Floor and Committee Statements

Thursday, January 18, 2007 -

Floor Statement on Immigration Legislation

Thursday, January 18, 2007

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Immigration Legislation
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I'm pleased to join on the floor of the Senate and visit an issue that this Senate visited nine months ago in the month of May. The United States Senate tackled what I would submit is the most important domestic issue in the United States of America and every state, and that's the issue of legal immigration and illegal immigration. In that debate of what became known as a comprehensive immigration reform bill, I submitted an amendment; it ended up being Amendment 1, the first one debated. The amendment simply said, 'before any provision of this act that grants legal status to someone who is in America illegally takes effect, the Secretary of Homeland Security will certify to the Congress that all of the provisions of border security contained in the bill were funded, in place, and operational.' It was, if you will, and became known as a 'trigger,' and it was a trigger because the immigration issue is not like some where you can never figure out what's the chicken and what's the egg and what came first.  

There is no way you can reform legal immigration unless you first stop the porous borders that we have, and the flow of illegal immigrants. But to do only one without other is a terrible mistake. The result of last year's debate was the Senate passed a bill without the trigger that granted new legal status, that although it provided for the authorization of border security, it did not provide for the guarantee of border security in its funding. The House reaction was, 'we want border security only.' And the debate to this day since, between the House and the Senate, has been, the Senate's for comprehensive reform and the House is for border security only, and never the twain will meet. But the twain must meet. It is the number one domestic issue.  

And I come to the floor of the Senate to introduce a major immigration reform bill that I think is the bridge from where we are to where we must go, and for a moment, I want to discuss the provisions of that proposal.  

First of all, it contains the trigger. It predicates any reform of immigration that grants legal status to someone who's here illegally to be non-effective until we first close the doors to the south and to the north. It provides for all the security measures the Senate passed last year, and they are 2,500 new port-of-entry inspectors, 14,000 border inspectors, trained and ready to deploy, $454 million for unmanned aerial vehicles to give us the 24/7 eyes in the sky that are essential to enforcement on our border, authorization and ultimate appropriation for those barriers and fences and roads that are necessary for our agents to patrol, and 20,000 beds for detention to end the practice of catch-and-release.  

When I came to the Senate two years ago as a Georgian and one that loves the outdoors, I thought catch-and-release was a fishing term. I found out it became a border term where we would catch people, tell them to go home and release them. They'd wait for us to leave and come back again.  

You know we must remember the reason we have this problem is we have the greatest nation on the face of this earth. You don't find anybody trying to break out of the United States of America - they're all trying to break in - and they are for a very special reason: the promise of hope and opportunity and jobs. But we must make the right way to come to America be the legal way to come to America, not the ease of crossing our border in the dark of night under some other cover.  

And then lastly, an integral part of border security is a verifiable program where America's employers can be given a verifiable ID by someone who is here legally, that verifies they are who they say they are. The biggest growth industry in the United States of America on our southwestern border is forged documents. It is; we have a proliferation today of forged documents where illegal aliens have legal-looking documents and we have a customs and immigration system that cannot tell an American farmer or American employer that in fact the document they were shown was in fact right or wrong. That's got to be fixed as well.  

Once those provisions are in, we have a secure border. And interestingly enough, it takes about the same amount of time to put in the barriers, get unmanned airline vehicles in the air, get the detention facilities built, train the border security and port of entry people as to takes to get the verifiable identification system in place. We know both will take us about 24 months.  

So when you have the trigger, it does not protract reform. But it precedes the implementation of what's going to take you 24 months to do anyway. And all a sudden we have a new paradigm in America. Those who want to come here realize the way to come is the legal way, not the illegal way. They learn there are consequences to coming illegally and employers know that when they get an ID, they can either swipe it on a computer or they can go up on the internet and go to customs and immigration and find out if that person is legal. The paradigm changes.  

The hope and opportunity of reforming legal immigration in this country can become a reality. And I am not an obstructionist to doing it. In fact if anything needs to be done, it's that we need to reform the legal system because we almost promote, through the rigidity and difficulty of legal immigration, coming here illegally because we're looking the other way on the border. And we have a historical precedent. In 1986, we reformed immigration with the Simpson Act. We granted three million people amnesty, said we were going to secure the border and didn't. Today we have 12 million because we did not secure that border. That can never happen again.   Secondly, if the border is secure and you give people a chance who are here illegally but are obeying the laws and working a chance to come forward, you can then identify who is here that is not a problem. And you also leave open by those who don't come forward who you must concentrate on to see to it that they are not here for the wrong reasons and they go home. But you can never enforce the system internally until you first close the external opportunity to come through illegal immigration.  

Mr. President, in 1903, in May, Anders Isakson came through Ellis Island because of the potato famine in Scandinavia. In 1916, my father was born to him and his wife, Josephine. My father became a citizen of this country because he was born on our soil. In 1926, my grandfather became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. And in my home today, framed and hung on the wall, are his naturalization certificates from 1926 when he raised his right arm and pledged his allegiance to the United States of America.  

There is no one who has a greater respect and greater joy in the promise of this country and the opportunity of immigration, but we must begin restoring the respect for legal immigration and shutting the door on illegal immigration. Otherwise, those lines become blurred and the stress we have on our social service systems, civil justice system, public health system, and the public education system that is stretched to the limit because of illegal aliens today, ends. We owe it to the history of our country which makes us great to secure our borders, to honor legal immigration, and to move forward with a reform of immigration that matches the economic needs of the United States of America.  

I stand on the Senate floor today committed to work with any member of this Senate for comprehensive reform, just as long as its cornerstone and its foundation is that we fix the problem on our borders, have it certified, and have that fix be the foundation for the modernization and reform of our immigration laws.   Mr. President, I thank you for the time and I yield back.