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Floor Statement of Senator Judd Gregg on the Immigration Reform Bill

Mr. President, I had the opportunity to listen to the Senator from Massachusetts' presentation, which as always, was extraordinary. You know, one of the people I admire around here the most because he has been such an extraordinary force, even though I disagree with him so often, I still admire him immensely is the Senator from Massachusetts, how he's maintained the energy and the commitment to his causes over such a long period of time is beyond me. I certainly couldn't do it. And you just have to respect that ability. And he's clearly one of the great legislators in the history of this body. In fact, I wish he weren't quite so great on many occasions, but in any event, much of what he says makes sense on this issue. And his commitment to it is obviously intense and thorough, and I admire it.

The point that he makes, which is that we now have a dysfunctional system and that there's basically chaos within the immigration system in this country relative to illegal immigrants being in this country and the borders remaining regrettably reasonably porous, although they have been tightened up over the last few years, is very, very legitimate. And this bill is an attempt to genuinely address those issues in a number of areas.

I've made the point throughout the discussion of this bill that from my standpoint, a good piece of immigration legislation has to accomplish essentially four things. The first it has to do is make the borders secure. There's no reason that we cannot secure the southern border. The northern border is a bigger problem because of its length and its topography, but the southern border can be secured. And as Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations and prior to that the Commerce, State, Justice Subcommittee, I tried to commit major new resources into this effort. And there was a consensus to do that and a bipartisan effort to do that, and we have dramatically expanded the number of agents on the border, the technology on the border, the detention bed capability. But we still have a way to go. And actually, I think the first amendment adopted or the second amendment adopted -- it seems like an eon ago although it was only a week ago -- was an amendment I offered to this bill which would bring the commitment and numbers in this bill in the area of border agents and detention beds and electronic fencing and regular fencing along the border up to what was the consensus position as to what was needed in order to secure the border.

And so this bill now has in it the language necessary. The question is do we have the capacity to put that in place? But that goes back to the trigger which is in this bill, and the trigger in the bill says until that's in place, none of the other language can go into force which deals with guest worker and illegal immigrants and how we regularize their status here in this country. So that issue has, I believe, in this bill been effectively addressed, and with the amendment I offered, been put in the proper position. Although more can be done in the area of how you define the trigger, and certainly, there are proposals floating around here which will be voted on, I think, which I'll support which will deal with the funding, to make sure the funding can't dry up as a result of the annual discretionary process. But that's been addressed.

The second issue is you have to have an effective guest worker program. And to have an effective guest worker program, you have to address a third issue, which is you have to have enforcement at the employee-employer meeting place so that the employer is hiring people who are effectively in this country legally and are not able to hire illegal aliens, people who have come into this country illegally. And those two issues are intertwined and the bill does address the issue of employer employment through strict enforcement and the requirement for an identification card, which is going to be a very difficult thing to accomplish, but again it's a trigger. Nothing in this bill goes forward, as I understand it, until that trigger is met.

And secondly, the guest worker program, there's no way that we can have an effective immigration process around here unless we take some of the pressure off the fact that we have an economy that demands people to work in this economy above and beyond what we have as a citizenry in our country today. There simply is a demand in our nation for people to come here and work. And it should be done under a guest worker program so that those folks who come here and work go back. And they know they're coming here to participate in the worker program, not to be here permanently. And that will relieve the pressure at the border significantly if we have that. It's a big part of border security. And border security, of course, is important not only from a standpoint of controlling who comes into the country, but it's critically important from a standpoint of dealing with the threats we face as a country from terrorism.

So an effective guest worker program is critical. Now, this bill was originally drafted, it did have such a program. It had a guest worker program with a significant number of guest workers, 400,000. Every year, it had a guest worker program that was properly structured. Unfortunately, as a result of the amendment process around here, that guest worker program has been fundamentally undermined and in its present structure, it really -- as was pointed out last night when Senator Dorgan from North Dakota's amendment passed, somebody called it a killer amendment -- it was a fatal amendment to this bill. If it stays in place, it makes the guest worker program essentially -- well, useless. All you're going to be able to do is bring in guest workers for agriculture activity and they'll be needed in that area, and other guest workers in other areas whether the resort industry or simply the day to day functioning as a nation, having them to come in illegally again. And that really undermines the purpose of the bill. Unfortunately, that was done. And the Bingaman amendment prior to that really did a lot of damage to the guest worker program. So that really hasn't worked out as well as it should, but hopefully it can be corrected.

And the fourth element that I've talked about is how you deal with this pathway, how you deal with the issue of people who are here illegally. I mean we're not going to, as a practical matter, take 12 million people or maybe even 15 million people who are here illegally, assuming we could even find them, and deport them. I mean that's just simply not going to happen in our culture. We wouldn't tolerate it. And as a practical matter we couldn't do it. So, what we need to do is figure out some way to get those people from out behind the shadows so that they are publicly identified as being here, not only from a standpoint of dealing with them and from a standpoint of a national need, but from knowing who's here, but from a standpoint of national security. So this bill attempts to do that and it's got some flaws in that area, but it's also got some strengths. I won't get into specifics. But those four items were the test of how this bill goes forward.

But as a corollary to those four items there is the theme behind immigration which I think is critical and which there's specific language in this bill which needs to be dealt with. And one of the themes behind immigration besides having a secure border and having a guest worker program that works and making sure that we take the pressure off of having people come into this country illegally, is the need to go around the world and take the best and the brightest who want to come to America. We've had hearings on this issue and there's a certain obviousness to this issue. If somebody is in India or China -- and those are the examples most often used, but it could be in Czechoslovakia or it could be in Poland -- if somebody has an advanced degree of some nature or is highly educated and has a capacity to contribute to our economy, and wants to come here, why would we want to leave them in that country as a competitor when we could bring them here and actually be a job creator?

We hear a lot about outsourcing in these debates that we've had over the last election cycle where we're sending jobs overseas. If you bring a person who has unique talents that our nation needs and that is an adjunct to rather than a replacement for people who are already here, that creates jobs. That person is a job center.

It was interesting. We had Bill Gates testify before our committee and this is exactly what he said. Here's a guy who's probably done more to make the American economy vibrant over the last 20 years, than any other person alive. I mean, he is an individual who essentially transformed our economy and made us the leader in the world in what was the leading issue in the world, which is technology. And he comes before the committee and he comes before the country in general and he says, listen, we heed to bring these people here because they're being developed in these other countries and if we don't bring them here, if they want to come here, and take advantage of their abilities, then they're going to do it somewhere else. And I don't want the next Bill Gates to be in China or in India. I want the next Bill Gates to be right here in the United States creating jobs.

The point is, when you bring these folks in, they create jobs here. And so one of the programs we have to do this is the H1B program. That is program where we say specifically, if there are companies in this country or businesses in this country or colleges in this country or educational facilities in this country who need talented people and they can't get them here in this country because we don't have the pool necessary, then they can bring people in from outside the country who have the talent to do those jobs. And most of it is in computer science. Most of the H1B applications -- 45% -- are computer science people. The next biggest group is teachers. 11%, I think, are teachers. And so industries, businesses, entrepreneurs, and colleges, and schools that need these folks to make their businesses work and to give them the opportunity to create jobs, whether it is in New Hampshire or Washington state or across this country, need to be able to attract these people into the country.

But the H1B program, for some reason has opposition. I look across the aisle and I think, this should be a logical thing for both sides of the aisle to be supportive of- the concept of bringing in-- insourcing jobs rather than outsourcing jobs ought to be attractive to the other side of the aisle. The concept to create opportunities should attract both sides of the aisle. There seems to be some undercurrent that they're taking away American jobs. They aren't. In fact they're adding to American jobs.

In fact, the National Science Foundation has pointed out that we need these type of people, that we're woefully short of the people in the math, science, and technology areas. We're not producing the numbers we need to out of our own university system. So why not go overseas and see if we can't find these people to come here and participate. And in fact there's such a demand for these people, that under the present system they're only allowed 65,000 of these applications every year plus 20,000 add-on for highly talented people. The first day that the application opened, on April 2, I think it was, -- 140,000 applications came in to fill the 65,000 available slots. My own view is we should have taken all 140,000 if they were legitimate and brought them he here. I mean, how many jobs -- that probably multiplies ten times, probably 1.5 million jobs we could have created bringing those folks in here. Under the present system we are limited.

Now, this bill increases that number from 65,000 to 115,000. But here's the draw: it knocks out the 20,000 specialists. So actually the increase is rather marginal compared to what we really need in this country to take care of the concern that we have. Plus, unfortunately, this bill creates layer after layer of bureaucracy in addition to the bureaucracy which already exists and a cost on top of the cost that already exists, as a result of the number of amendments on this floor, which makes it more difficult to get these folks into the country. And, in addition, the bill creates a new standard which makes absolutely no sense, absolutely no sense. Which says that the skill of the individual relative to talent -- let's say it is an astrophysicist -- has to match up exactly with the job that's available. We're an incredibly fungible economy. And it is really foolish -- mr. president, I see the majority leader on the floor. Did he have a request he wished to make? I would be happy to suspend, if he did.

(Senator Gregg suspends floor statement briefly while Majority Leader Harry Reid makes a short procedural motion).

It should be taken out before it goes much further because clearly in our society there is tremendous mobility within the disciplines. If you're trained as an astrophysicist, you're going to be able do a lot of things in our society and move within the job area and under of course the rules of an H1B application you've got to be able to move in a way that you're not displacing Americans. So that's -- that's just a very difficult issue, if we keep that in here.

And, in addition there's been a tax on an H1B program that claims that there is warehousing of these types of folks -- I guess that's probably a pejorative, but that's the term that I think- involving Indian companies that collect a large number of people together with these degrees and then get applications for H1Bs. But this bill corrects that.

But we continue to hear that complaint from a couple folks on the other side of the aisle, not necessarily because they're on the other side of the aisle but because they oppose the H1B program and really that's a red herring. This bill corrects the issue. So that shouldn't be raised against this. And we know for a fact that we need these types of individuals in our country and that it's a huge advantage for us to draw them into this country.

I would hope that before this bill goes much further that we correct the problems that are in this bill relative to the H1B program and make it a much more expansive program and make it a much more flexible program and one which will allow us to bring these talented people here so that they can create jobs and make our economy stronger along the lines of what Bill Gates has suggested is necessary and which I strongly endorse.

I know the junior Senator from Washington, Senator Cantwell, has an amendment in this area. I have an amendment in this area. I've been sort of going on the assumption that Senator Cantwell's which is a little broader amendment than mine, would be the one that would move forward. I understand it's being held up on the other side of the aisle. I must say if it continues to be held up, it's going to be a problem for me. This is an important amendment. We at least deserve a vote on it at the minimum. And I would certainly hope that would occur.

And as a corollary to this discussion, I want to just highlight a concern I have with the merit system. I think the merit system is exactly the approach we should take and the point system is exactly the approach we should take. But I still don't understand why somebody who's worked as an agriculture worker for five years gets the same points as somebody who has worked with a physics degree. It seems to me if you're going to weight this properly in a merit system based system -- we're not talking the guest worker program here. We're talking the merit system proposals. We're not talking the AG job proposal. In a merit system what we should be looking for is talented people whose abilities are unique and that we need in this country. That's why there shouldn't be this strange allocation of points which makes no sense at all in the context of the purpose of a merit system. I hope that would also be changed.

So, Mr. President, on balance of the things that concern me about this bill, two of them are moving in the right direction: border security and the issue of pathway. But the things that really concern me continue to be the guest worker program and how we're going to handle the H1B issue. So the jury's still out, to put it quite simply, on this bill. There needs to be more time spent on the amendment process so we can find out how we're going to end up working this bill through the process. This is a complex bill. It deserves significant time on the floor and it deserves to have proper discussion with amendments that are put forward by people who have been in negotiations for the grand compromise because those folks did a good job negotiating but they didn't necessarily touch all the bases that are of concern to many of us. Mr. President, at this point I yield the floor.