[Congressional Record: July 23, 2001 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, in his delightful work ``Democracy in
America,'' Alexis de Tocqueville begins his thoughts on the origins of
Anglo-Americans with these words: ``The emigrants who came at different
periods to occupy the territory now covered by the American Union
differed from each other in many respects; their aim was not the same,
and they governed themselves on different principles. These men had,
however, certain features in common, and they were all placed in an
analogous situation. The tie of language is, perhaps, the strongest and
the most durable that can unite mankind. All the emigrants spoke the
same language; they were all children of the same people.''
For generations, the United States has had the good fortune to be
able to draw upon not only the talents of native-born Americans but
also upon the talents of foreign-born citizens. Immigrants from many
nations built our railroads, worked in our factories, mined our coal,
made our steel, advanced our scientific and technological capabilities,
and added literature, art, poetry, and music to the fabric of American
Of course, many of these new Americans struggled with our language
and customs when they first arrived, but they learned our language,
they absorbed our constitutional principles, they abided by our laws,
and they contributed in a mighty way to our success as a nation.
Indeed, I believe that, particularly in the case of those who came to
our shores fleeing tyranny, there has existed a unique appreciation for
the freedom and opportunity available in this country, an appreciation
which makes those special Americans among our most patriotic citizens.
In other words, do not go to Weirton, WV, and burn the flag. No, not
in Weirton. We have at least 25 or 30 different ethnic groups in that
small steel town in the Northern Panhandle.
Mr. President, the United States today is in the midst of another
immigration wave--the largest since the early 1900s. According to the
latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, immigrants now comprise
about 10 percent of the total U.S. population. That is about 28.4
million immigrants living in the United States.
During the 1990s, an average of more than 1 million immigrants--legal
and illegal--settled in the United States each year. Over the next 50
years, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will
increase from its present 284 million to more than 400 million.
Immigration is projected to contribute to two-thirds of that growth.
These are unprecedented numbers. When I was born in 1917, there were
about 102 million people in this country. When I graduated from high
school in 1934, there were about 130 million people in this country.
And today, there are 284 million people in America. This nation has
never attempted to incorporate more than 28 million newcomers at one
time into its society, let alone to prepare for an additional 116
million citizens over the span of the next 50 years.
Although many of the immigrants who have entered our country over the
last ten years are skilled and are adjusting quickly, others have had
problems. Last year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies,
41.4 percent of established immigrants lived in or near poverty,
compared to 28.8 percent of natives. The situation had completely
reversed itself from 30 years before, when, in 1970, established
immigrants were actually less likely than natives to have low incomes,
with about 25.7 percent living in or near poverty compared with 35.1
percent of the native population.
The deterioration in the position of immigrants can be explained, in
part, by a significant decline in the education of immigrants relative
to natives and by the needs of the U.S. economy. In 1970, 7.1
percentage points separated the high school completion rate of
established immigrants versus natives. By 2000, established immigrants
were more than three times as likely as natives not to have completed
high school, with 34.4 percent of established immigrants and 9.6
percent of natives lacking a high school diploma.
The less skilled the immigrants, the worse their employment
bigger the burden on schools, and the greater the demand for social
services. The National Research Council recently estimated, in December
1999, that the net fiscal cost of immigration ranges from $11 billion
to $20.2 billion per year. That is enough money to fund the operations
of the State of West Virginia for nearly 3 to 6 to 8 years.
As chairman of the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the
Budget Committee, I well know of the extreme shortage of money to meet
the needs of own population today. Because of the 10-year tax cut that
was enacted earlier this year, I am wrestling mightily with trying to
provide enough money to educate our children, meet our health care
needs, provide transportation to our population, and battle crime in
And, so, Mr. President, I grow increasingly concerned when I read
media reports about discussions within the administration to grant
amnesty to 3 million Mexican immigrants who illegally reside in the
I am very concerned that an open immigration policy only makes it
more difficult to adequately meet the needs of our Nation. I have found
the attempt to fund critical needs for America to be among the most
frustrating challenges that I have ever undertaken. I have implored
this administration to take into account these critical needs.
In many school districts overcrowding is already a major problem. As
our classrooms fill to the brim, they are becoming breeding grounds for
violence. Economic growth in some regions of the country, and the
resulting influx of workers, has created a surge in the number of
school-aged children. A less stringent immigration policy will only
make this problem worse.
This country's personal and commercial highway travel continues to
increase at a faster rate than highway capacity, and our highways
cannot sufficiently support our current or projected travel needs.
Between 1970 and 1995, passenger travel nearly doubled in the United
States, and road use is expected to climb by nearly two-thirds in the
next 20 years. This congestion will grow even worse as immigration
And, how will we provide for health care costs of these new citizens?
Whether or not they arrive here legally or illegally, immigrants can
receive federally funded emergency health care service. As the
immigrant population continues to increase, so will health care
expenditures to the Federal Government.
We also have an obligation to ensure the safety of the residents
living in the United States--both native citizens and immigrants. Yet
the Attorney General must soon release from jail and into our streets
3,400 immigrants who have been convicted of such crimes as rape,
murder, and assault because their own countries will not take them
back. We cannot protect our residents if our country is used as the
dumping ground for the criminals of other nations.
We are struggling with ways to preserve and protect our environment.
But population growth only exacerbates the increasing demands on our
aging water and sewer systems, and further threatens the safety of our
drinking water. Our ``green spaces'' are diminishing as more and more
homes are being built to house our growing population. We lament the
loss of and the damage to our natural resources, yet we seem unable to
see the connection to our loose immigration policy.
We have a weakening economy, an increasing unemployment rate, a
problem with adequately educating our people, a congested
transportation infrastructure, a lack of adequate health care, and an
administration that certainly is not totally unsympathetic to these
needs. We cannot afford to take on more. I understand the desire to
help the millions of people around the world who crave the blessings of
freedom that we, as Americans, enjoy. At this time in our history, I do
not know how we can possibly afford to provide for additional people
who may need assistance with education, health problems, and job
If we invite new masses to citizenship, we have an obligation to
adequately provide for them. Yet we are presently frustrated with an
inability to even provide for those who have come before and those who
have been born in this country.
Mr. President, an interdepartmental group formed by the White House
to suggest reforms of immigration policy is expected to include the
option of granting legal residency to undocumented Mexican immigrants
who have been working in the United States. The report raises the
possibility of these illegal immigrants ultimately becoming citizens.
Such a proposal would take this Nation's immigration laws in the wrong
The Immigration and Nationality Act, our primary law for regulating
immigration into this country, sets out a very specific process by
which immigrants may live and work in this country. To capriciously
grant amnesty to 3 million immigrants who circumvented these processes,
who have resided and worked in this country illegally, sends exactly
the wrong message.
Such an amnesty suggests that it is possible to gain permanent
residency in the United States regardless of whether you are an alien
who arrived here legally or illegally.
That is the message that was sent in 1986 when President Reagan
proposed a blanket amnesty to 2.7 million illegal immigrants based
largely on the mere fact that they had lived in this country at least
since 1982. I supported that amnesty, after accepting the arguments of
the Reagan administration that such an amnesty would reduce illegal
immigration when combined with tougher sanctions on employers who hire
What happened instead, was that the United States sent a message to
the world that illegal immigrants could gain legal status in the United
States without having to go through the normal processes. Consequently,
illegal immigration jumped from an estimated 5 million illegals in 1986
to somewhere between 7 million and 13 million illegals today--and these
estimates do not even include the 2.7 million illegals who were granted
amnesty in 1986.
So, Mr. President, we should not repeat our earlier mistakes.
If amnesty is given to a class on the basis of their having broken
the law, then we are rewarding breaking the law, we are rewarding a
This is not the message that we should send to those who would
consider illegally entering this country. What is worse, such an
amnesty undermines our present immigration laws and suggests that these
laws mean nothing if, to those who break them, the Federal Government
simply grants amnesty with a wink and a nod.
Millions of potential immigrants are waiting patiently for a chance
to come to the United States legally. Why should illegal aliens have
preference over these aliens who are waiting patiently? Amnesty sends
the message that it is far easier and faster to become a U.S. citizen
by immigrating illegally than it is to wait for legal approval.
Now, Mr. President, American citizenship should mean something. It
should not be something merely handed out as a means of political
expediency. It should not be something that one can achieve as some
kind of squatter's right, particularly when access to the soil they
claim was gained illegally.
Being an American is something to be cherished, something to be
revered. Citizenship in the United States brings with it certain
inalienable rights. Those who would come to our country to try to
establish citizenship are often enticed by the promise of those rights.
The notion that each citizen is guaranteed certain protections is
powerfully alluring. But what many fail to understand is that those
rights are protected only so long as Americans are willing and able to
defend them. Our populace must be constantly vigilant for those things
that threaten to endanger our rights, our Constitution, and our form of
Government. Such threats go well beyond military invasion. They include
the preservation of ideals such as liberty and equality and justice,
which can be so easily chipped away.
In order to become a citizen, most aliens are required to devote time
to a study of our country and its history. They receive, at least,
elementary guidance to help them appreciate the precious title of
``citizen'' and all that it entails. What goes all too often unspoken
in this debate is that U.S. citizenship entails much more than rights.
It entails responsibilities.
Our citizenry should be instilled with at least a basic understanding
of the precepts that formed the foundation for this country. Lacking
that, they are ill-prepared to be guardians of our future.
We Americans are justifiably proud of their history as a melting pot.
If we go back far enough, we are all products of that melting pot, at
least most of us. But the melting must be done in a way that ensures
that these new citizens are ready to be productive, functioning
Americans. We owe it not only to today's citizens but also to future
citizens, including those who come to our shores expecting the
opportunity for which America is so renowned.
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