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TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Harry Reid’s Senate speech (September 20, 1993)

Conservative Review

Mr. REID. Mr. President, a few years ago it would have been unlikely that the subject of immigration would have come up around the family dinner table. But today, along with such matters as the economy, health care, and crime, immigration has become one of the most serious domestic issues in the minds of the American public, perhaps because immigration has had such enormous impact in all other domestic issues. It does not matter where you go today--any townhall meeting, any gathering of high school students, at a college class--immigration is one of the topics that is raised very quickly.

The issue of immigration is something that was not around just a few years ago with such intensity.

I know that many of my colleagues in the Senate and the House have had the same experiences I have had.

When I speak about immigration being a subject of concern, I am not talking about to this Senator. I think I can talk for the House and the Senate.

Earlier this summer, the Republican leader, Senator Dole, convened a policy breakfast for Republican Senators on the subject of immigration because, in his words, wherever he travels around the country, he is confronted with concern about the direction of the policy of immigration as it relates to the United States.

It is clear that there is growing public dissatisfaction with our Nation's immigration policies. The American people are demanding reforms that will restore order to an immigration system they perceive to be out of control.

And these are not racist people who are raising this issue. Everybody in this country--of course, except for the Native Americans--is of immigrant stock. My father-in-law was born in Russia; my grandmother in England. If we understand our own family backgrounds, we understand the immigrant struggle. The continual flow of new people into our country is one of its strengths.

But why, Mr. President, are the American people concerned? Why are they concerned about the present state of immigration laws? Here is why:

The most recent studies show that the net costs of legal and illegal immigration to all levels of Government will be $45 billion over the next decade. And this figure takes into account the taxes paid by these immigrants.

According to the Attorney General, 26 percent of Federal prisoners are noncitizens, at a cost of $30,000 per inmate per year.

When I first heard that figure, I thought there was a mistake, Mr. President--26 percent of the people that are in our Federal institutions are noncitizens. But the fact is, that figure was not something that I heard wrong; the fact is that it is true.

The amount that it costs us to incarcerate, care for, and keep those people from the public is the same as for someone that is a citizen--$30,000 a year.

In 1982, 128,000 immigrants received Social Security benefits. In 1992, 10 years later, the number has jumped to over 600,000. Mr. President, that is an increase of almost 400 percent.

In 1986, we granted amnesty--and I voted against that provision in law--we granted amnesty to 3.2 million illegal immigrants. After being in this country for 10 years, the average amnesty recipient had a sixth-grade education, earned less than $6 an hour, and presently qualifies for the earned-income tax credit.

Last year alone, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated 3.5 million illegal border crossings occurred. Of course, INS apprehended only 1 million. These aliens came from 52 different countries but, of course, most of them,

Mr. President, came from Mexico.

The INS currently employs 3,800 Border Patrol agents. Keep in mind the job that these people have--3,800 Border Patrol agents. Last year, the United States had over 500 million entries. Thirty-eight hundred people cannot control 500 million. This does not take into consideration much of the other paperwork that the agents have to deal with.

INS has only 6,200 beds available for detaining 252,000 asylum applicants, and those awaiting deportation.

In 1993, in Los Angeles County, at Los Angeles County Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the country, 67 percent of the births were to illegal alien mothers.

The State of California needs to build a school a day to keep up with the incoming immigrant children--a school a day.

According to a recent study out of Dartmouth, for every seven immigrants who enter the job market, one blue-collar American worker loses a job.

The INS routinely issues work authorization without regard to the number of jobs the economy is creating.

The top five States receiving immigrants--California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Illinois--have higher unemployment rates than the national average. It is no wonder.

In certain professions--for example, engineering--we have a surplus of labor in this country. However, the Labor Department allows American companies to bring in foreign engineers.

In 1990, we took in about three times as much legal immigration--not talking about illegal--legal immigration as Australia, Canada, France, and Great Britain combined.

All polls show Americans want lower levels of immigration and want the borders secured. This includes a majority of Latinos, 65 percent of whom believe there are too many immigrants.

The American people, Mr. President, are upset, and I think they have a right to be upset. But they are upset for a reason. Our immigration policies, regulating all aspects of entry to the United States, have simply ceased to function in the national interest. `Immigration policy' and `national interest' are terms that are rarely heard in the context of immigration. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that it is a public policy and, like all public policies, our immigration policies should serve the public interest.

But they do not.

Let us talk about legal immigration.

We now admit the equivalent of a major city each year, without having the vaguest idea of how we will educate all the new children, care for the sick, provide housing, jobs, build infrastructure, or attend to any of the human needs of the newcomers or those already here.

Mr. President, each year, we admit--I repeat--the equivalent of a major city. We admit more people each year than make up some of our States. We admit a new State with legal immigrants every year.

At a time of huge budget deficits and severe financial constraints, we have no idea of how these huge costs will be borne. We just do it.

We admit the equivalent of a major city without any assessment of whether these newcomers are likely to be contributing members of our society. Only a tiny fraction of those admitted each year enter because they have skills and abilities that will benefit our country. The rest come merely because they happen to be relatives of other recent immigrants. The result of this so-called policy is that there is now a backlog of almost 3 1/2 million people--the population of a city the size of Los Angeles--who have a claim to immigrate to the United States for no other reason than they are somebody's relative. Is this really a way to run immigration policy?

Earlier this year, Congress engaged in a bitter and protracted debate about the President's job stimulus program, something this Senator supported. While there was a great deal of controversy about how best to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work, no one on either side of the aisle disputed the need to create more jobs in this country.

I did not say `put people back to work' because some of the programs we are working on are designed to give people a job for the first time. Yet, not once during the course of that debate during 1992--and I listened to most of it--did we ever stop to consider that our Government was granting more work authorizations to foreign workers than the net number of new jobs created by our economy and certainly the job stimulus program would not have kept up with the new immigrants. Can anyone fathom a logic behind this policy? I have thought about it a lot and I cannot determine the logic.

Because a relative-based immigrant system is inherently unfair, Congress has been forced to adopt even more absurd measures to deal with the demands of people who do not have relatives here. Can it be any wonder that the American people think our immigration policies are a joke when we select 40,000 new immigrants a year by lottery? Can anyone honestly tell me it is sound and rational to make public policy based on the roll of a die or the flip of a coin? Heads we admit you, tails you stay home.

But the absurdity does not stop with our legal immigration policy. When it comes to enforcing laws against illegal immigration, we have a system that will make you recoil in disbelief. We now have a permanent illegal alien population of 4 million people--we think. We think that is all it is. That is more than two times larger than the State I represent, the State of Nevada--4 million people. The illegal alien population is growing by more than a quarter of a million people a year, we think, with the best statistics we have. Yet we are doing almost nothing to encourage these people to go home or even to deter them from coming here in the first place. In many parts of the country we actually make it easy to be an illegal alien.

Listen to this. New York City, always on the brink of financial insolvency, guarantees--that is right, guarantees--that every illegal alien who lives within the five boroughs can have the same access to every public service and benefit that an American citizen has access to. California, also teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, will spend $1 billion this year to provide health care to illegal aliens. We already talked about the schools necessary to be constructed. Not just emergency health care does Califronia provide. We can all understand providing emergency care. But routine care and elective care is something they get in California.

It is not just California. The public hospitals in Texas have become the equivalent of the family doctor for thousands of people who live on the other side of the border in Mexico.

In 48 of 50 States, illegal aliens can get a driver's license, the de facto ID document in this country, without having to prove that they are legally in this country in the first place. If you think this is no big deal, think again. Mohammed Salameh, an illegal alien and the alleged driver of the bomb-laden truck that blew up the World Trade Center, happened to live in New Jersey--illegally, of course--one of the two States that actually bothers to require proof of legal residence.

So he crossed the Hudson River and got himself a driver's license in New York--very simple. He was not a legal resident of the United States. He was not a resident of New York legally or New Jersey or any State. But the State of New York handed him that vital document needed to live and work, not to mention rent a truck that he could place explosives on, with no questions asked and no proof required. And we wonder in this country why we have an illegal immigration problem.

If making it easy to be an illegal alien is not enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee full access to all public and social services this society provides. And that is a lot of services. Is it any wonder that two-thirds of the babies born at taxpayer expense in county-run hospitals in Los Angeles are born to illegal alien mothers?

Just when the American people think nothing can be more absurd than the way we deal--or rather do not deal--with illegal immigration, they discover we have a political asylum system that would qualify us for Senator Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award 1,000 times over. I do not know why he did not make this award; he should have. Last year more than 100,000 people showed up in this country, landing at our airports, washing up on our shores in leaky boats, crossing our borders illegally, overstaying their visas, saying two magic words, `political asylum,' and virtually assuring themselves of being allowed into the United States forever.

Anyone, no matter how specious the claim, can utter those words and usually within a matter of hours be released on their own recognizance onto the streets of our country with a promise that they will show up for a hearing 18 months later. Can anyone really say they are surprised that the vast majority of asylum applicants never ever show up for these hearings?

I wish the statements I have been making were some kind of a nightmare or dream, an aberration. But they are true. But they do not stop. Not only do we admit more than these 100,000 people each year without knowing who they are or why they came, we actually give them all the documents they need to simply disappear into our society.

I live in a suburb of Washington. It is near the CIA. There, if you drive down Dolley Madison Boulevard, people have placed there a little memorial for the people who were gunned down earlier this year by a man by the name of Mir Amil Kanzi, a Pakistani citizen. He entered the United States illegally, lived here for a year as an illegal alien, obtained a new passport from the government he claimed to fear, and yet he was still able to show up at an INS office in Virginia and file a claim of political asylum. Was this guy given a quick hearing and sent home? No. He got work authorization, a social security card, a driver's license, and the ability to obtain an AK-47 assault rifle and gun down CIA workers.

We hear from the American people when they appear in Town Hall meetings, or when students at universities and high schools all over this country write to us. They are not imagining things. They are not, as some apologists for the status quo contend, trying to blame immigrants for their problems. They are simply recognizing facts. America's immigration policies are in a shambles, and they should be fixed, and we can no longer ignore them.

It is as important and as realistic as dealing with health care, as dealing with our defense policy, any problem you want to talk about. This is right up at the top.

On August 4, I introduced the Immigration Stabilization Act, S. 1351, which calls for a comprehensive overhaul of our Nation's immigration policies. For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, S. 1351 seeks to institute major and meaningful reforms to a policy that lacks purpose and direction. While other legislation has been introduced in this session of Congress to address some of the most egregious abuses of our immigration laws, this legislation is the only one that institutes comprehensive reforms of the entire process. It does not pick at the sides. It turns our immigration policy upside down and takes a real good, hard look at it.

I urge my colleagues to study this bill and join me in sponsoring this legislation, in redesigning U.S. immigration policy for the next century.

In June, Jim Hoagland, of the Washington Post, called `Immigration: Topic A.' I do not know Jim Hoagland. To my knowledge I have never seen him. I looked at this article and it looked like something worth reading. I agreed with him. He said that immigration is topic A throughout the developed world. It is a complex and multifaceted issue that is likely to be with us for a long time to come. I believe it is imperative that the Congress of the United States, working in conjunction with the administration, begin to treat immigration as a serious national and international issue.

Events of the past several months have begun to jolt us, I hope, out of our complacency about the state of U.S. immigration policies. Rampant and well-documented abuse of our asylum laws, the bombing of the World Trade Center, and the foiled attempt to commit other acts of terrorism in New York, fiscal crises in California, and other events will turn immigration, I hope, into a high-profile issue.

We would be mistaken as a body to deceive ourselves into believing that immigration is a flash-in-the-pan issue, that if we wait long enough it is going to go away. It is not going to go away. I have given these numbers. It is only going to get worse.

We must have the courage and the foresight and the tenacity to deal with this complex and controversial issue now before it becomes more complex and more difficult. It is clear to everyone that our current laws and regulations are unworkable. I hope it is clear because it is to those I have discussed this with. As one colleague told me, the more you learn about our immigration process, the bigger mess you see it is. It is time to begin cleaning up that mess.

In the coming weeks and months I am going to be speaking from this spot on the Senate floor about the whole range of issues covered by our immigration and refugee laws. I will explain in detail why I believe it is not enough to tinker, as I said, at the margins of U.S. immigration law, but why the United States must do comprehensive reforms that conform to the realities of the era in which we live.

Proponents of the status quo argue that any attempt to reform our Nation's immigration policies is an affront to our immigration tradition. It is an argument I hear over and over each time we attempt to have meaningful debate about U.S. immigration policy. It is important, therefore, to begin by laying to rest some of the myths that are routinely promulgated to stifle debate on this important issue.

Upon close scrutiny immigration in the United States today is anything but traditional. From 1820 until 1965, a period encompassing most of the history of this Nation, the United States admitted an average of 300,000 immigrants a year. During that 145-year period, we settled the frontier, fought a civil war, created an industrial revolution, engaged in two world wars, endured a Great Depression and ultimately emerged as the world's greatest military and economic superpower. There have been ebbs and flows of immigration over this period but, taken together, 300,000 immigrants a year is our true immigration tradition. With the exception of one relatively short period at the beginning of this century, those levels have rarely varied.

Contrast those levels of immigration with the numbers we are seeing today. Depending on estimates of illegal immigration, which we have trouble determining, we are now resettling between 1.2 million and 1.5 million newcomers every year--about the size of the State of Nevada, every year. There is nothing traditional or rational, for that matter, about attempting to absorb the population of Nevada every year, year in and year out. When history is written, the decade of the eighties will be remembered as a decade of wretched excess and, true to form, immigration has been one of those excesses. As we focus on reining in many of the other excesses in the preceding decade, we must not overlook immigration.

Unless serious reforms are undertaken, 15 million newcomers will settle in the United States during the 1990's. Yet, we continue to act as though immigration exists in a vacuum. Not a whit of thought has been devoted as to how we will meet the needs of that population. There has not been a single debate in Congress about how we will provide, not a first class education, but any education to all those new children, providing quality health care to the sick, secure adequate and affordable housing, ensure that there will be sufficient jobs, improve and expand infrastructure, cope with environmental degradation, or ensure domestic tranquility. In short, we are admitting unprecedented numbers of new immigrants without even a modicum of planning. We are simply taking a leap of faith that somehow everything will work out.

Those who find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone in dealing with the problem will be reassured to note that virtually every industrialized democracy is also dealing with this thorny issue. The problem is they are way ahead of us. In Europe, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, this debate policy is probably 10 years ahead of us.

In most of those countries, they have concluded that immigration policies must be guided by a rational assessment of their national interests, not by emotion, not by nostalgia. In a world that is growing at the rate of nearly a billion people a decade, with the bulk of that growth occurring in underdeveloped and impoverished nations, most other developed nations have concluded that massive migration can no longer be the solution to the world's problems. They have come to the sobering recognition that large-scale immigration holds the potential to destroy the hopes and aspirations of their own citizens without really improving the prospects for most of the world.

Let us look at what today's immigration levels will mean to the lives of our children and our grandchildren. A Census Bureau report issued last December indicated that at our current immigration pace, the population of the United States will increase to 383 million people by the year 2050. That constitutes a 50-percent population increase in less than 60 years, and the majority of that growth will be directly attributable to immigration that takes place after 1990. It is as though we will absorb the entire population of Japan within the lifetimes of today's children and young adults.

Compare it, for example, to Japan. I am not defending their immigration policy. I do not like it. They do not have any immigration basically. And you wonder why their economy is more stable than ours.

The most important question we need to ask is whether our children and grandchildren will be better off as a result of this staggering increase in population. Will our children and grandchildren enjoy the same quality of life as we have had? Will they have the same opportunities, the same freedom of movement and mobility? Can the melting pot absorb and absorb and assimilate and assimilate people arriving at this rate? Or will we become increasingly isolated and alienated from one another?

We must not simply leave the answers to these questions for fate and circumstance to decide. We, in Congress, who make the policies that future generations will have to live by, owe it to them to act responsibly to lead this debate. Under the legislation I have proposed, I will begin to restore immigration to its traditional and more manageable level of about 300,000 annually. Mr. President, I do not think that is really being tough on people. So it is really a lot of people. So I suggest that we should have that as a beginning point: 300,000 annually to put the excesses of our current immigration numbers in perspective. Even if we were to enact this decrease of more than 50 percent, the United States would still have the most open and generous immigration policy in the world.

More importantly, the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993 would institute the kinds of immigration policy that the American people want. Americans are generous people who are justly proud of our tradition of welcoming newcomers to our

society, but all indicators of public opinion show that the vast majority of Americans of all racial and ethnic groups want to see immigration returned to the more manageable and traditional levels.

The United States must, once and for all, adopt a comprehensive plan on immigration. The time for ad hocracy has passed, and we must begin to think in terms of integrated policy that serves the needs of the Nation and the people who make up this Nation.

In the coming weeks, I will spell out in detail the specifics of the Immigration Stabilization Act. It is designed to reform all aspects of immigration and refugee policy and will provide the United States with a workable blueprint for dealing with current world and national realities. Among the key issues I will discuss are: First, a comprehensive ceiling on immigration of 300,000 annually, and the implementation of a fair and nondiscriminatory system for selecting new immigrants to the United States;

Second, a generous refugee resettlement policy that depoliticizes the process to ensure protection is granted based on individual need, not political considerations;

Third, an overhaul of our political asylum process to eliminate the kinds of rampant abuse that has attracted so much media attention and public outrage in recent months;

Fourth, a plan to rid this country of the burden of people who are known criminals who prey on the American public and become a drain on our resources;

Fifth, assuring the people who are given the privilege of sponsoring new immigrants to our country live up to the financial commitments they make to ensure these people do not become a burden to the taxpayers;

Sixth, the effective deterrence of illegal immigration through enforcement of employer sanctions, including the adoption of a verifiable, tamperproof document to ensure that only those people who are legally in the United States work and collect benefits here. So we do not get frightened, this simply would be an enhanced Social Security card;

Seventh, we need to regain control of our borders through additional border patrol manpower and other security control measures and the adoption of a $3 border crossing fee to provide the INS the resources it needs to do the job. Every person who comes across should pay;

Eighth, an all-out crackdown against the practice of smuggling illegal aliens into the United States for profit. Our lax enforcement of immigration and asylum laws has created what can be termed as modern day slave trade;

Ninth, ensuring Federal immigration authorities receive the full cooperation of State and local governments in enforcing laws against illegal immigration;

Tenth, a clarification of the intent of the 14th amendment regarding who is entitled to U.S. citizenship.

Mr. President, we have no choice but to address all these difficult issues. We can no longer satisfy ourselves with cosmetic changes that do not address the underlying truth that America lacks an immigration policy capable of coping with the realities we are facing.

Webster's defines the term `policy' as `prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs.' By that definition, it is fair to say that this country does not have a policy but, rather, an inchoate and often incomprehensible hodgepodge of statutes, regulations and procedures. In other words, what we have is a mess that is only likely to get worse unless we demonstrate some courage legislatively.

And it is time, Mr. President, we had this policy. We must be prepared to address this issue maturely, without acrimony. Just as we recognize the need to have reforms in our health care system is in no way an indictment of doctors, hospitals, and nurses but, rather, a public policy imperative, so too must we approach immigration. Reforming an immigration system that does not work is a public policy imperative and we in Congress must not shirk from these responsibilities.

I yield the floor, Mr. President.

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