Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I take this time to speak in strong support of the immigration bill currently on the floor of the Senate.
First and foremost, we need an immigration system that is fair. We are a nation of immigrants. My grandparents came to this country seeking a new life for their family. Our story is similar to the story of millions of other families in this country.
Immigration is very important for our country. It is important for our economy. We need highly skilled workers who can innovate, create, and move our country forward. All of our workers should be protected under our laws and not just some.
We also need strong border security. We need to know who is coming into this country, and we must make sure we have a legal system that protects the homeland.
So we need a balance. For immigration reform we need a balance between border security and lawful employment and a pathway to citizenship and the ability to lawfully remain in this country for those who are currently undocumented. The legislation before us creates that balance. I wish to compliment my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have brought forward this package. It is not what any one of us would have written, but it does balance the security of our country with border security and a lawful system for employment with the realities of 11 million people currently living in the shadows who will have an opportunity to remain in this country in a lawful way, to be able to work and ultimately become citizens of America. But those individuals have to earn their way. They have to pay taxes, learn English, be law-abiding, and they cannot break into the line. They have to go to the end of the line.
This is a fair bill. This is a bill that at long last fixes the broken system we have in this country.
Over the past months, I have held a number of immigration roundtables throughout the State of Maryland. At the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore we discussed the importance of streamlining the process in refugee and asylum cases and eliminating barriers to family unification.
We discussed the need for strong provisions to prevent human trafficking and to make sure the U.S. labor protections apply to all immigrant workers. We talked about making sure we have a realistic 10-year pathway to citizenship that can be both started and finished in a workable manner by undocumented immigrants. All those issues have been addressed in the bipartisan bill that is currently before the Senate.
I held this similar discussion at CASA of Maryland in Hyattsville. We discussed the DREAM Act recently approved by the voters in Maryland and the DREAM Act provisions that are pending in the bill before the Senate. The group stressed the importance of family reunification and the need to create a workable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. We discussed the need to clear up and eliminate the backlog of legal immigrants waiting in the system so the undocumented immigrants do not have to jump ahead in line.
That is what this bill does. It provides the resources so we can process those who are currently in the system in a fair manner, which is in the best interests of this country and the best interests of those who are currently caught in this backlog. The bill provides for an orderly way to consider legal immigration and to deal with those who are currently undocumented as they come into our system.
These roundtables were important for me to hold to hear directly from Marylanders who are affected by the immigration policy decisions we make in the Senate. Maryland, as well as the United States, has a long and proud tradition of welcoming immigrants, and our Nation is truly a nation of immigrants. According to the Immigration Policy Center and U.S. Census Bureau statistics, foreign-born immigrants make up roughly 1 in 7 Marylanders–14 percent of our population. More than a quarter of Maryland’s scientists were foreign born, as were roughly one-fifth of our health care practitioners, mathematicians, and computer specialists. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of immigrants in Maryland with a college degree increased nearly 70 percent between 2000 and 2011.
My point here is that immigrants contribute to the growth of America. They help us develop the innovations of tomorrow that will create the jobs of tomorrow. They help solve the problems we have today. They help our economy grow. That is what has made America strong.
According to the Urban Institute, immigrant households paid nearly one-fifth–or $4 billion–of all taxes collected in Maryland, including Federal income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes; State income, sales, and auto taxes; and local property, income, sales, auto, and utility taxes.
I hope we can keep these facts and statistics in mind as we enter into this historic debate on how to overhaul our Nation’s immigration laws. We should avoid stereotypes and generalizations in this debate.
But more importantly, I want to put a human face on these facts and statistics, so I am going to share two stories of individuals who came in contact with our office. These two are representative of literally millions of people. We hear the numbers, but when we listen to the stories and look at the faces of people involved, we know we have to act.
The first is about Yves Gerald Gomes, 20 years of age, who was originally from India. I quote him:
My own story started in 1994, when I came to this country in the arms of my parents. I was only a year and a half. My parents came from India and Bangladesh, hoping to provide me with opportunities, something they didn’t have growing up in poverty in their homes. My earliest memories in life are growing up in MD in the basement of my great aunt and great uncle’s house and learning English from their children (my older cousins) by watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Full House. Soon after, in 1995, my brother was born.
My parents had an ongoing asylum case, which was denied in 2006. But over that 12 year span, my father worked hard as a hotel server in order to help my mother pay for her college education and for us to live comfortably; growing up I felt as though I was just like any of my middle-class, American peers from school. But in 2006, we became “undocumented.” Our work permits could no longer be renewed, so my father was forced to quit his job at the hotel, and my mother had to resign her tenure as a college professor, and surrender her PhD studies in computer sciences. In 2008, our home was raided by ICE, a few days after my dad was pulled over one night for driving with a busted taillight in Baltimore. Ultimately both of my parents were deported in 2009. I faced my own deportation in 2010, but was able to remain in the US because of the [hard] work of my lawyer ….. the support of my friends, church community, [and] the media. …..
It will be 5 years since my brother and I have last seen our parents. Currently my brother and I live with the same great aunt, great uncle and cousin with whom we resided when my family first came to US. It was disheartening when my parents missed my own high school graduation, and it will again be disheartening when they will miss my younger brother’s high school graduation. …..
Moreover, the pain of separation resonates to our extended family too. My mother treated my great-aunt and great-uncle, naturalized US citizens for 40+ years, like her own parents, and she cannot be here to take care of them in their old age. Their son, my cousin (a US citizen) has a degenerative muscle disease which prevents him from traveling. If immigration reform does not happen, it’s possible he will never get to see my father, whom he treats like his older brother, ever again.
I will graduate from the University of Maryland College Park in 3 semesters with my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, and I really hope that my parents will be there to see me walk across the stage. For myself and millions of others, immigration reform means a pathway to pursue our dreams and give back to American society, our home; personally, I want to enter into the field of medical research or pharmacy. Moreover, for myself and so many others, immigration reform means the hope of being reunited with family members, and also it means no longer having to wake up every morning with the constant fear of deportation.
I have lived in the United States since I was a year old. This is the only country I have ever known as my home. Despite all the challenges my family has faced, I still love the United States, and have always considered myself to be American at heart. I hope that after this year, I can be an American on paper too.
Let me tell one more story. I could read from other letters we have received. I am sure the Presiding Officer has the same situation. We have all heard from people in our communities.
Let me talk about Raymond, who was originally from the Philippines. I quote him:
My family and I came to the United States in hopes and dreams of a better life; we left everything behind in the Philippines in pursuit of the “American Dream.” At the age of nine, assimilating to the American culture was not difficult; naturally I felt as though I was just like everyone else. Or so I thought. The harsh reality of being undocumented hit me my senior year of high school when I came home from an invitational track meet where I was scouted and offered scholarships. I was so excited to tell my parents the great news; to this day I still remember the proud look on my father’s face. My mother on the other hand suddenly broke down in tears. ….. I was confused as to why she was asking for forgiveness, she began to explain that we were undocumented and due to my immigration status I would not be able to accept the scholarships. Finally hitting that wall made me realize that all my hard work would amount to nothing.
For as long as I could remember my family has constantly faced financial struggles, but somehow we always found a way to make ends meet. My father, who was once a successful businessman, was forced to work odd jobs such as landscaping, delivery, and driving a taxi. My mother, who was once a nurse practitioner, works multiple jobs from cleaning houses, babysitting, and taking care of the elderly. My sister who is only two years older than me, made the sacrifice of not going to college so that I would be able to, and she works any job that comes her way. They all work day in and day out to make sure there’s food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over our heads. I know that if my parents were able to work legally in the US in business and nursing, we would not struggle as much, and we would be able to contribute much more to the US economy. Yet, because of our current broken immigration system, our hard work does not pay dividends.
In 2011, I became involved in the campaign for the Maryland DREAM Act ….. which involved grassroots organizing. At this point I realized that no longer would I stay silent in the shadows, I had to let my voice be heard and take a stand against this injustice that my community and I faced. Throughout the campaign I realized that even as youth we can still bring forth change, which is why to this day I continue to fight for my family and all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
In this year’s push for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, no one will be left behind; we must stand united and battle this suppression. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I could bring up many other stories, put faces on these numbers, because I think we need to do that. This immigration bill is for the two persons whom I just talked about, their families, and the 11 million. It is for this Nation.
There is bipartisan agreement that our Nation’s immigration and border security system is broken and must be fixed. We must ensure our borders are secure and that we know who is coming and going from the Nation. At the same time we must find a tough but fair process that allows the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to come out of the shadows and sets reasonable requirements if they want to stay in this country.
This legislation creates a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. This path to citizenship must be earned and would require individuals to register with the government, submit biometric data, learn English, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay taxes and penalties before they would be eligible for a provisional legal status. This pathway to citizenship requires individuals to earn their legal status over a period of no fewer than 10 years.
In addition, the legislation addresses the need for improved border security and requires a 90-percent effectiveness rate for apprehensions and returns in high-risk border sections before individuals in provisional legal status can adjust to permanent residence. It also creates an effective employment verification system–using the E-Verify system–that will prevent identity theft, end the hiring of unauthorized workers, and help stop future waves of illegal immigration. And finally, this legislation establishes an improved process for future legal immigration that is responsive to the needs of American businesses and supports reunification of families.
Despite fears that immigrants will take jobs from Americans, numerous studies show that immigrants and U.S.-born workers generally do not compete for the same jobs. In fact, a 2009 study by the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, found that immigrants have a positive effect on the workforce.
The business sector strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform. That is because our economy is in need of highly skilled workers who can help stimulate growth and keep our Nation at the forefront of innovation and invention. From 1990 to 2005, foreign-born nationals founded more than 25 percent of the technology startups in the United States.
Immigration reform is about keeping families together and ensuring that immigration laws are respected. I want to commend my colleagues from both parties for coming together in crafting a bipartisan bill that creates a workable framework for comprehensive reform. Now the Senate needs to move forward in passing legislation that is both comprehensive and fair.
This legislation enjoys broad support from a diverse coalition of labor, business, civil rights, and religious groups. Polls indicate broad support across party lines for comprehensive immigration reform, with most Americans agreeing that immigration is a net positive for the United States. Most Americans want Congress to take action to fix our broken immigration system. While this legislation is not perfect–it is not what I would have drafted–I believe it is a strong step forward and a vast improvement over our current laws, and I urge my colleagues to support this balanced approach to immigration reform.
Article I, section 8 of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall have power ….. to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” Congress last enacted a major overhaul of immigration policy in 1986 during President Reagan’s administration, over a quarter century ago. The time is now for Congress to act. I yield the floor.