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Senator Menendez Gives Opening Remarks During the Immigration Reform Debate on the Senate Floor

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, member of the “Gang of Eight,” delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor regarding comprehensive immigration reform.

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“As a member of the Senate bipartisan Gang of 8, I believe we come to this floor, if not in complete harmony, at least on the same sheet of music with a solid legislative product.

“Let me take this opportunity to thank our staffs who have worked extraordinarily hard to put all of the pieces of this bill together and make this day possible. Senator Schumer calls Leon Fresco his genius, and I like to think of my Counsel, Kerri Talbot as the conscience of the Gang of Eight. Thank you, Kerri, for your dedication and for always believing that if we just put our heads in the yoke and pulled hard enough we could plow our way to a workable compromise. And thanks to you we have. I also want to thank all those staffers who have put in so many hours, and who will, no doubt, put in many more until this bill is passed and on the President’s desk.

“This bill before us is the essence of compromise. During this long process no one in the Gang of 8 got everything they wanted, but everyone got a workable bill worthy of support and that is the very definition of “compromise.” We did what we were elected to do. That’s democracy in action. We may not all agree all the time, but all of us were elected to govern and the hard work of compromise is the only way to get things done in a democracy. We all bring certain core principles to our jobs, and those are the things we shouldn’t compromise.

“But there’s a difference between compromising your principles and compromising on issues.  It’s not about holding out for political or ideological gain, but letting your core principles guide you to a compromise that benefits the nation. We were all elected and it’s up to all of us to govern together. I urge my colleagues to stand with us on this comprehensive reform package that is so critical to the national security of the United States.

“Let’s come together, as we have in the Gang of Eight, and give every American what they’ve been asking for: a way to fix our broken immigration system. We need to know who’s here to pursue the American dream, and who’s here to do it harm. That’s what immigration reform will do! It will bring people out of the shadows, but first they have to register with the government, go through criminal background checks, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line.

“It is not only in the national security interest of the United States, it’s in the economic interest of the United States to harness the economic power of millions of new Americans, and let’s be honest with ourselves about who these new Americans are. If you had fruit for breakfast this morning, it was probably picked in the hot sun by an immigrant worker with a bent back and sun-burned skin. If you had chicken for dinner last night, it was probably plucked by the calloused, cut-up hands of an immigrant worker. If you have someone in your family who is infirm and needs constant care, chances are it’s an immigrant worker who works the third shift to attend to their needs or if you are wondering who is spurring American innovation, chances are it’s an immigrant high-tech start-up entrepreneur who – according to the National Venture Capital Association – have started 25 percent of public U.S. companies backed by venture capital investors.

“In fact, as of 2010, nearly one-fifth – 18 percent – of all Fortune 500 companies had at least one founder who was an immigrant. That’s who the new Americans are. You know it. I know it. Immigrant workers have been there every day, working hard, providing services – an integral part of our economy – in tourism, in farming, in the restaurant industry – in small businesses and high-tech start-ups. The simple fact is – immigration reform is good for the economy.

“We want to be sure that every American who wants to work hard at any job has the opportunity to do it. We don’t want to exploit an underclass in America that would suppress all wages of all workers in the economy. [CHART #1 – IMMIGRATION REFORM/ECONOMY- TAX REVENUE]

“The fact is immigration reform will increase tax revenue. As you can see from this chart, as a direct result of this legislation we will increase tax revenues over ten years by $109 billion – that’s $69 billion in Federal revenue and $40 billion in badly needed increases in revenue to the states.

“This second chart shows cumulative economic gains over 10 years after passage of this legislation. Look at these numbers. Fixing the broken immigration system would increase America’s GDP by $832 billion over ten years. It will increase wages of all Americans by $470 billion over ten years and increase jobs by 121,000 per year. [CHART #2 – CUMULATIVE ECONOMIC GAINS]

“Immigrants will start small businesses; they’ll create jobs for American workers. In fact, small businesses owned by immigrants employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007 and created more than $776 billion in revenue annually.

“I ask my colleagues: Knowing that we have a broken immigration system, knowing that millions of families are in the shadows, knowing that we have to address this problem now, can we – in good conscience – afford not to pass a bill that will increase GDP over ten years by $832 billion? Can we?

“Can we afford not to pass a bill that will increase wages of all Americans by $470 billion? Can we afford not to pass a bill that will create 121,000 jobs every year for 10 years – 1.2 million more jobs in the next decade because we had the wisdom and the will to act.

“Immigrants have been a silent force in this economy working in the shadows and it’s time to bring them into the light. It’s time to harness that economic power. They’re working hard, providing services and working in every industry at every level – even sacrificing their life to serve in our military.

“In wave after wave, season after season, immigrants have been the backbone of the agriculture industry willing to work the fields and pull the crops that feed our families. That work is being done by immigrant workers – and God bless them for their willingness to do it.

“God bless men like Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez — not even a citizen of the United States – who became the first American soldier to die in Iraq. M. President, let’s send a message to every American to stand with us on immigration reform in memory of Corporal Jose Gutierrez, and every soldier like him!

“Let’s send a message that no longer will immigrant families be separated from loved ones – no longer will U.S. citizens — and lawful permanent residents — be caught up in immigration raids and detained unlawfully in violation of the Constitution and their rights, simply because of the way they look, the way they speak, or the color of their skin.

“Let’s stand together and send a message that there can be no second-class citizens in this country. I don’t know about you, but right now I have nothing in my possession that says I am a United States citizen. I’m not carrying my passport. I was born in the United States, but I don’t carry my birth certificate and I certainly don’t expect to be stopped because I’m one of “those people,” that I’m different, that I’m not American.

“We know the history of this nation. History has taught us that when there’s a story of one group of people becoming a suspect class — when one group of people is blamed for all of the ills of the nation, that story always has a sad ending. We cannot let that happen again in the greatest country on the face of the earth.

“As the son of Cuban-American immigrants growing up in Union City, I understand that too many families have waited too long for common sense immigration reform. Too long to have the chance to raise their hands, take the oath, and say they “will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same… so help me God.”

“Too many have waited too long to say those words that will change their lives. They changed my mother’s life and, in turn, changed mine, giving me the chance to stand here today – one of one hundred United States Senators and one of the 8 who have spent months negotiating a very tough, but fair proposal to try to fix a broken system.

“I know what’s at stake, you know what’s at stake. We’ve lived it. We see it every day and I believe that we can finally say today that there is light at the end of this long dark tunnel. This bill represents a lot of hard work. It is the essence of compromise. We’ve come a long way in the Gang of 8, but there is a long way to go.

“Are there legitimate amendments that can improve this bill? Of course there are. Are there still those who would amend this bill solely to undermine immigration reform? Absolutely. Are there those who still decry this as “amnesty?” We hear it every day. And every day they are still wrong and could not be more wrong. Amnesty means you did something wrong and are forgiven without having to make yourself right. This bill is not amnesty. This bill says that you must make yourself right by registering with the government, going through criminal background checks, paying taxes, learning English, and going to the back of the line.

“Are there those who think we have not done enough to control the border? Yes there are. Even though we have included 6.5 billion dollars to increase technology and finish the job we have already started to secure our borders – even though the border provisions of this bill were largely written by Senators representing border-states. In fact the New York Times reported on Friday that defense contractors favor immigration reform because of what we’ve included for border security.

“The facts are clear. The truth is here for all to see. [CHART #3 – INCREASE IN BORDER SECURITY SPENDING] Since 1986, spending on border security has increased. As you can see from this chart, immigration enforcement spending adjusted to 2012 dollars has dramatically increased over the last 26 years – over 2 decades.

“Border spending has gone from $1.2 billion in 1986 to $6.2 billion in 2002, peaking in 2009 at $20 billion annually and we are increasing it again in this legislation by over $ 6.5 billion.  That’s more than 4 times as much as 2002 and more than 20 times as much border spending as in 1986, so no one can say we’ve neglected border security in this bill.

“Here’s another chart. [CHART #4 – ENFORCEMENT SPENDING COMPARED TO OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT] Let’s put this in a different context. When we look at spending — as you can see from this chart — we now spend more on immigration enforcement than on all other criminal enforcement agencies combined – all of them combined! As you can see, in FY2012, we spent almost $18 billion on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, and US-VISIT. That’s compared to about $14 billion — $4 billion less – on all other principle law enforcement agencies like the FBI. And, as I said, we are adding over $7 billion to the immigration enforcement side of the ledger in this bill.  That will put us in the position of spending twice as much on border security as we do on all other law enforcement agencies in this country.

“But it’s not only the money we spend, but how we spend it. The fact is – border enforcement is at an all time high. We are enacting a strategy to have 100 percent surveillance and prevent at least 90 percent of all illegal border crossings across the highest-risk areas of our southern border… but there are those who still tell us it’s not enough. We are investing in new technologies to secure the borders, and the number of border patrol agents has doubled over the past eight years, but there are those who still say “not enough.” But let’s be clear, we are making significant additional investments in border security technology to make sure that at least 90 percent of all illegal border crossings are prevented.

“On the flip side, there are those who believe we have done all we can on border security in this legislation, but have not gone far enough in other areas – that there are too many obstacles to citizenship and that a 13-year path is too long. But a 13-year path – certainly not an easy road or anything anyone could call amnesty — is a compromise I’m willing to accept so that we can finally bring 11 million people out of the shadows – and give them a chance at a better life for themselves and their families.

“The fact is, M. President, at the end of the day, when all the political posturing has subsided we have an obligation to govern – and we have met that obligation. We have come up with a good, solid bipartisan product. The time has come! The moment is here!

“The opportunity is before us to make history, let’s not drop the ball. I urge my colleagues, let’s not begin this debate with toxic amendments that would test the basic values and principles of those on one side or the other, force us all to our respective corners. No lines in the sand – let’s get the job done.

“We don’t need amendments that would establish manipulable border security benchmarks before we can bring even one person out of the shadows. That’s not finding a way to govern — it’s about killing the bill. We do not need to retreat to draw lines in the sand on every issue covered by this legislation.We can either come together – both side, both parties – and govern, or once again, blow it up, and do nothing.

But, M. President, we have not come this far to do nothing! I say to my colleagues: THE TIME HAS COME TO FIX OUR BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM.  JOIN US AND MAKE HISTORY.”

“11 million people live in the shadows in fear and hope that they will — one day, if they do all the right things – have a chance, however difficult it will be, to become American citizens, and this bill will give them that chance. Citizenship will not be easy, but the rules will be clear. It will take up to 13 years to complete after background checks, fines and penalties, paying taxes, working, and learning English.

They want to reunite their families, and this bill will finally, finally, finally do what we should have done long ago to keep families together under a provision to allow immediate reunification of green card holders with their spouse and minor children. How, M. President, can we, in good conscience, not support the reunification of families who have been separated for far too long?

“For those who come to this floor and proclaim their commitment to family values, this is the time to show it. This bill will clear the current backlog for those already waiting in line, and put the additional 11 million at the back of that line – the back of the line, and it’s a long-long line. Let no one should come to this floor and misrepresent this compromise language as amnesty. It is not amnesty.

“This is not a free ride, but a pathway for undocumented individuals to earn. For those who have been here contributing to America’s economy while living in constant fear of deportation — constant fear of exploitation — constant fear of waking up in the morning and wondering if you’ll see your family at night. It provides a simple, fair opportunity for DREAMers, who have – all their lives — saluted only the American flag… and the only national anthem they know is “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“How can we not give them a chance just because they were brought here by their families and just want to belong to the only country they have ever known. M. President, this has been a long hard road to compromise – months of hard work; hard negotiations. But that hard work has paid-off with the support of the broadest spectrum of groups and organizations I have ever seem – from the Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO; from agro-growers to farm workers, from high-tech entrepreneurs to restaurant owners, and every religious sector — people on all sides of every issue finding common ground.

“We have a chance to make history, but we cannot make history  without uniting behind a deep and abiding belief in the need to govern, the need to fulfill our responsibilities to the people we represent. The time has come — The time has come.

“If we cannot come together on immigration reform at a time when the American people have clearly spoken, if we cannot push back against the extremes that will always prevent us from ever finding the center, if we choose only to obstruct — not solve; destroy — not build – then we will have lost a perfect chance not only to make history, but to do what’s right. This is a good bill, a fair compromise, a chance for us to come together and govern and do what a majority of the American people are demanding we do.

“Last year’s national election evidenced a new American demographic, and the new America spoke resoundingly about who they will support and not support based on how they vote on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Let’s listen to what the new America had to say, and do the right thing.

“I am confident we will get a bill passed, and I hope – I sincerely hope – our colleagues in the House will take our lead and pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. I hope they will join us in realizing the time has come for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Si, se puede.”

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