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Majority Leader Harry Reid Gives Floor Remarks on Border Security

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Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding border security and the importance of bipartisan immigration reform. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery: (emphasis ours)

Last night the United States Senate advanced a bipartisan immigration reform bill that will be good for national security and good for our economy. It will be good for American citizens as well as those who aspire to one day become citizens. And it is truly gratifying to see the momentum behind this common-sense reform proposal.

Eighty-four Senators voted to adopt the motion to proceed to this legislation – a strong vote if ever I’ve seen one. By comparison, the Senate failed to advance an immigration reform bill six years ago when only 46 Senators voted to end debate on the measure.

It is a sign of progress that the legislation before the Senate has come this far. I applaud the Gang of Eight for their bipartisan work crafting the bill. And I commend Chairman Leahy for leading such a thorough and transparent process in the Judiciary Committee.

Our goal now is to pass the strongest legislation possible with as many votes as possible while staying true to our principles.

I realize we have a long road before us, and more compromise will be necessary to get this bill across the finish line.

I know some of my Republican colleagues will support this bill if they feel confident it adequately addresses the need to secure our borders. I agree that we must strengthen border security. Reform that does not take significant steps to stop illegal crossings will fail in the long term.

But we should also acknowledge the progress President Obama’s administration has already made to secure our borders. Illegal border crossings are down 80 percent – no small accomplishment.

Yesterday I received a letter from my colleagues, Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper, detailing the tremendous strides we have made toward a more secure border. As described by the Wall Street Journal, illegal entries nationwide are at a four-decade low. And the number of illegal entrants who sneak into the country through the Southern border and successfully elude law enforcement – so-called “got aways” – is down 86 percent. Smarter technology, better fences and double the number of the agents at the border have made this achievement possible.

But we can do more. We must ensure those who come to America seeking a better life do so in compliance with our laws.

The measure before the Senate builds on the progress we’ve made by allocating even more resources for border security infrastructure such as patrol bases, unmanned vehicles, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft sensors, cameras and more. It also provides additional funding for prosecution of those caught crossing illegally.

The legislation also establishes two strict but attainable statutory border security goals: to prevent 90 percent of illegal entries and to monitor the entire Southern border, not just high-risk sectors of the border.

Chairman Leahy and Chairman Carper also pointed out in their letter that this legislation will reduce illegal entries by reforming our legal immigration system. This will make it virtually impossible for undocumented people to work, so they will no longer have an incentive to enter illegally. This is what my colleagues wrote: “We need to stop focusing our attention on the symptoms and start dealing with the underlying, root causes [of illegal immigration] in a way that is tough, practical and fair.”

This bill does that. But there is one thing this bill does not do – and should not do. It does not and should not make the path to citizenship contingent on attaining border security goals that are difficult to measure. That could leave millions of people who aspire to become citizens in limbo indefinitely. And it would give opponents of citizenship both an incentive and an opportunity to prevent our border security goals from being met in order to block the path to citizenship.

I am concerned that some who oppose the very idea of reform see these triggers as a backdoor way to undermine the legislation. And I believe some Republicans with no intention of voting for the final bill – regardless of how it is amended – seek to offer these amendments with the sole purpose of derailing this vital reform.

I commend Senators – Republicans and Democrats – who sincerely want to make this proposal stronger by enhancing its border security provisions. I look forward to hearing their ideas to make our country safer and more secure. And I am glad colleagues on both sides of the aisle are so engaged in this debate and so interested in offering amendments. But I hope those amendments will be constructive.

We have come too far and the country needs this legislation too badly to lose sight of our purpose now.