented immigrants live in constant fear, in a shadowy underground that affords them limited opportunities and frequently leads to both exploitation and abuse. Establishing a process by which this population can voluntarily come forward and seek legal status is a necessary component to comprehensive immigration reform and ensuring the safety of our Nation.
Under this bill, every undocumented individual currently residing in the U.S. will have the opportunity to obtain a visa authorizing them to remain in the United States and work for 3 years, after which time they may apply for the temporary worker visa program which has a built in path to permanent legal residency.
Every year, millions of people enter this country legally, in a monitored and controlled manner. Although a majority enter legally, an increasing number of people risk their lives to cross our borders illegally. According to the U.S. Border Patrol apprehension statistics, it is estimated that almost 4 million people crossed our borders illegally in 2002. The majority of these people are seeking the American dream, looking for a good paying job that will enable them to provide a better life for themselves and their families. We must recognize that as long as there are jobs available and employers in need of workers, people will continue to migrate. Our Nation was built by immigrants, and like those who came hundreds of years ago, this population represents a significant portion of our workforce.
In recent years, improved security and enhanced infrastructure in California and Texas have created a funneling effect through the Sonoran desert, which straddles Arizona and the Mexican State of Sonora. This is easily the most treacherous portion of the southern border, and in recent years, it has become more dangerous. Last fiscal year, an estimated 320 people died crossing the southern border into this country, 145 of those deaths were in the Arizona desert. Since last October, over 200 people have died, 113 along the Arizona border. The Arizona Republic found that undocumented immigrants are seven times as likely to die crossing the Arizona-Mexico border now than they were 5 years ago.
Many people desperate to cross the border pay large sums of money to human smugglers who guarantee their entrance into the U.S. Our Nation witnessed the extreme danger of human smugglers first hand in May when 100 people were found packed into a tractor trailer truck at a truck stop in Victoria, TX. These people, abandoned by their smugglers, were trapped for hours in the extreme desert heat. Nineteen people died as a result.
These are not merely numbers, these figures represent men, women, and children. This unnecessary loss of human life deserves our Nation's attention and should compel all of us to action. Our current border and immigration policies create a contradictory situation whereby we attempt to keep people from crossing our borders illegally but reward those who survive the dangerous journey with bountiful employment opportunities. This system is not sustainable.
In addition to the human tragedy, this mass migration also represents a threat to our national security. Although over 99 percent of the people crossing our borders do not intend to harm Americans, we must be cognizant of the fact that a small number do. As long as we are unable to control and monitor who enters our country and what they bring in, Americans will not be safe. We must establish a system by which to allow people seeking work to enter the country in a safe manner, through controlled ports of entry--freeing up Federal agents to monitor the border and focus their efforts on the individuals who do pose a potential threat to our national security.
We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand and expect this problem to go away. Anyone who has visited the border and seen the challenges we face first hand or who hears of the number of unnecessary deaths, must recognize that we can no longer ignore this problem. It is time we dispense with partisan politics and put human lives and our national security above special interest groups. I hold no illusions. Reforming our Nation's immigration laws will not be an easy task. This will be a long and arduous process, however we must not let the difficulty dissuade us from trying, and this legislation represents a meaningful first step. I am committed to this issue and to working towards a balanced solution to this crisis.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.