“Every day we wait to fix our immigration system, the situation gets worse.”
Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following Floor remarks on the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. Democrats are urging Republicans to put aside their internal party differences and work for comprehensive reform for America’s broken immigration system.
Remarks of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Mr. President, yesterday marked another day of peaceful, dignified rallies across the country in support of comprehensive immigration reform. These rallies underscore the need for Congress to pass a strong and effective immigration bill this year.
Last Friday, I had the privilege of discussing this subject with Roger Cardinal Mahony, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington.
It was a very moving meeting for me, and I appreciated the chance to speak with two such kind and thoughtful men. Both of them have been tremendous leaders on the issue of immigration reform. We all agreed that it is of the utmost importance for Congress to move forward with an immigration bill as soon as possible.
Last week, I also met with President Bush at the White House, along with many of my Democratic and Republican colleagues. As I said after that meeting, I am not in the habit of patting the President on the back, but he really deserved credit for calling us together and for hosting a good, bipartisan meeting.
I made clear to the President that Senators on this side of the aisle are committed to comprehensive immigration reform. I pledged to work with him and the Majority Leader in a bipartisan way on this important issue.
Every day we wait to fix our immigration system, the situation gets worse.
As I have said many times, our current immigration system is broken. We must have a cohesive, coordinated effort to strengthen border security, create legal mechanisms for American companies to hire essential temporary employees and encourage the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to come out of the shadows. We need to know who these people are and make sure they are productive, law-abiding, tax-paying members of the community. We must also have proper employer sanction enforcement, so that employers do not hire undocumented individuals with impunity.
But the question remains: how will we move forward here in the Senate?
Over the Easter recess, I sent a letter to the Majority Leader urging him to bring the immigration bill back before the full Senate at the earliest opportunity. I expressed my view that the Senate should resume the immigration debate immediately after we complete work on the supplemental appropriations bill.
The supplemental bill will be completed this week. Therefore, I continue to believe that such a schedule makes sense. Few other issues are as important, and no other issue is as ripe for Senate debate. Surely we can pass a good comprehensive immigration bill before the Memorial Day recess.
To accomplish that goal, I want to reach an agreement with the Majority Leader on a process for completing debate. There are two basic elements to such an agreement: the number of amendments and an understanding about how the bill will be handled in Conference with the House.
Opponents have filed hundreds of amendments to weaken or kill the compromise bill. We are prepared to debate and vote on some of those amendments, but there must be some finite number. I have made clear to the Majority Leader that I am flexible about the number we will vote on.
Earlier I suggested three amendments per side. Today, I suggest we vote on ten amendments per side, for a total of twenty amendments. With potential second degree amendments, we could have as many as forty votes. I am willing to have that many votes if that is what it takes to move this legislation forward. But this bill will take many days to finish.
As important as the number of amendments is what happens in Conference.
With Republicans in the House having passed a bill making all undocumented immigrants felons, with the House majority leader publicly dismissing the Senate’s bill, and with the House Judiciary Committee Chairman serving as the sponsor of the felon provision in the House legislation, it is imperative we have a firm agreement on who the conference participants will be before moving to the bill.
I have said in the past the most equitable membership would consist of the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, if the distinguished Majority leader has an alternate proposal that will protect the completion of a fair Conference, I will listen, as will Senator Leahy the ranking member of Judiciary.
We cannot allow the House to hijack this bill and destroy the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan work. Under these unusual circumstances, conference protections are indispensable.
There are many kinds of possible conference protections. But the most straightforward way is to appoint the members of the Judiciary Committee as conferees. They understand this complex subject, and they are committed to the Senate approach. The Committee ratio is 10-8, so the majority has a two vote margin.
The concept of sending the full committee to conference is hardly unprecedented. The Appropriations Committee and the Armed Services Committee typically send their entire membership to conference. The Judiciary Committee has done this on prior occasions. One way or another, it is crucial that this bill be the product of bipartisan consensus.
I hope that we can work together toward adequate assurances that the Senate’s delicate compromise will not be filibustered by amendments or blown up in conference.
Immigration reform is vital to America’s national security. We have an obligation to act, and I look forward to the Senate resuming this important debate in the very near future.