Senator Tom Udall: Now is the Time for Immigration Reform

Senator Tom Udall

Senator Tom Udall

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, in a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, highlighted the Senate’s imperative to pass a long term, comprehensive solution to fix our nation’s immigration system and improve New Mexico’s border security.

“Immigration reform has to be comprehensive, that is the reality of any long-term solution,” Udall said. “It is also a reality that such reform will not be perfect, will not satisfy everyone in every case. That’s what compromise means, that’s what bipartisan effort requires. But the American people are not asking for perfection — they are asking for results. For an immigration system that works, that makes sense, that secures our borders, that strengthens families and that supports our economy.”

Udall has introduced four amendments to the bill. Two enhance border security by adding a federal district court judge in New Mexico and expanding the Border Enforcement Security Taskforce in the Southwest border states. The remaining two provide resources for vital early warning infectious disease surveillance in all 20 border states, and expand federal grants to help maintain local roads heavily used by Border Patrol vehicles.

“There is still work to be done,” Udall continued. “No one is arguing this bill is perfect. I have filed and cosponsored several amendments… I would urge the bill managers and authors to work with me on these amendments to improve this bill and protect New Mexico’s interests as a key border state.”

Udall has been a long supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. Recently, Udall met with several local DREAMers to discuss comprehensive immigration reform and convened his first Southwestern Border Security Task Force (BSTF) meeting. In 2003, then-U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman launched the BSTF as a venue to discuss ongoing and new priorities along the border. Udall’s office has taken the helm of the BSTF since Bingaman’s retirement.

Click here to watch Udall’s speech.

Below are Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President,

“I rise today to speak about the comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Senate is engaged in a crucial debate to see if we can fix a system we all know is broken.

“It has been a long road not just because of the partisan climate here, but because of the complex challenges we face.

“The challenge of 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and work and raise families in communities all across our nation, kept uncertain in the shadows. The challenge of children brought here through no fault of their own who love this country as their own, and the challenge of securing our border.

“The majority of Americans know these challenges have to be met. Immigration reform has to be comprehensive. That is the reality of any long-term solution.

“It is also a reality that such reform will not be perfect. Will not satisfy everyone in every case. That’s what compromise means. That’s what bipartisan effort requires. But the American people are not asking for perfection — they are asking for results. For an immigration system that works, that makes sense, that secures our borders, that strengthens families and that supports our economy.

“I want to commend Chairman Leahy and the bipartisan authors of this bill for their leadership.

“The Committee made sure the process was open, was transparent and was inclusive. Many of the amendments adopted had bipartisan support, and over two thirds of the Committee voted for this bill. I hope the full Senate will follow their example.

“America has a rich history of immigrants, helping create a culture and an economy that is the envy of the world. I am proud to come from a state where we celebrate our diversity. Native American, Hispanic and European traditions define my state.

“We are a border state, and New Mexicans understand what is at stake with border security. They know how important comprehensive immigration reform is.

“This bill has the essential elements of that reform.

“It creates a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented individuals. This is not an amnesty. Folks have to pass criminal background checks. Pay back taxes and penalties. Learn English. And must go to the back of the line. Behind those who came here legally. This road to citizenship takes 13 years. Not an easy road. But one that will bring millions of people out of the shadows. And into the hope and promise of the American dream.

“This legislation also makes securing our border a priority. Much of the debate has centered on this. In my opinion the record is clear. As a senator from a border state, I have seen firsthand how things have changed. Over the past 12 years, we have made progress.

“Is the job finished? Of course not. But, that is not a reason to oppose this bill. It is a reason, in fact, to support it.”

“We spend a lot of resources on immigration and customs enforcement. More than all other federal criminal law enforcement combined. We have more border patrol agents on our southern border than ever before. Illegal crossings are near their lowest levels in decades.

“We have ramped up law enforcement, and are deporting more criminals than ever before.

“This legislation will build on that progress with a strong plan and with money to pay for it. It doesn’t just call for 90 percent apprehension of illegal border crossings. It provides $6.5 billion dollars to do it.

“Commitment to border security is real, and this bill will improve on it with new technology and targeted resources. It makes a difference. It changes the game plan. This is not conjecture, not pie in the sky.

“For example, Congress appropriated $600 million dollars for emergency border security in 2010, and the effectiveness rate increased from 72 percent to 82 percent a year later.

“So, there is a proven record here. An impressive record.

“With border security, this legislation has clear goals, has committed resources and builds on demonstrated success. But, for some on the other side, that is not enough. They demand absolute effectiveness or toss out the path to citizenship.

“But let’s be clear. No border can be completely secure. Not ours. Not anyone else’s. Some may still cross illegally, may still slip through.

“We can do more. I believe additional border security should focus on violent drug and firearms traffickers, and should do more at ports of entry.

“But, most undocumented immigrants come here to work. This bill will change that dynamic with an effective, universal employment verification system and crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. This is as crucial as fences and checkpoints. As crucial as agents patrolling the border or drones scanning the horizon.

“Because the lure of illegal immigration is jobs. And the jobs will not be there.

“There is still work to be done. No one is arguing this bill is perfect. I have filed and cosponsored several amendments. I will just mention a few of them now.

“The first adds a federal district court judge in New Mexico. In the committee markup, a bipartisan amendment was adopted to add federal judges to the southwest border states. Unfortunately, New Mexico was not included, even though it has a significant immigration caseload. One that will increase with the additional enforcement provided by the bill. My amendment remedies this oversight.

“I’ve also filed an amendment to expand the Border Enforcement Security Taskforce units in the four southwest border states. BEST units are teams of federal, state and local law enforcement focused on disrupting serious border related criminal activity—such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.

“Finally, I’ve filed an amendment that provides resources to all 20 border states for vital early warning infectious disease surveillance. This federal funding program was created in 2003 to detect, identify and report outbreaks of infectious diseases at the borders. But this important funding has ceased. We need to restore it.

“I would urge the bill managers and authors to work with me on these amendments to improve this bill and protect New Mexico’s interests as a key border state.

“I want to again commend the members of the Judiciary Committee. This legislation arrived on the Senate floor with support from both sides of the aisle. I hope that it will move forward in the same spirit of cooperation.

“This bill is a historic moment. For families. For our security. And it will benefit our economy. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office just reported on Tuesday, this bill could reduce our deficit by $197 billion dollars over the first ten years, and by at least $700 billion dollars in the second decade.

“This bill speaks to the best of our traditions and values. This is our opportunity to govern, to fix an immigration system that is broken and to move our nation forward in the 21st century.”