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June 27, 2013

Final consideration of committee-reported substitute amendment to S. 744

MR. PRESIDENT, I rise to speak about why this body should reject the amended version of the immigration bill. I believe our immigration system is broken. Matter of fact, I know the Senate could agree unanimously on the fact that our immigration system is broken. This includes both the legal system which allows individuals to visit and work in our country in addition to the failures which continue to allow others to reside illegally within our borders. The intentions of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the sponsors of this bill are correct. Those Senators deserve credit for their work on the bill over the past few months. However, as we approach final passage on this legislation I have to say I respectfully disagree with the final product and its failures to make fixes in several key areas.

The first key fix rests in the fact that the United States remains a place of opportunity. The whole reason why people want to come to the United States is because of jobs. In order for immigration reform to work we must have a strong, workable employment verification system in place. If Congress can ensure that only authorized job seekers gain employment in this country, then we remove the incentive for illegal immigration. Workers who cannot get jobs cannot afford to stay in the United States illegally. This immigration bill works towards making E-Verify mandatory. I agree with this goal, but as a former small business owner familiar with this process, I also recognize that this bill fails to strengthen protections against the fraudulent use of identifiers used in the employment process – particularly Social Security cards and Social Security numbers. Small business owners by nature do a lot. They mop floors, make sales, greet customers, do the accounting, set up computers, and pay the bills. However, you should not have to ask a business owner to act as a customs agent and determine if the government issued documents presented to them are authentic. One recent study suggests that the current E-Verify error rate for unauthorized workers is 54 percent. This is attributed to the fact that even though the system says that a particular person is legal – there is no way for the employer to know for certain if that worker is really who they claim to be.

The proposal before us attempts to address this problem through a photo-matching tool.  However, the verification system doesn’t have photos for the more than 60 percent of Americans who do not have a U.S. passport and relies on states to be able to provide driver’s license records on a voluntary basis. This legislation allows a fundamental flaw in the E-Verify system to exist, making it even more difficult for employers to ensure that the people they hire are lawful. Several of my colleagues have filed amendments to fix these problems. I know that this is something Senator Portman has worked on extensively and I support his efforts. Unfortunately, the necessary changes have not been made to E-Verify and it is difficult for me to support a bill knowing that it fails to provide small business owners with the tools they need to efficiently and accurately verify the identity of new employees.

Another draw to the United States happens to be the federal welfare and tax benefits that workers receive. My colleague Senator Hatch has been working on several amendments, which I support, that ensures non-citizens do not benefit from these federal programs. Amendment #1246 clarifies that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cannot undermine welfare reform so that non-citizens receive welfare. Additionally, I support Hatch Amendment #1247 that ensures back taxes are collected for applicants under the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program. Failing to fix these draws to our country undermines immigration reform, incentivizes illegal behavior and adds costs to Americans who lawfully pay their taxes.

Second, dependable border security and interior enforcement is crucial to the entire immigration system. I voted for several amendments in this debate which would enact firm border security and enforcement triggers. One lesson from previous immigration efforts is that we cannot reduce illegal immigration without better border security and entry/exit enforcement measures. I cannot support the amended version of the bill because it offers false promises about border security and enforcement measures. I do not understand how the submission of a border security plan makes our nation safe, particularly when current law is not being enforced. Border agents are added but not before the provisions of the underlying bill go into effect. I think the Senate should take a lesson from history.  Failing to secure the border and ignoring enforcement will not reduce illegal immigration.

Finally, I think it is also important to discuss why more hasn’t been done to fix the underlying bill. The Senate has been on this bill for nearly three weeks. In that time, the Senate has only voted on nine amendments. It appears clear now that few if any more amendments will be considered as we approach final passage which makes it difficult to make some real common sense changes to the bill. I believe that part of the reason is because the bill is being considered as comprehensive reform. Comprehensive bills give everyone reason to oppose the bill. This Senate wants a legitimate fix to immigration. The best way to do that is to focus on it one piece at a time.  For example, had more attention been placed on E-Verify as a standalone bill, I’m confident that we could find a way to ensure that the program works effectively for small businesses and helps deter the incentive for illegal behavior.

For these reasons, I will be voting against final passage. I understand that we all want to fix our immigration system, but I cannot find the resolve to support legislation that misses the mark on so many levels. I am hopeful that more work will be done on fixing our immigration system in the interest of our economy, national security and moral obligations as a country. Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.