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[Congressional Record: September 26, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S9235-S9237]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

                         H-1B VISA LEGISLATION

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, the reason for my rising today is to 
address the issue that is pending before us, which is the H-1B visa 
bill. This is a bill which addresses the issue of immigration.
  Immigration has been important to the United States. But for the 
African Americans, many of whom were forced to come to the U.S. against 
their will in slavery, most of us, and our parents and grandparents 
before us, can trace our ancestry to immigrants who came to this 
country. I am one of those people.
  In 1911, my grandmother got on a boat in Germany and came across the 
ocean from Lithuania landing in Baltimore, MD, and taking a train to 
East St. Louis, IL. She came to the United

[[Page S9236]]

States with three of her children. Not one of them spoke English. I am 
amazed when I think about that--that she would get on that boat and 
come over here not knowing what she was headed to, not being able to 
speak the language, unaware of the culture, and taking that leap of 
faith as millions have throughout the course of American history.
  What brought her here? A chance for a better life--economic 
opportunity, a better job for her husband, and for her family, but also 
the freedoms that this country had to offer. She brought with her a 
little prayer book that meant so much to her and her Catholic church in 
Lithuania. It was printed in Lithuanian. It was banned by Russian 
officials who controlled her country. This woman who could barely read 
brought this prayer book, considered contraband, because it meant so 
much to her. She knew once she crossed the shores and came into America 
that freedom of religion would guarantee that she could practice her 
religion as she believed.
  She came, as millions did, in the course of our history--providing 
the workers and the skills and the potential for the growth of this 
economy and this Nation.
  As we look back on our history, we find that many of these newcomers 
to America were not greeted with open arms. Signs were out: ``Irish 
Need Not Apply.'' People were giving speeches about ``mongrelizing the 
races in America.'' All sorts of hateful rhetoric was printed and 
spoken throughout our history. In fact, you can still find it today in 
many despicable Internet sites. That has created a political 
controversy around the issue of immigration, which still lingers.
  It wasn't that long ago that a Republican Governor of California led 
a kind of crusade against Hispanic immigration to his State. I am sure 
it had some popularity with some people. But, in the long run, the 
Republican Party has even rejected that approach to immigration.
  The H-1B visa issue is one that really is a challenge to all of us 
because what we are saying is that we want to expand the opportunity 
for people with skills to come to the United States and find jobs on a 
temporary basis. We are being importuned by industry leaders and people 
in Silicon Valley who say: You know, we just can't find enough skilled 
workers in the United States to fill jobs.
  We ask permission from Congress, through the laws, to increase the 
number of H-1B visas that can be granted each year to those coming to 
our shores to work and to be part of these growing industrial and 
economic opportunities.
  Historically, we have capped those who could be granted H-1B visas--
115,000 in fiscal year 1999 and fiscal year 2000, and 107,500 in fiscal 
year 2001. The bill we are debating today would increase the number of 
people who could be brought in under these visas to 195,000 per year.
  I think it is a good idea to do this. I say that with some reluctance 
because I am sorry to report that we don't have the skilled employees 
we need in the United States. Surely we are at a point of record 
employment with 22 million jobs created over the last 8 years. But we 
also understand that some of the jobs that need to be filled can't be 
filled because the workers are not there with the skills. We find not 
worker shortages in this country but skill shortages in this country.

  I think there are two things we ought to consider as part of this 
debate. First, what are we going to do about the skill shortage in 
America? Are we going to give up on American workers and say, well, 
since you cannot come up with the skills to work in the computer and 
technology industry we will just keep bringing in people from overseas? 
I certainly hope not.
  I think it is our responsibility to do just the opposite--to say to 
ourselves and to others involved in education and training that there 
are things we can do to increase and improve our labor pool.
  The second issue I want to address in the few moments that I have 
before us, is the whole question of immigration and fairness.
  Many of us on the Democratic side believe that if we are going to 
address the issue of immigration that we should address it with 
amendments that deal with problems which we can identify.
  I came to the floor earlier and suggested to my colleagues that in my 
Chicago office, two-thirds of our casework of people calling and asking 
for help have immigration problems. I spend most of my time dealing 
with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Sometimes they come 
through like champions. Many times they do not. People are frustrated 
by the delays in their administrative decisions; frustrated by some of 
the laws they are enforcing; and frustrated by some of the treatment 
that they receive by INS employees.
  What we hope to do in the course of this bill is not only address the 
need of the high-tech industry for additional H-1B visas and jobs, but 
also the need for fairness when it comes to immigration in our country.
  In the midst of our lively and sometimes fractious debates in the 
Senate, I hope we can all at least take a moment to step back and 
reflect on our very good fortune. We are truly living in remarkable 
times. The economy has been expanding at a record pace over the last 8 
or 10 years. A few years ago we were embroiled in a debate on the 
Senate floor about the deficits and the growing debt in this country. 
We now find that the national topic for debate is the surplus and what 
we can do with it. What a dramatic turnaround has occurred in such a 
short period of time. It has occurred because more Americans are going 
to work and more people are making more money. As they are more 
generous in their contributions to charities and as they are paying 
more in taxes at the State and Federal level, we are finding surpluses 
that are emerging in this country. That, of course, is the topic of 
  Unemployment is at a historic low. So are poverty rates. Our crime 
rates are coming down. Household incomes have reached new heights. Our 
massive Federal debt--an albatross around the neck of the entire 
Nation--has all but vanished, replaced by surpluses that have inspired 
more than a bit of economic giddiness.
  We have a need in this country for many high-skilled technology 
workers. We are all witnesses to this incredible technological 
revolution, the Internet revolution that is unfolding at a pace almost 
too rapid for the imagination to absorb. Indeed, in many respects it 
has been a revolution in modern information technology that has 
revolutionized the fields of business, medicine, biology, 
entertainment, and helped to spur our robust economy.
  When I visit the classrooms across Illinois, particularly the grade 
school classrooms, I ask the kids in the classroom if they can imagine 
living in a world without computers. They shake their heads in 
disbelief. I remember those days, and I bet a lot of people can, too. 
It was not that long ago. Technology has transformed our lives. These 
two phenomena, a vibrant economy and an amazing technology, have 
combined to create an unprecedented level of need in American industry 
for skilled technology workers, for men and women to design the 
systems, write the software, create the innovations, and fix the bugs 
for all the marvelous technology that sits on our desktops or rides in 
our shirt pockets.
  The Information Technology Association of America reports the 
industry will need an additional 1.6 million workers to fill 
information technology positions this year. A little more than half of 
these jobs will go unfilled due to a shortfall of qualified workers. 
Mr. President, 1.6 million workers are needed; with only 800,000 people 
we cannot fill the jobs.
  Another trend marks our modern age, the trend towards economic 
globalization. The other day, we passed the legislation for permanent 
normal trade relations with China. It is not surprising that our 
industries are looking for highly skilled workers in the United States. 
When they can't find them here, they start looking in other countries.
  Why should workers in another country want to uproot themselves, 
leave their homes and families, and make the long journey here? The 
same reason that my grandparents did, and their parents might have 
before them. They made the journey because for thousands, America is 
the fairest, freest, greatest country there is. It is a land like no 
other, a land of real opportunity, a land where hard work and

[[Page S9237]]

good values pay off, a land where innovation, creativity, and hard work 
are cherished and rewarded, a land where anyone, whether a long-time 
resident whose family goes back to the Revolutionary War, or a brand-
new immigrant clutching a visa that grants them a right to work, can 
achieve this American dream.
  We have before the Senate this bill to open the door for that dream 
to greater numbers of high-tech workers, workers the information 
technology industry needs to stay vital and healthy. It is a good idea 
to open that door wider. I support it. It is the right thing to do. We 
can do it in the right manner. We can meet the demanding needs of the 
technology situation and create a win-win situation for all American 
workers, no matter what their craft or what their skills, while 
avoiding the pitfalls that a carelessly crafted high-tech visa program 
would create.
  To do it the right way, we have to consider the following: First, we 
must make available to industry an ample number of high-tech worker 
visas through a program that is streamlined and responsive enough to 
work in ``Internet time.''
  At the same time, we must set appropriate criteria for granting these 
high-tech visas. There is a temptation to hire foreign workers for no 
other reason than to replace perfectly qualified American workers. 
Perhaps it is because foreign workers are deemed more likely to be 
compliant in the workplace for fear of losing their visa privileges or 
because they are willing to work for lower wages, or because they are 
less expectant of good work benefits.
  Whatever the perception, we must be on guard against any misuse of 
the visa program. There must be a true need, a type of specialty that 
is so much in demand that there is a true shortage of qualified 

  We must also bear in mind that we have not just one, but two 
principal goals that must be held in balance. The first goal is to 
fulfill a short-term need by granting high-tech visas. The second, and 
ultimately more important goal, is to meet our long-term need for a 
highly skilled workforce by making sure there are ample educational 
opportunities for students and workers here at home. A proposal to 
address this need will receive strong support if it embraces the goal 
of training our domestic workforce for the future demands of the 
technology industry and provides the mechanisms and revenue to reach 
that goal.
  It is interesting that in every political poll that I have read, at 
virtually every level, when asking families across America the No. 1 
issue that they are concerned with, inevitably it is education. I have 
thought about that and it has a lot to do with families with kids in 
school, but it also has a lot to do with the belief that most of us 
have in America--that education was our ticket to opportunity and 
success. We want future generations to have that same opportunity.
  I see my friend, Senator Wellstone from Minnesota. He has taught for 
many years and is an expert in the field of education. I will not try 
to steal his thunder on this issue. But I will state that as I read 
about the history of education in America, there are several things we 
should learn, not the least of which is the fact that at the turn of 
the last century, between the 19th and 20th century, there was a 
phenomena taking place in America that really distinguished us from the 
rest of the world.
  This is what it was: Between 1890 and 1918, we built on average in 
the United States of America one new high school every single day. This 
wasn't a Federal mandate. It was a decision, community by community, 
and State by State, that we were going to expand something that no 
other country had even thought of expanding--education beyond the 
eighth grade. We started with the premise that high schools would be 
open to everyone: Immigrants and those who have been in this country 
for many years. It is true that high schools for many years were 
segregated in part of America until the mid-1950s and 1960s, but the 
fact is we were doing something no other country was considering.
  We were democratizing and popularizing education. We were saying to 
kids: Don't stop at eighth grade; continue in school. My wife and I 
marvel at the fact that none of our parents--we may be a little unusual 
in this regard, or at least distinctive --went beyond the eighth grade. 
That was not uncommon. If you could find a good job out of the eighth 
grade on a farm or in town, many students didn't go on.
  Around 1900, when 3 percent of the 17-year-olds graduated from high 
school, we started seeing the numbers growing over the years. Today 80 
or 90 percent of eligible high school students do graduate.
  What did this mean for America? It meant that we were expanding 
education for the masses, for all of our citizenry, at a time when many 
other countries would not. They kept their education elite, only for 
those wealthiest enough or in the right classes; we democratized it. We 
said: We believe in public education; we believe it should be available 
for all Americans. What did it mean? It meant that in a short period of 
time we developed the most skilled workforce in the world.
  We went from the Tin Lizzies of Henry Ford to Silicon Valley. We went 
from Kitty Hawk to Cape Canaveral. In the meantime, in the 1940s, when 
Europe was at war fighting Hitler and fascism, it was the United States 
and its workforce that generated the products that fought the war not 
only for our allies but ultimately for ourselves, successfully.
  That is what made the 20th century the American century. We were 
there with the people. We invested in America. Education meant 
something to everybody. People went beyond high school to college and 
to professional degrees. With that workforce and the GI bill after 
World War II, America became a symbol for what can happen when a 
country devotes itself to education.
  Now we come into the 21st century and some people are resting on 
their laurels saying: We proved how we can do it. There is no need to 
look to new solutions. I think they are wrong. I think they are very 
wrong. Frankly, we face new challenges as great as any faced by those 
coming into the early days of the 20th century. We may not be facing a 
war, thank God, but we are facing a global economy where real 
competition is a matter of course in today's business.
  We understand as we debate this H-1B visa bill, if we are not 
developing the workers with the skills to fill the jobs, then we are 
remiss in our obligation to this country. Yes, we can pass an H-1B visa 
as a stopgap measure to keep the economy rolling forward, but if we 
don't also address the underlying need to come to the rescue of the 
skill shortage, I don't think we are meeting our obligation in the 
  (Mr. GORTON assumed the chair.)
  Mr. WELLSTONE. Will the Senator yield for a question?
  Mr. DURBIN. I am happy to yield to my colleague from Minnesota.