July 12, 2006
Chairman Specter, Ranking Member Leahy, Members of the
Committee, I'm pleased to have this opportunity to discuss
comprehensive immigration reform with you. Thank you for
your leadership and hard work on this important issue.
I believe immigration is the domestic social issue of our
time - and a key to our future economic health. The
President has called for comprehensive reform that includes
protecting our borders and recognizing the needs of our
The reality is that our economy is growing faster than any
other large, industrialized nation. Our unemployment rate is
below the average of the past four decades.
Our economy - like other major industrial economies - faces
the challenge of an aging and increasingly educated
The result is that we have jobs that American citizens either aren't willing or aren't available to do. I continually hear from industries that they are having difficulty finding workers.
In May, we had 4.1 million job openings in the U.S. with a
large amount in the hospitality industry. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
As one example, when I was in Texas in June, Alan Simpson,
president of the El Paso Restaurant Association and the Silver Streak hamburger chain, said, "When the unemployment rate is below 5 to 6 percent, it's a real challenge to staff
So, immigrants aren't crossing our borders to look for a
handout. They're seeking jobs that are available. More than
81 percent of immigrants say, "A person has to work very
hard in this country to make it." (Now that I'm here, Public Agenda, 2003)
I am encouraged that we are starting to reach some consensus:
As you know, more than 500 of our nation's top economists
recently sent a letter to President Bush and Congress stating that immigration has been a net gain for American citizens.
And two-thirds of American voters say they support bills that include a temporary worker program or path to citizenship, rather than one that focuses solely on border security. (Ayres McHenry poll, 6/06)
President Bush has called for comprehensive immigration
reform to address the many complex issues involved.
Everyone agrees it is essential to secure our borders. The
President has proposed:
? Increasing the number of Border Patrol agents from
approximately 12,000 to more than 18,000;
? Increasing the use of technology at the borders, so we can
know who is coming through;
? And improving processes to become more efficient.
We believe that worksite enforcement is also essential.
There's an underground industry built on producing false
documentation for illegal workers, and employers have a hard
time helping enforce the law because they are not sure which
documents are reliable.
The rules must be clear enough to hold businesses
accountable, and we must ensure that businesses have the
tools they need to follow the law.
We need to create a temporary worker's program. It
would create a legal means for more workers to enter the
United States for a limited time to fill labor needs. By
providing a legal, enforceable way for immigrants to enter, we would take pressure off of our borders.
The President has called for a program to match willing
immigrant workers with willing employers in jobs no
Americans have filled. And we need an expanded employment verification system, including biometric card identification for the temporary worker program. We have the technology today to use a person's unique characteristics, such as a fingerprint, to lock in identity.
When we have an effective employment verification system --
and we have a temporary worker's program -- dynamics will
Over time, it will become unlikely that people will risk their lives crossing the border if it is well-known that, unless you are in this country legally, you will not find a job. These are some of the most consequential things we can do to make our borders more secure. And they demonstrate the
wisdom of comprehensive immigration reform.
The other reality we must confront is that we have
12 million people who are in the country illegally.
The President has said that deporting 12 million individuals
wouldn't be wise, practical, or humane.
The other extreme is amnesty. The dictionary defines
amnesty as an "unconditional pardon - obliterating
all memory of the offense." The President does not support
amnesty, and it's not accurate or fair to call his solution to this problem amnesty.
We're talking about having a hard-earned path to
legalization, which would require meeting conditions:
? People waiting their turn at the back of the line,
? Paying fines,
? Paying taxes,
? Learning English,
? Undergoing a criminal background check,
? And having a job.
When immigrants take the Oath of Allegiance to become
American citizens, they give up allegiances to other countries.
They promise to support and defend our Constitution, and to
serve in our military if required.
The process of becoming a U.S. citizen can take more than
eight years, and nothing is guaranteed. So, immigrants have to make a real commitment to this country, and stick it out, to earn citizenship and its associated responsibilities.
The last important point that President Bush makes is that we are a nation of immigrants, and we must honor the great
tradition of the melting pot.
It is a false choice to think the immigration debate is a battle between America being a welcoming society and being a
nation of laws. We can be both because we are both.
The United States' ability to assimilate immigrants is our
comparative advantage. Many countries today, such as Japan,
China, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have declining
populations. We can avoid this problem and build a vibrant,
diverse country in part through immigration.
What we need now is leadership and reasonable
compromise in the middle. We need to be talking about the
right mix of immigration reform that addresses all the issues.
An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive,
because all elements of this problem must be addressed
together, or none of them will be solved at all.
I ask you to commit to comprehensive immigration
reform. The longer we wait, the bigger the problems we are
passing on to a future generation.
If we address these issues effectively, I'm convinced that our children and grandchildren will be proud of what we did.
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer your questions.