MCCAIN STATEMENT ON BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION REFORM LEGISLATION
March 30, 2006
Washington D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) spoke on the United States Senate floor and submitted for the record the following statement on the Border Security Bill:
Mr. President, the Senate is beginning debate on a very important and complex subject that is among the most difficult and divisive we face. Our nation's immigration system is broken. And without comprehensive immigration reform, our nation's security will remain vulnerable. That is why we must act.
I want to begin by commending Chairman Specter and the members of the Judiciary Committee for the considerable effort they have taken to report a comprehensive immigration reform measure that could be considered during this debate. While I may not be in agreement with each and every provision in their bill-likely no one is- it offers a very good starting point for this debate.
Those of us from border states witness every day the impact illegal immigration is having on our friends and neighbours, our county and city services, our economy and our environment. We deal with the degradation of our lands and the demands imposed on our hospitals and other public resources. Our current system doesn't protect us from people who want to harm us. It does not meet the needs of our economy. And it leaves too many people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Throughout this debate, we will be reminded that immigration is a national security issue, and it is. It is also a matter of life and death for many living along the border. We have hundreds of people flowing across our borders every day and an estimated 11-12 million people living in the shadows in every state in our country. While we believe that the majority are hard working people contributing to our economy and society, we can also assume there are some people who want to do us harm hiding among the millions who have come here only in search of better lives for themselves and their families. We need new policies that will allow us to concentrate our resources on finding those who have come here for purposes more dangerous than finding a job.
Last year, when Senator Kennedy, Brownback, Lieberman, Graham, Martinez, Obama, Salazar and I worked together to develop a sensible bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform measure, first and foremost among our priorities was to ensure our bill included strong border security and enforcement provisions. We need to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has the resources it needs to secure our borders to the greatest extent possible. These include man power, vehicles, and detention facilities for those apprehended. But we also need to take a 21st century approach to this 21st century problem. We need to create virtual barriers as well, through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, ground censors, cameras, vehicle barriers, advanced communications systems and the most up to date security technologies available to us.
The Border Security provisions under the Leader's bill and the Judiciary Committee's bill provide sound proposals to promote strong enforcement and should be part of any final bill. However, I do not believe the Senate should or will pass an "enforcement only" bill. Our experiences with our current immigration system have proven that outdated or unrealistic laws will never be fully enforceable, regardless of every conceivable border security improvement we make. Despite an increase of border patrol agents from 3,600 to 10,000, despite quintupling the Border Patrol budget, and despite the employment of new technologies and tactics-all to enforce current immigration laws- illegal immigration drastically increased during the 1990s.
While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms. We have seen time and again that as long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders - no matter how formidable the barriers - and most will be successful.
Our reforms need to reflect that reality, and help us separate economic immigrants from security risks. We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries - to the extent they are needed - to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.
Mr. President, we need workers in this country. There are certain jobs that Americans are simply not willing to do. For example, today in California and Arizona, fruit is rotting on the vine and lettuce is dying in the fields because farmers can't find workers to harvest their crops. At the same time, resorts in my own state of Arizona cannot open to capacity because there aren't enough workers to clean the rooms. Restaurants are locking their doors because there is no one to serve the food or clear the dishes. We are facing a situation whereby the U.S. population does not provide the workers that businesses desperately need, yet the demand for their services and products continues.
The current immigration system does not adequately and lawfully address this problem. As long as this situation exists, without a legal path for essential workers to enter the country, we will have desperate people illegally crossing our borders and living in the shadows of our towns, cities and rural communities. That is not acceptable, particularly when we are fighting the war on terror. The vast majority of individuals attempting to cross our borders do not intend to harm our country; they are coming to meet our demand for labor and to earn money to feed their families. By the Border Patrol's own estimates, 99% of those apprehended coming across the border are doing so for work. However, the Border Patrol is overwhelmed by these individuals. They cannot possibly apprehend every crosser being smuggled in, no matter how many resources we provide. That is why any immigration legislation that passes Congress must establish a legal channel for workers to enter the United States after they have passed background checks and have secured employment. Then we can free up federal officials to focus on those individuals intending to do harm through drug smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism.
In addition to a temporary worker program for future immigrants, we have to address the fact that 11-12 million people are living in the United States illegally, most of them employed, many whose children were born here, and are, therefore, American citizens. Our economy has come to depend on people whose existence in our country is furtive, whose whereabouts and activities, in many cases, are unknown. I have listened to and understand the concerns of those who simply advocate sealing our borders and rounding up and deporting undocumented workers currently in residence here. But that's easier said then done, Mr. President. Easier said than done. I have yet to hear a single proponent of this point of view offer one realistic proposal for locating, apprehending, and returning to their countries of origin over 11 million people. How do we do that? The columnist George Will quite accurately observed that it would take 200,000 buses extending along a 1700 mile long line to deport 11 million people. That's assuming we had the resources to locate and apprehend all 11 million, or even half that number, which we don't have and, we all know, won't ever have. And even if we could exponentially increase the money and manpower dedicated to finding and arresting undocumented workers in this country, and inventing some deportation scheme on a scale that exceeds all reality, we would, by removing these people from their jobs, damage the American economy.
Instead, what we have allowed to be in effect is a de facto amnesty, where, for all practical purposes, a permanent underclass of people live within our borders illegally, fearfully, subserviently, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most of these people aren't going anywhere. No matter how much we improve border security. No matter the penalties we impose on their employers. No matter how seriously they are threatened with punishment. We won't find most of them. We won't find most of their employers. There are jobs here that Americans aren't accepting, that people in other countries who have no future there will eagerly accept. They will find their way to those jobs, and employers who can't fill them any other way will employ them.
And what of those we do apprehend? Do they have children who were born here? What shall we do with these Americans B and they are Americans by virtue of their birth here B when we deport their parents? Shall we build a lot of new orphanages? Find adoptive parents for them? Deny their citizenship and ship them back, too? No, Mr. President, we'll do none of these things. We'll simply continue our de facto amnesty program. Because we all know, we aren't going to find and deport so many millions and suffer the dislocation and agonizing moral dilemmas that such an impossible task would engender. So let's be honest about that, shall we?
What are our opponent's alternatives? Raid and shutter businesses in every city and state in the country? Clog our courts with millions of immigration cases? Offer illegal immigrants the not too appealing opportunity to Areport to deport? We propose a better solution that is consistent with our country's tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Mr. President, we are aware of the burdens illegal immigrants impose on our cities and counties and states. Those burdens, which are a federal responsibility, must be addressed. And we need also to face honestly the moral consequences of our current failed immigration system.
As I mentioned previously, immigration reform is a matter of life and death for some. At this moment, someone may be dying in the Arizona desert. According to border patrol statistics, 330 people died in fiscal year 2004, and that figure increased by 43% B to 472 deaths in 2005. As temperatures in the deserts get higher and the desperation more tangible, we can only expect the death tolls to increase further this fiscal year.
In October of 2003, the Arizona Republic ran a story entitled A205 Migrants Die Hard, Lonely Deaths. I would like to read an excerpt from that story. [Refer to article]
[In 2003] the bodies of 205 undocumented immigrants were found in Arizona. Official notations of their deaths are sketchy, contained in hundreds of pages of government reports.
Beyond the official facts, there are sometimes little details, glimpses, of the people who died.
Maria Hernandez Perez was No. 93. She was almost 2. She had thick brown hair and eyes the color of chocolate.
Kelia Velazquez-Gonzalez, 16, carried a Bible in her backpack. She was No. 109.
In some cases, stories of heroism or loyalty or love survive.
Like the Border Patrol agent who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a dead man, hoping for a miracle. Or the group of migrants who, with law officers and paramedics, helped carry their dead companion out of the desert. Or the husband who sat with his dead wife through the night.
Other stories are almost entirely lost in the desolate stretches that separate the United States and Mexico.
Within weeks, the heat makes mummies out of men. Animals carry off their bones and belongings. Many say their last words to an empty sky.
John Doe, No. 143, died with a rosary encircling his neck. His eyes were wide open.
I am hopeful that at the end of this debate in the weeks ahead, we can show the American people that we addressed a serious and urgent problem with sound judgment, honesty, common sense and compassion.
There are over 11 million people in this country illegally. They harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants, care for our children, clean our homes. They came as others before them came, to grasp the lowest rung of the American ladder of opportunity, to work the jobs others won't, and by virtue of their own industry and desire, to rise and build better lives for their families and a better America. That is our history, Mr. President. We are not a tribe. We are not an ethnic conclave. We are a nation of immigrants, and that distinction has been essential to our greatness.
Yes, in this post 9/11 era, America must enforce its borders. There are people who wish to come here to do us harm, and we must vigilantly guard against them, spend whatever it takes, devote as much manpower to the task as necessary. But we must also find some way to separate those who have come here for the same reasons every immigrant has come here from those who are driven here by their hate for us and our ideals. We must concentrate our resources on the latter and persuade the former to come out from the shadows. We won't be able to persuade them if all we offer is a guarded escort back to the place of hopelessness and injustice that they had fled.
Why not say to those undocumented workers who are working the jobs that the rest of us refuse, come out from the shadows, earn your citizenship in this country? You broke the law to come here, so you must go to the back of the line, pay a fine, stay employed, learn our language, pay your taxes, obey our laws, and earn the right to be an American. Riayen Tejada immigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic. He came with two dreams, he said, to become an American citizen and to serve in the United States Marine Corps. He willingly accepted the obligations of American citizenship before he possessed all the rights of an American. Staff Sergeant Tejada, from Washington Heights by way of the Dominican Republic, the father of two young daughters, died in an ambush in Baghdad on May 14, 2004. He had never fulfilled his first dream to become a naturalized American citizen. But he loved this country so much that he gave his life to defend her. Right now, at this very moment, there are fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers who are not yet American citizens but who have dreamed that dream, and have risked their lives to defend it. They should make us proud, not selfish to be Americans.
They came to grasp the lowest rung of the ladder, and they intend to rise. Let them rise. Let them rise. Let us take care to protect our country from harm, but let us not mistake the strengths of our greatness for weaknesses. We are blessed, bountiful, beautiful America - the land of hope and opportunity - the land of the immigrant's dreams. Long may she remain so.