Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s remarks on the Senate Floor tonight, as prepared for delivery.
Mr. President, we can build the tallest fence in the world, and it won’t fix our broken immigration system. Nor will it strengthen security at our borders. To do that, we need the comprehensive reform that the Senate passed earlier this year. We have been waiting for months for the majority to appoint conferees so we can move forward on that legislation, but they have refused to do so.
I support tough border security. I voted for an amendment, in the context of our comprehensive immigration reform bill, that would have authorized Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff’s Department to build 370 miles of fencing – based on what he told us here in the Senate he needed. Building some fencing as part of a comprehensive reform bill makes sense. But I’ve said before, we can’t take a piecemeal approach to fixing our borders.
We need to do more. To solve our immigration crisis, we need a bill that combines strong and effective enforcement of our borders with broader reforms. We need tough sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants, a temporary worker program, and an opportunity for undocumented immigrants currently in this country to earn their way to U.S. citizenship if they work hard for several years, learn English, pay their taxes, pass a criminal background check, and pay fines and penalties for being here unlawfully. Only a combination of all of these elements will work to get our broken immigration system under control.
Nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in this country came here legally and then overstayed their visas. A fence or a wall, no matter how high and mighty, will not solve this problem.
I agree with Attorney General Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff, who recognize that fences are not always the most appropriate or effective way to secure our 2,000 mile southern border. As Secretary Chertoff has said: “Fencing has its place in some areas, but as a total solution, I don’t think it’s a good total solution.”
The Department of Homeland Security already has the authority to build fences along our border. This amendment is unnecessary. I believe it is not about securing our border, but about election-year politics.
Republicans have made clear they aren’t serious about doing anything to get control of our broken immigration system. They’ve made clear they have no interest in going to a conference to enact legislation this year.
I believe we can only secure our borders through comprehensive reform. No amount of Republican grandstanding on this issue is going to change that. The Senate has offered a practical, workable, fair solution to fix our immigration system, and I regret that we have not been able to move forward.