Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following floor remarks on comprehensive immigration reform currently under debate in the U.S. Senate.
Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, follow below.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid
Immigration Reform Floor Statement
April 3, 2006
Last summer, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared states of emergency at their southern borders. I don’t think anybody in this chamber would disagree that there is a crisis at our borders, and that we have to do something about it. We all agree that we need to gain control over the chaos and restore order.
Like many members of this body, I believe the approach endorsed by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee represents the best way to address our border crisis.
It combines tough, effective enforcement with smart reforms to the immigration laws. It would strengthen our borders, crack down on employers who hire illegally, and bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. It would also require them to learn English and pay taxes.
I strongly believe in tough and effective enforcement of our immigration laws. But I also believe that you cannot enforce laws that are unenforceable. And I believe that is what our current laws are.
We can step up border enforcement all we want, but the bottom line is that people are going to continue to risk their lives to come here because they want to work and they need to provide for their families. And they come here because our economy needs them.
Now the easy thing to say is that if we just get tougher and throw more money and more border patrol agents at the problem, it will get better. That may seem appealing – but it’s not true.
I support the strong enforcement measures included in the Judiciary Committee bill, which are, by the way, close to identical to those included in the border security bill offered by the Majority Leader. I strongly believe we need additional border patrol agents and the other measures included in the bill to secure our border and enforce our immigration laws with respect to employers.
But I also believe that enforcement alone won’t fix our broken immigration system. To those who say we should secure our borders first, and then consider ways to reform our immigration laws, I say the only way to secure our borders is to reform our immigration laws. If we want to create laws that are enforceable, first, we have to make them realistic.
There is widespread support for the approach the Judiciary Committee has established, including from many labor unions, business, religious groups, and immigrant community leaders.
A few months ago, I held an event at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce that illustrated the broad support comprehensive immigration reform has from different sectors of the Las Vegas community.
In addition to representatives of the Chamber, we had people from the Nevada Restaurant Association, the Culinary Union, and the MGM/Mirage Corporation, as well as the Bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas, who all stood with me to confirm their support for realistic immigration reforms of the kind we’re now discussing here in the Senate.
D. Taylor, Secretary Treasurer of Culinary Local 226, said at the time that it had to be a important issue to get representatives of the Culinary Union and the Chamber of Commerce in the same room talking about the same subject.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a similar event at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas, where leaders of the Culinary Union and MGM/Mirage representatives stood together again with dozens of immigrant hotel workers to highlight the importance of immigrants to the Las Vegas economy.
In my home state of Nevada, the Culinary Union has been a strong supporter of the sort of reforms we are talking about. The Culinary Union, like all other unions in this country, understands that when there are people working illegally in our economy, it undercuts the wages and working conditions of everybody else.
The Las Vegas business community has been very supportive of our efforts here in Washington to reform our immigration laws. They depend on the hard work of the immigrants in our community.
In Las Vegas, we have a very low unemployment. Business officials expect Las Vegas hotels to add 44,000 new rooms by 2010, requiring as many as 100,000 new workers. Nevada’s restaurant industry is expecting a 3.7 percent gain in jobs this year.
I know that the businesses I’ve been working with on this issue comply with their duties under the law and do everything they can to ensure that the workers they hire are legal.
But they agree that we need legal immigrants to keep our economy expanding and healthy. I have worked closely with many of the resorts in Las Vegas, with the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association, with the Nevada Restaurant Association, and with others in my home state who know that reform of our laws is essential to our expanding economy.
Immigrants help create more jobs for American workers. They help expand our economy and provide labor for new businesses that will also employ Americans. Immigrant consumers spend money that keeps American businesses going. Immigrants employed at companies that also employ Americans, help to make sure that American jobs stay in America, rather than being outsourced to other countries where there is cheaper labor.
UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research published a report in 2003 concluding that non-native Hispanic immigrants helped drive the Las Vegas economy, generating $15.5 billion in spending, contributing $829 million in state and local taxes and helping to create more than 200,000 jobs.
Finally, I want to talk about the support of the religious community for the reforms we are discussing. As I mentioned, one of the people who joined me last fall to emphasize his support for comprehensive immigration reform was the Bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas. Bishop Pepe and others in the religious community are behind this effort because they know that reforming our immigration laws is the right thing to do.
We have U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are separated from their family members for years because of long processing backlogs and limits on family immigration.
We have eleven million people living in the shadows of our society. Many of these immigrants have been here for years, have children and spouses who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, pay taxes, own property, and are active, valuable members of our community. Virtually all of them came here to work.
Our immigration laws – in many instances – force them to live in hiding. They live in fear every day that they will be deported and separated from their families and their communities.
For those people who are already here, I believe that we have to provide an opportunity for those who work hard, pay taxes, play by the rules, commit no crimes, learn English and contribute to our economic growth, to earn the right to stay here.
We should encourage people to work here and then go home, which many people want to do and used to do, before we made it so dangerous to go back and forth across the border.
But for people who decide they want to stay here, they should not be allowed to jump to the front of the line, but should be allowed to earn their legal status here if they pay fines and penalties, work steadily for several years, learn English, and pass background checks.
As Americans, I don’t think we want to forcibly uproot so many people who have put down roots in their communities, who have come here for the same reason our parents and grandparents did – to make better lives for themselves and for their families.