Washington, DC–Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following speech on the Floor of the U.S. Senate. America’s immigration system is broken, but Republicans in Congress are blocking Democratic efforts to fix it. Though both the House and Senate have passed immigration bills and should now proceed to conference to work out a compromise, Republicans have announced they will block progress and hold hearings instead. Democrats believe America’s national security demands comprehensive immigration reform, not Republican obstruction.
The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below.
Mr. President, the Senate is now in the middle of an important debate on Iraq, but it wasn’t so long ago that we found ourselves in an important debate on another issue, immigration reform. It took weeks of negotiations for the Senate to develop the basic framework for legislation that both Democrats and Republicans could support, and then it took several more weeks to work through dozens of amendments and pass a bill.
The day we finally passed immigration legislation, I came to the floor to say it was a good day for the Senate, but not a day for celebrating. In this morning’s Washington Post we find out why.
The newspaper reports that “House Republicans have largely given up on passing a broad rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws before the November elections” and that “House GOP leaders said today they would hold [field] hearings even before naming [conferees.]”
So Mr. President, the truth is out. For all their tough talk about securing our borders, House Republicans have no intention of actually accomplishing that goal. They want to defeat comprehensive immigration reform of the kind we passed in the Senate, and they’re willing to sacrifice the security of the American people to do it.
Let’s be perfectly clear: This silly idea of “field hearings” is just a front – an attempt to delay, impede and obstruct a bipartisan effort to strengthen our borders and fix our immigration system.
The House doesn’t need hearings to write a bill, because they’ve already passed their bill! They don’t need hearings to name conferees. The only reason for hearings is to pander to the right-wing base of the Republican Party and avoid the hard work of negotiating a final bill with the Senate.
It has been clear for several weeks now that House Republicans have no interest in passing an immigration bill this year. But even as House leaders speak more and more openly about their opposition to comprehensive reform, we’ve heard only silence from the White House. The President went on national television and pledged his support for comprehensive reform. Now we’ll now find out if his actions match his words.
I know the president is overseas, but I’m confident there is reliable telephone service in Vienna, Austria. I respectfully suggest that President Bush pick up the phone and tell the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader to quit stalling. He needs to persuade them that our national security depends on it.
Meanwhile, here in the Senate, I am waiting for assurances from the Majority Leader that the conference committee on immigration reform will address only immigration reform – not tax breaks for corporations or billionaires, but immigration reform. I am confident that the Majority Leader can provide these assurances, but he has not done so yet.
Democrats are ready to roll up our sleeves and get this bill done. We are determined to move forward. I have a list of Democratic conferees in my pocket. I also happen to know that there are a fair number of Republicans who want to move forward too.
Unlike same-sex marriage and flag burning, immigration reform is an issue that affects real people every day. It’s a national security issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s an issue that my constituents in Nevada want us to deal with. It’s an issue all Americans want us to deal with.
Not the way the House did it, by making felons out of immigrants. Not by making criminals out of humanitarian workers who operate soup kitchens for immigrants or the clergy who offer them religious counseling. But the way the Senate did it, by beefing up security on our borders, enforcing employer sanctions and giving undocumented immigrants who are here a way to get right with the law.
Mr. President, the Senate has worked its will. The House has worked its will. It’s time to let the Conference committee work its will.
It is my hope that President Bush won’t let a few extreme Republicans hold our border security hostage. It is my hope that House leaders will abandon their delaying tactics once and for all.
Some have said that the immigration bill is on life support. Well we Democrats want to breathe life back into it. I just hope my Republicans colleagues won’t pull the plug.