U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI) HOLDS A NEWS CONFERENCE ON IMMIGRATION – NEWS CONFERENCE
26 May 2006
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REPRESENTATIVE SENSENBRENNER HOLDS A NEWS CONFERENCE ON IMMIGRATION
MAY 26, 2006
SPEAKER: U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI)
[*] SENSENBRENNER: Good morning, everybody. Thank you all for coming. I think that being here today shows that some of us do work when the House is not voting over across the way. Let me say that, last night, the Senate passed its immigration reform proposal. This will set up a very difficult House-Senate conference committee, because the approaches taken by the House and the Senate on this issue have been 180 degrees apart.
I am going to pledge myself to work as hard as I can to reach a compromise which is effective — and by effective, I mean: It does not repeat the mistakes of the Simpson-Mazzoli act of 20 years ago, which was supposed to be the solution to this problem, but instead has made the problem worse and increased the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.
What we need to do is to secure the border and to cut off the attraction of cheap jobs in the United States, which is what brings many illegal immigrants into our country first, and then we need to decide what to do with the labor requirements of the American economy that may not be able to be filled only by U.S. citizens or by people who are here with green cards, having legally immigrated to the United States.
I would hope that the Senate would take a look back to why the Simpson-Mazzoli bill failed. And the Simpson-Mazzoli bill failed because the employer sanctions were never enforced. And unless we have good internal enforcement as well as border security, there will be people who will have a strong economic attraction to try to get around the fence or over the fence because there is no internal enforcement of the immigration laws.
The market does work. And it’s always cheaper to hire an illegal immigrant than it is to hire a United States citizen or someone who is legally here with a green card.
So this conference is going to be difficult. I would hope that the Senate would view the issue of coming up with an effective bill, not one necessarily that looks good on a bumper sticker — because if we don’t come up with an effective bill, we will have let the American people down.
And with that, I’ll be happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Congressman, how do you think we should deal with the 12 million illegal immigrants that are already living in this country?
QUESTION: And how do you think that will play out in the conference?
SENSENBRENNER: Well, I can’t predict how anything is going to play out in the conference.
Let me say that amnesty is wrong, because amnesty rewards someone for illegal behavior. And the system that has been set up in the Senate will also result in gross document fraud, because if someone can prove they’ve been here illegally for five years, then they can get the reward of citizenship by doing a few things and paying $2,750 in fines.
I reject the spin that the senators have been putting on their proposal. It is amnesty. And on May 24th, two days ago, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who served in the Reagan administration, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times which I would commend to your attention that said at least Ronald Reagan was honest when he called the legalization procedure “amnesty.” What’s going on now, in calling it a “pathway to citizenship” or “earned legalization,” is not honest, because it is amnesty.
And all I would do is quote from Mr. Meese’s article and refer you call to “Black’s Law Dictionary,” which is the bible for defining terms for the legal profession.
In “Black’s Law Dictionary,” look it up and you’ll find it says, quote, “the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.” That’s what the Senate bill does.
So it seems to me that what we need to do is to figure out a way, short of amnesty, to deal with the labor needs of the American economy. And if the Senate gets off of the dime of pushing for amnesty, even though they call it something different, then I think there’s room for negotiation.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Senator Kyl that perhaps the way to a compromise would be with enhanced border security, interior enforcement and then phase the temporary worker program in then you’d see some success. Is that something (OFF-MIKE)?
SENSENBRENNER: The bottom line should be something that works. And if we make the mistake of Simpson-Mazzoli all over again, 20 years from now we’re going to have a problem that’s even worse.
And what that means is that you’ve got to do things in the proper order. The first things that need to be done are border security and enforcement of employer sanctions so that we not only prevent people from crossing the border, but we turn off the magnet of cheap jobs for those who illegally come here.
And again, it’s always cheaper to hire an illegal immigrant.
I think Senator Kyl is going down the right path, because we’ve got to do things in the proper order.
The mistake of Simpson-Mazzoli is that amnesty was offered and employer sanctions were never enforced. And because employer sanctions were never enforced, only a third of those eligible for amnesty bothered to sign up, because they feared they’d lose their jobs by pricing themselves out of the market by legalizing themselves.
We cannot afford to do that kind of a mistake again.
SENSENBRENNER: What I’m saying is that to avoid the mistake of Simpson-Mazzoli, we’ve got to do things in the proper order. You know, there’s an old phrase that I think many of us have said upon occasion: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
The amnesty provisions in the Senate bill are almost a carbon copy of Simpson-Mazzoli. And if we do have amnesty and we say we’re going to enforce the border and we say we’re going to enforce employer sanctions and don’t do that, then we have repeated the mistake but with a lot more people coming across the border to come into the United States.
SENSENBRENNER: That’s why things have got to be done in the proper order, because shame on me time is going to be shame on the Congress and a fraud that will be perpetrated on the people of the United States of America.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) place a lot of hope on President Bush’s ability to persuade House Republicans to (inaudible) to the Senate approach. As things stand now, do you think the president is going to (inaudible) conference process?
SENSENBRENNER: We have a great respect for the Senate. The president dispatched Karl Rove, guru in chief up there, to the Republican conference, both this week and last week. And I didn’t attend either of those conferences, because I didn’t want to be accused of putting my colleagues up to asking very pointed questions in a loud voice to the president’s chief political adviser. That’s what they did.
And they jumped all over Rove. And they said the president is not where the American people are at.
The Senate is also not where the American people are at. And there has not been an issue in a long time that has engaged the American people in the manner that they have been engaged in.
I go back to the Zogby poll that CIS did and released on May 3rd, where they asked people to compare the Senate and the House approaches, and the House approach was favored by those who responded by a 64 percent to 30 percent margin.
So the polling is overwhelming in support of the House border security and employer sanctions bill, rather than what the Senate has done.
And I would also point out that what the Senate has done isn’t entirely reactive. We’ve got 12 million people here, so let’s legalize them. We’ve got a lot of employers that have been breaking the law in hiring illegal immigrants. They get amnesty under this bill, too.
There are 66 million new legal immigration visas. I think that’s too many. We’ve taken a million legal immigrants a year, which is the second highest percentage in the history of our country, as expressed as a total percentage of population in the last decade.
SENSENBRENNER: There’s 66 million new visas, together with the existing visas, in the next 20 years, and that’s in addition to the illegals that would end up being amnestied.
So wherever there’s a problem, what the Senate does is legalize them, increase numbers and give them a pass. The Senate bill has two separate guest worker programs. I don’t know why we need to have two guest worker programs. If we need guest workers, we ought to do it the right way, but one should be enough.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) House bill. Some of those colleagues are saying (OFF-MIKE) Why do you think the conference (OFF-MIKE)
SENSENBRENNER: Well, I think the conference should go forward, because the existing system is probably the worst of all possible worlds, and we have an obligation, in my opinion, to try to work something out.
And I would like to see as many public conferences as possible so that the American people can see what the Senate and House negotiators are doing on this issue.
Not to appoint conferees, in my opinion, is simply punting, and saying, “Well, we’ll let the system go on, and then maybe after the election we ought to work it out.”
I think the American public is entitled to having a vote on a compromise before the elections so that the voters can go to the polls assessing how their representatives and senators have done on this issue before they decide who to send back.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) some type of scenario in which a guest worker program and possibly some type of pathway to legal status would be tied to some type of trigger in which (inaudible) border enforcement would prove to be effective (inaudible)
SENSENBRENNER: Well, I think that with the American people and with most of my House Republican colleagues, a pathway to citizenship — also known as amnesty, according to Black’s Law Dictionary — is a nonstarter.
SENSENBRENNER: A guest worker program I think can be on the table if it does not contain an amnesty, but only if the employer sanctions and the increased border patrols are effective. And the effectiveness, I think, is going to have to be measured by some pretty tough standards, lest we make the mistake of having a bigger problem caused by this bill than the current problem was caused by Simpson- Mazzoli.
SENSENBRENNER: Illegal immigrants flock to certain labor- intensive industries, like agriculture, landscaping, hotels and restaurants, roofing and siding, certain types of construction industries.
The problem that has existed is that more and more illegal immigrants are displacing American workers, because in many cases the illegal immigrants are paid in cash, they work for less. In some cases, the Social Security and state and local taxes have not been taken out.
So an industry or a company that is dependent upon illegal workers is lowering their labor costs by 30 to 40 percent.
SENSENBRENNER: That means that the competition in that area of the economy that does it the right way and the legal way and hiring only legal workers prices themselves out of the market. That is a disruption of the economy.
Now, I don’t buy the argument that there are certain jobs that Americans will not do. Americans will do and have done any job as long as they’re paid enough money.
And the disruption in the market means that personnel like cleaning personnel and janitorial personnel that have been Americans in the past or legal immigrants with green cards have ended up, in many communities, being completely displaced by illegal immigrants.
You know, that’s wrong. And you know, that’s why we end up having poverty, because most of these jobs end up being entry-level jobs that don’t require very many skills.
So illegal immigration has caused an economic disruption, but also a social disruption, particularly for those people who do not have skills and are starting out at the bottom rung of the socio- economic ladder.
QUESTION: On the employer sanctions, what assurance will employers have (OFF-MIKE)?
SENSENBRENNER: The entire issue of employer sanctions has been completely ignored in talking about the fences and the criminal penalties, particularly for trafficking. And I’m glad you asked the question, because I do want to dwell on it.
First of all, the House-passed bill expands the basic pilot program to make the verification of Social Security numbers mandatory for new hires in two years and for existing employees in six.
There is a provision in the president’s budget to provide enough money to expand this verification program, which would use a secure database and an Internet Web site so that an employer could get into the Internet with a name and Social Security and get an instant response on whether the number matched the name of the applicant for the job.
And that would provide a defense for an employer if the verification was done and the verification came back positive, meaning that the Social Security and name match. This is very important because a lot of illegal immigrants use hot Social Security cards that are obtained by identity theft or fraud in order simply to fill out the I-9 for that is required for all hires.
SENSENBRENNER: So what we do by making the basic pilot program nationwide and mandatory and funding it so that it works and it works properly is to provide employers the tools to find out which applicants for jobs are legal immigrants or U.S. citizens, and which are illegal immigrants.
The second — and I’ll make another point on this. The Chamber of Commerce has adamantly opposed checking out existing employees. They say they’ve got no problem of checking out the new employees when the system comes up and running, but they object to the existing employees.
If we don’t check out the existing employees, then an illegal immigrant currently in the country cannot change jobs, because if they move jobs, they’d get checked out, and they would get caught. And that establishes a de facto program of indentured servitude for people who are illegally in the country in their existing jobs.
That’s wrong, and that’s immoral in my opinion.
The second thing that the House bill does is have significant increases in fines that would be assessed to employers who are caught hiring illegal immigrants.
Currently, the fine for a first offense is $100 a piece. And that’s part of the cost of doing business. And it is not high enough to act as a deterrent.
The House bill increases that to $5,000, which would be quite a deterrent, because if there is a raid and somebody who has hired 500 illegal immigrants get caught, that’s $25 million. And believe me, all of your scribes would put that as a headline in every newspaper in the country.
And once people see that there are significant penalties for hiring illegal immigrants which have been in violation of the law since Simpson-Mazzoli, maybe they’ll stop doing it.
QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, absent what you consider to be amnesty, how is the removal of the illegals to be done? Massive military activity? Police activity? There’s all these millions of people.
SENSENBRENNER: The answer is no. And the people who have supported amnesty saying, well, there isn’t really anything we can do about the fact that we’ve got 12 million here in this country — and I’m the first to admit that it’s impractical to round up and deport 12 million people, all of whom will have lawyers filing all kinds of motions in either immigration courts of federal district courts.
SENSENBRENNER: With the border controls and the enforcement of employer sanctions, the jobs for illegal immigrants will dry up. And if you can’t get a job because employer sanctions are enforced, my belief is is that a lot of the illegal immigrants will simply go back home voluntarily.
So this will end up being a process of attrition. But the only way to do that is through a workable employer sanctions program, fines that are high enough to act as a deterrent, and making sure that we have enough border controls to prevent the illegal immigrant who goes back home from being replaced by another illegal immigrant that comes into the country.
So, again, we get back to why Simpson-Mazzoli failed. Simpson- Mazzoli failed in large part because there was no enforcement of employer sanctions.
Now, the second amnesty that is contained in the Senate-passed bill is an amnesty for every employer who has hired an illegal immigrant. So basically what this bill does is it says that if you’ve broken the law by entering the United States illegally and staying here, and if you’ve broken the law by employing an illegal immigrant, which attracts more people to come across the border, we’re just going to give you a pass on that.
And that, coupled with the fact that interior enforcement of the immigration law has been really bad, in my opinion, and it’s gotten worse the last six years, and the statistics prove it, is that it will just kind of give a green light by saying, “Well, you know, we’ve been bad. We haven’t gotten caught. We’re not going to get prosecuted if we do get caught. So why should we change?”
And two last ones, and then…
SENSENBRENNER: Well, let’s talk about immigration on this one.
SENSENBRENNER: Well, I think the American people are willing to spend whatever it takes to secure the border. And securing the border is not just an immigration issue. It’s a drug enforcement and national security issue, as well.
There have been people on terrorist watch lists that have been caught by the Border Patrol inside the United States. And the criminal alien smugglers, also known as coyotes, have become a kind of a full-service criminal enterprise in that many of the people that pay to have themselves being ferried across the border end up being required to bring backpacks or satchels full of drugs into the United States.
SENSENBRENNER: I have seen figures that indicate that 85 percent of the illegal drugs on the streets of Chicago that are sold by gangs come across the southwestern border. So we’re not only dealing with the people problem, but we’re dealing with criminal enterprises, we’re dealing with a huge drug problem, and we’re dealing with a potential terrorism problem as well, because the border is not secured.
And this will be the last one. Yes, sir?
SENSENBRENNER: Well, if you’ve been reading what the senators have been saying about me and my negotiating tactics, including one David Brooks article in the New York Times, that I’ve been known to eat them for breakfast and to pick my teeth with their bones…
… what it shows is that over here my staff and I think outside the box and we are really result oriented.
If you look at what the Judiciary Committee has done under my chairmanship, I think we’ve probably been more effective than any other authorizing committee on either side of the Capitol, in terms of the Patriot Act, Visa and Border Security Act, all of the children’s safety bills that have come out of the committee, as well as some changes in intellectual property law.
I would like to see a bill passed and signed into law. However, I’m a realist, you know, and given the fact that the Senate and the House started miles apart, and as a result of some amendments that were offered in the Senate miles have become moons apart or oceans apart, this has made a difficult task even more so.
At the beginning of this process I have said that this is the most difficult thing that I have been asked to do in 37 and a half years of serving in elective public office, both here and in the Wisconsin legislature.
On the other hand, the American people are demanding that something is done, and I want to do my best to make sure that something is done, but the right thing is done. And the right thing is not repeating the mistakes of Simpson-Mazzoli.
And I would hope that the 26 Senate conferees that will be appointed when this bill is sent to conference look at why Simpson- Mazzoli failed and dedicate themselves to writing a bill that will work and will solve the problem.
SENSENBRENNER: If Simpson-Mazzoli were properly done, we would not be talking about this issue today because it would have worked. It was not properly done. And as a result, the problem has gone from 2.5 million illegal immigrants to 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants, and more of them coming.
So I don’t plan on signing a conference report that might look good on a bumper sticker, where I can put a picture of the president signing this bill into law in my campaign literature this fall, knowing full well that when I’m old and crabby — and I’m not old and crabby now, everybody knows that…
… when I am old and crabby and sitting on my front porch, I don’t have people come up to say, “You made the biggest mistake of your career in signing off on a bill that ended up making the problem worse.”
Thank you very much.
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Terry A. Shawn
House Committee on the Judiciary