Friday, May 19, 2006

Senator Byrd on Immigration

Senator Byrd gave the following speech from the floor of the Senate on Thursday, May 18, 2006. It provides food for thought on one aspect of immigration reform. I notice that he is does not seem to be critical of a guest worker program - he is critical of border enforcement, and he is critical of giving permanent residency and citizenship to people who are in the country illegally.

Mr. BYRD. Madam President, today the Senate finds itself considering yet another amnesty for illegal aliens. After the defeat of a similar amnesty proposal last month, I had hoped that the Senate had seen the last of these efforts. I had hoped that the Senate, when given the time to consider the overwhelming opposition of the American people to amnesty, would pass a clean border security bill like the House did without amnesty, without a guest worker program, and without an increase in the annual allotment of permanent immigrant visas.

Sadly, the Senate is embarking on a path that contradicts everything we know--everything we know--about the position of the American people on this issue. It is an unpopular approach. It is the wrong approach.

The other night in his address to the Nation, the President endorsed the Senate amnesty plan to award U.S. citizenship to illegal aliens, and he announced the deployment of up to 6,000 guardsmen to the U.S. border with Mexico. The deployment of U.S. troops is intended to suggest an urgency about gaining control of the border that has been missing for many years, even since the September 11 attacks. Nevertheless, I have my doubts and concerns.

Guardsmen have been sent overseas two times, even three times--no, even four times--and have come home fatigued and stressed out. They have been forced to sell businesses and to endure financial hardships because of their long absences.

Just a few months ago, the White House proposed to cut the National Guard by nearly 18,000 soldiers. The adjutants general of many States are reporting that they were not involved in discussions about the deployment of the Guard to our borders. So what assurances are there that sending troops to the border won't hamper our ability to respond to the floods in New England, another Hurricane Katrina, or another natural disaster?

The National Guard might be able to lend support to our border security, but that role must not be at the expense of the thousands of communities around the country that also depend on our Guard should disasters strike those towns or counties.

Press reports indicate that the Guard men and women will not be empowered to arrest aliens who attempt to cross our borders. I cannot help but wonder if this move to detail guardsmen to our borders is a political stunt to look tough at the expense of the brave citizen-soldiers who serve in the Guard.

The President would not have to call out the National Guard to secure the borders if he had supported even some--even some--of the nine--nine, nine--separate amendments that I have offered since September 11 to hire and train more Border Patrol agents. If these amendments had been adopted--I say, if they had been adopted--the law enforcement agents would be in place right now helping to secure the borders.

Instead, the administration has consistently opposed these efforts as unnecessary and extraneous spending, saying that those funds would expand the size of Government. When I included $400 million in the fiscal year 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act for border security, the President refused to spend it saying:

I made my opposition clear ..... We'll spend none of it.

That is what he said. That is what the President said. He said:

I made my opposition clear ..... We'll spend none of it.

As recently as last September, on a party-line vote, the majority defeated an Obey-Byrd-Sabo motion in conference on the fiscal year 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill to add $100 million for border security. The administration opposed--yes, you heard me correctly--the administration opposed the Byrd-Craig amendment to the fiscal year 2005 supplemental appropriations bill to add $389 million for, what? For border security--border security. Fortunately, the amendment was approved and subsequently, despite administration opposition, the conferees approved $274 million. And as a result, there are now 500 more Border Patrol agents, 218 more immigration agents and investigators, and 1,950 more detention beds in place helping to secure our borders.

I will support any realistic effort to secure our borders, but I have to question the sincerity behind sham attempts that accomplish a token presence which only impose further hardship on our National Guard and may put communities at risk from natural disasters.

The sense of urgency that comes with deploying the National Guard is belied by the administration's consistent opposition to providing the necessary resources that our border security agencies need to do their job. Last month, I joined Senator Gregg in offering an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq to provide $1.9 billion for the Border Patrol to hire the agents and secure the equipment that they need to better secure the border. The President has threatened to veto the supplemental bill. It is difficult to believe that the President would oppose funding our border agencies sufficiently to do the job they were created to do, but that is the situation.

Immigration enforcement in our country remains a decidedly half-hearted effort. The administration claims to strengthen border security in one area, and then completely undermines it in another with amnesty proposals. That dangerous inconsistency is at the root of my opposition to the misguided amnesty proposal before the Senate.

I oppose this amnesty bill. I oppose it absolutely. I oppose it unequivocally. I oppose this effort to waive the rules for lawbreakers and to legalize the unlawful actions of undocumented workers and the businesses that illegally employ them.

Amnesties are the dark underbelly of our immigration process. They tarnish the magnanimous promise enshrined on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Amnesties undermine that great egalitarian and American principle that the law should apply equally and should apply fairly to everyone. Amnesties perniciously decree that the law shall apply to some but not to all.

This bill would create a separate set of immigration laws for those who choose not to follow the regular process that everybody else had to go through. It is a slap in the face to every immigrant who had to wait abroad to come to American shores, and to every immigrant who had to struggle and work to become a U.S. citizen.

It is a false promise to the many tens of millions of immigrants who would be authorized to settle in the United States under this bill with the infrastructure of our Nation--our schools, our health care system, our transportation and energy networks--increasingly unable to absorb this untenable surge in the population. Many employers are more than willing to take advantage of the cheap labor that this bill would provide, but the responsibility would fall on the Nation as a whole to make the public investments necessary to ensure that these workers do not fall into a state of poverty once they have arrived. We have our own problems to address without having to assume this additional burden to help American businesses find cheaper labor.

Amnesties beget more illegal immigration--hurtful, destructive illegal immigration. They encourage other undocumented aliens to circumvent our immigration process in the hope that they, too, can achieve temporary worker status. Amnesties sanction the exploitation of illegal foreign labor by U.S. businesses and encourage other businesses to hire cheap and illegal labor in order to compete.

President Reagan signed his amnesty proposal into law in 1986. At the time, I supported amnesty based on the same promises that we hear today; namely, that legalizing undocumented workers and increasing enforcement would stem the flow of illegal immigration. It didn't work then; it won't work today. The 1986 amnesty failed miserably. After 1986, the illegal immigrant population more than quadrupled from 2.7 million aliens to 4 million aliens in 1996, to 8 million aliens in 2000, to an estimated 12 million illegal aliens today.

In that time, the Congress continued to enact amnesty after amnesty, waiving the Immigration Act for lawbreakers. The result is always the same: For every group of illegal aliens granted amnesty, a bigger group enters the country hoping to be similarly rewarded.

This bill encourages individuals on both sides of the border to flout the law. It is a congressional pardon for lawbreakers--both for illegal aliens and the unscrupulous employers who hire them.

What is backward about the pending bill is that it would actually expand benefits to illegal aliens rather than curtail them. It authorizes illegal aliens to work in the country. It grants illegal aliens a path to citizenship. It pardons employers who illegally employ unauthorized workers. It even repeals provisions in current law designed to deny cheaper, in-State tuition rates to illegal aliens.

The pending bill is an invitation to immigrants and employers alike to violate our immigration laws and to get away with it. Amnesties are dangerous proposals. Amnesties open routes to legal status for aliens hoping to circumvent the regular security checks. By allowing illegal aliens to adjust their status in the country, we allow them to bypass State Department checks normally done overseas through the visa and consular process. One need only look to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, where one of the terrorist leaders had legalized his status through an amnesty, to know the dangers of these kinds of proposals.

Our immigration system is already plagued with funding and staffing problems. It is overwhelmed on the borders, in the interior, and in its processing of immigration applications. It only took 19 temporary visa holders to slip through the system to unleash the horror of the September 11 attacks, and the pending proposal would shove many tens of millions of legal and illegal aliens--many of whom have never gone through a background check--through our border security system over the next decade, in effect, flooding a bureaucracy that is already drowning.

It is a recipe for disaster, and 6,000 National Guardsmen without the power to enforce our immigration laws and arrest illegal aliens are not going to make the difference between success and failure. Our Nation's experience shows that amnesties do not--do not--work. They encourage illegal immigration. They open our borders to terrorists. Our experience shows that we cannot play games with our border security or American lives could be lost.

I will oppose this amnesty bill, and I urge my colleagues to do likewise.

Madam President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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