Floor and Committee Statements

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 -

Floor Statement on Immigration Reform

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Immigration Reform

Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

I thank the Senator from Texas for allowing me a few moments to speak about this issue.

If we read the preamble to this proposed amendment, it says it is a sense of the Senate that the Congress of the United States should not delay the appropriation to our men and women in harm's way by having a debate over immigration policy. It could just as easily say it is the sense of the Senate that the Congress should not delay a comprehensive immigration reform debate, which is the reason we have the problem today.

I have a great respect for the Senator from Texas. I understand why this amendment has been put together because, as the Senator has said, there are a lot of us who have been trying for 3 or 4 days to figure out a way to bring about a meaningful debate on comprehensive immigration reform. I am taking this opportunity because I want to make points not on behalf of the Senator from Georgia but on behalf of the 9 million people in Georgia I represent.

Those points are as follows: REAL ID is not an immigration issue. It is a national security issue. By the time we get to the end of this debate and the conference, it should be a part of this package.

No. 2, I have the greatest respect for the Senator from California and the Senator from Idaho and the Senator from Texas and the distinguished chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Senator from Pennsylvania. I wouldn't disregard for a second the amount of work that has gone into the comprehensive immigration laws of this country, trying to bring about fundamental change. However, as of this date, in the 3 and a half plus years since 9/11, the Congress has done little to address some major issues. For a second, I would like to address them.

As I do, I want you to know I am a second-generation Swedish American. Because of this great country, my grandfather emigrated in 1903 in the potato famine. My father was born in 1916. My grandfather wasn't naturalized until 1926. Because of this Constitution, I am in the Senate today. I respect the legal immigration process. I also despise those who tend to judge books by covers and categorize people by their ethnicity or their look or say 'they are an illegal alien.' We have delayed so long in dealing with securing our borders, enforcing legal immigration and seeing to it there are consequences to bad behavior that the American people have lost confidence in the government to actually do what the Constitution expects us to do.

Think about a few things for a second. We have talked about agriculture. We are spending money enforcing the adverse effect wage rate on the onion farms of South Georgia. We are spending money enforcing a law that actually would induce a farmer to think about hiring undocumented workers rather than documented workers because it is going to cost him $2, $3, or $4 an hour more to hire the documented worker, and we don't have the enforcement people to enforce our borders. How in the world can we justify trying to enforce that which induces the wrong thing to happen?

When I chaired the Georgia Board of Education, I spent more time providing Spanish-speaking teachers for our State, and bilingual programs, which I am proud of. I want to educate every one of them. I helped write No Child Left Behind. But as the flood and the flow continues and the suspicion continues that we fail in Washington to recognize the crisis we have in this country, a crisis that is causing some of our citizens to take actions that worry me deeply, it is my responsibility on the floor of this Senate to represent the people of the State of Georgia.

I respect the Senator from Texas and this amendment. I understand why it is here. If we get about the business of a feeding frenzy, of taking some of the points I have mentioned and the Senator from Idaho has, we may delay, but somehow, some way we need to send the American people the clear signal we get it. We are going to have comprehensive reform. We are going to have a comprehensive debate, and it is going to be sooner rather than later.

I will disagree, I am sure as will others with me, on where we need to go. But disagreeing on how we get there and getting there are two different things. We no longer have the luxury. Our States, our school systems, our hospitals, our farm workers, and our people no longer have the luxury or the patience for us to delay any longer.

In my State of Georgia, there is an old saying: If you want to get the mud out of the stream, get the hog out of the spring. Procrastination on dealing with the delicate and difficult issues of comprehensive immigration reform have muddied the water in America and will do great harm if we don't hurry up and take the 8, 3, 4, and 6 years of work that has been done in committees and move forward with comprehensive reform.

I believe the Senator from Texas is trying to use this as a foundation for that to happen. I understand the Senator from Idaho's frustration which I have shared. I hope if my remarks contribute anything, it will be to send a message: Regardless of whether we agree on the specifics, let us no longer delay in dealing with the single largest domestic issue to the people of the United States and that is comprehensive immigration reform and rewarding legal immigration and getting our arms around illegal immigration.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.