[Congressional Record: September 6, 2001 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY
Mr. BYRD. Madam President, the inscription on the base of the Statue
of Liberty that has welcomed immigrants for generations can be found in
the poem, ``The New Colossus,'' by Emma Lazarus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
``Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!'' cries she
With silent lips. ``Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!''
The United States has a proud history of welcoming immigrants fleeing
religious persecution, political oppression, and economic hardship. My
own forebear on my father's side came to these shores in 1657, settled
on the banks of the Rappahannock River where all--with the exception of
possibly one in this Chamber--are children, grandchildren, great-
grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of immigrants. The
magnanimous promise of a better life that is inscribed in the base of
the Statue of Liberty has deep roots in both the American mind and
American law. George Washington captured that promise in his dictum two
centuries ago that the United States should be ``a country which may
afford an asylum, if we are wise enough to pursue the paths which lead
to virtue and happiness, to the oppressed and needy of the Earth.''
I understand the American dream that has lured immigrants here for
more than 200 years. I have a son-in-law who is an immigrant from Iran.
He is a physicist. I have a grandson who is married to an immigrant
from Korea. My own State of West Virginia has benefitted from the many
contributions made by our foreign-born citizens. West Virginia's coal
miner population in the early part of the 20th Century reads like a
United Nations roster: British--English, Welch, Scottish--Irish,
Italian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Swedish, Austrian, Russian, Greek,
Syrian, Romanian, German, Polish, Slavic, and on and on.
In recent months, this administration has been working with its
Mexican counterparts to craft a new immigration policy that would,
among other things, legalize three to four million undocumented Mexican
immigrants now working in the United States.
According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau,
immigrants now comprise about 11 percent of the total U.S. population.
That is about 30 million immigrants living in the United States--13
million to 14 million of whom arrived just in the last 10 years.
These numbers are quite extraordinary because they suggest that at
least 1.3 million immigrants are settling in the United States each
year. That is more than arrived during the last great wave of
immigration between 1900 and 1910, when about 850,000 people entered
the country each year.
In addition to their arrival in the United States, during the 1990's,
immigrant women gave birth to an estimated 6.9 million children. If we
add together the number of births to immigrants and the number of new
arrivals, immigration during the 1990's led to the addition of 20
million--or two-thirds of the nearly 30 million people who populated
the United States over the last 10 years.
If current trends continue, according to the Census Bureau's middle-
range projections, the U.S. population will grow from 280 million to
404 million people by 2050, with immigration accounting for about 63
percent of that growth. That means the number of new immigrants
entering this country over the next 50 years, about 78 million
immigrants, will be roughly equal to 43 times the current population of
As I have said, many of these immigrants will contribute to the
economic, cultural, and political development of the United States.
But, let us not forget, let us not be unmindful of the fact that there
will also be real costs associated with this population increase. Many
of these new citizens will come in search of access to quality health
care services. Yet too many of our Nation's 5,000 emergency rooms are
already operating at critical capacity.
Go over to Fairfax Hospital. I just had my wife of 64 years over to
that hospital twice within the last 6 weeks. And I took her both
times--once through a call to 911. You will be amazed at what you see.
The hospitals are overcrowded.
According to the LA Times, at many of the nation's hospitals,
``ambulances are being turned away and patients are stacked in the
hallways.'' If we are to accept these new citizens, it is clear that we
will have to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to expand our health
This Nation also has the responsibility to provide a quality public
education to its citizens. Yet, the Department of Education recently
reported that the number of children in public schools has grown by
nearly 8 million in the last two decades. This growth has strained the
resources of many
school districts, resulting in overcrowded classrooms and overgrown
schools where discipline is difficult if not almost impossible, and
individual attention is nearly impossible.
These are questions we ought to think about. We need to think about
In 2000, there were about 8 million school-age children--ages 5 to
17--of immigrants who had arrived since 1970, according to the Center
for Immigration Studies. This is roughly equal to the total growth in
elementary and secondary school enrollment over the last 20 years. If
we invite more immigrants into our public school system, we must
consider the absorption capacity of American public education. This
means that we will have to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to expand
our public education infrastructure. The current infrastructure is
being strained to the hilt.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that these new citizens, at
the very least, have access to the resources to become proficient in
the English language. The Census Bureau recently reported that nearly
one in five Americans does not speak English at home. Among Spanish
speakers, only half the adults described themselves as speaking English
well, and only two-thirds of the school-age children in Spanish-
speaking homes described themselves as speaking English very well. If
we accept these potential citizens, we have an obligation to help
ensure that they can assimilate themselves into our society.
Population growth will also continue to cause more and more land to
be developed. Both past experience and common sense strongly suggest
that population growth of this kind has important implications for the
preservation of farm land, open space, and the overall quality of life
throughout our country. A nation simply cannot add nearly 120 million
people to its population without having to develop a great deal of
There are also environmental concerns that must be considered. A
growing nation requires increasing amounts of energy and greater
recovery of natural resources, which results in larger output of
pollution in our streams and greater accumulations of solid waste in
Our resources, as never before, are limited. For all the talk we have
heard in recent months from the administration about liberalizing our
immigration laws, the President has not made any suggestions--I haven't
heard them if he has made any--about how to pay for the additional
infrastructure investments that will be required.
Just look around you. The infrastructure is being asked to bear far
more than the traffic will bear. Look at our schools. Look at our
hospitals. Look at our welfare programs.
Does the Administration want to increase taxes to support these
newcomers? We have been cutting taxes. How much of our limited
resources is the administration willing to sacrifice? At what price are
we willing to accept all of these new immigrants?
These are the questions that our immigration policy needs to address
if we are to offer a higher standard of living and a better life to the
immigrants that our nation accepts. Instead, the American public is
witnessing an immigration debate unfold that threatens to move this
nation's immigration laws in exactly the wrong direction.
Today the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, in addressing a joint
session of Congress, spoke about the need to regularize the flow of
migrant workers between the United States and Mexico. The Bush
Administration contends that we can regularize this migrant flow
through a new ``temporary worker'' program.
I assure you, that there is nothing new about ``temporary worker''
programs and the amnesties that usually accompany them. In fact, these
kinds of proposals have become a frightenly familiar routine in recent
years that have contradicted our immigration laws and sent exactly the
wrong message abroad.
In 1986, Congress granted an amnesty to 2.7 million illegal
immigrants, based on the promise that it would stem the tide of illegal
immigration when combined with a ban on the hiring of illegal
immigrants by employers. I supported that proposal, although it later
proved to be a false promise. Illegal immigration increased
More recently, there have been efforts by Congress to pass the so-
called 245(i) status adjustment, which would allow illegals--for a
$1,000 fee--to waive the requirement that would force them to leave the
country and effectively bars them from reentering the United States for
up to 10 years.
This kind of legislation, in particular, flies right in the face--
right in the face of the Congress' recent efforts to stop the flow of
illegal immigrants. The section 245(i) provision nullifies those
measures passed by the Congress that would punish immigrants who enter
this country illegally.
Not only is this legislation unfair to every immigrant--both present
and past--who waited to legally enter this country, but it sends the
message abroad that as long as you can gather together enough money,
you can circumvent our laws whenever they prove to be inconvenient.
State and local governments have not done much better at discouraging
illegal immigration. Many States are making it easier for undocumented
immigrants to apply for a driver's license, government health care
benefits, and lower state college tuition. None of these initiatives
will act as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
Let us continue to have legal immigration. Let us not offer
attractions to illegal immigration.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that there are
about 6 million illegal aliens living in the United States, a number
which increases by more than 200,000 per year. And these numbers are
based on 1997 population statistics. Once the Census 2000 population
statistics are available, immigration experts expect this number to
increase to somewhere between 8.5 million illegals and 13 million
illegals. That's double the estimated number of illegals in 1986.
The number of amnesties that have been proposed in recent years, and
the corresponding rise in illegal immigrants, suggests that something
is seriously wrong with this country's immigration laws. It suggests
that the basic framework either doesn't work or that we are not serious
about enforcing it.
I am amazed at the political support for these amnesty proposals. As
I say, I voted for them. I was misled.
Both political parties--Republican and Democrat--support broader
But no one is talking about the additional costs to the American
taxpayers. Not one is talking about the strain on our natural and
Building a political base is no reason to encourage illegal
immigration, nor is building up union membership, nor is importing
cheaper labor to replace U.S. workers. We must not glibly rush forward
on immigration policy without adequate thought about unintended
consequences, tangential ramifications or adequate public education and
debate. Whether this rush to loosen our enforcement of immigration laws
is due to jockeying for political advantage as cynics might contend, or
simply an outgrowth of commendable altruistic urges on the part of our
nation's political system, we need to step back, slow down and take a
serious look at our immigration policies.
I well understand that there are segments of the American economy
which profit greatly by the labors of illegal immigrants. I well
understand the human sorrows endured by immigrant families who cannot
earn an adequate living in their native land, and so must send a wage
earner across the border to work and establish a foot hold for future
generations. My experience growing up in the coal fields during the
years of the Great Depression was not too far afield from the immigrant
experience of today. I know extreme poverty. I know what it is to start
out life with the bottom rungs of life's ladder missing. I remember
being at the mercy of the coal company employer in the coalfields. I
understand the stigma of being undereducated, poor, and without the
bottom rungs in the ladder. I understand that. That is why I am so
concerned about the direction of our immigration policy of today.
I believe that not enough thought has been given and not enough
questions have been asked. I question the sincerity of our rush to
appease. Are we really acting in the best interests of the Mexican
immigrants or of our own citizens?
I have lived 84 years and one lesson that I have learned in my years
of observation and service is that the most precious commodity in
public policy is that of honesty--intellectual honesty.
I hope that this rush to further relax our immigration laws is not
just a competition for political advantage, but I fear that that is in
fact the driving force. If I am right, and ``votes ripe for plucking''
is driving the altruistic claims of both parties, I urge that we draw
back and face the ugly possibility of unintended exploitation of
foreign workers as the outcome of political jockeying for the Hispanic
In the first place there is no easily identifiable ``Hispanic vote.''
Cuban peoples, Mexican peoples, and other Latin peoples who may have
immigrated to the United States have radically different political
views and decidedly different priorities. In the second place hispanic
peoples who have resided in the United States for some years often
deplore the laxer rules which allow new immigrants easier access to
U.S. shores, and resent the unfortunate image which newer immigrants
may project. The Hispanic votes is not a monolith and it is an
insulting, shallow proposition to portray all people's of Latin descent
Then there is the question of honesty again. Are we not skating
dangerously close to falsehood when we politicians pretend that we can
handle these vast numbers of future immigrants in any sort of decent
and humane way? Anyone even vaguely familiar with the health care
system in this nation knows that it is inadequate to service our
present population and becoming more inadequate each day. Go visit the
hospitals in the area. How can we pretend that we can address even the
most mundane health care needs of these new immigrants?
We read about those needs in the newspapers--in the Washington Post
and the Washington Times. The stories are frequent in those newspapers
about the health needs, about the poverty, and about education
shortcomings. We are so stretched now that we cannot handle the present
load. Our infrastructure just simply can't handle it.
How can we pretend that our overcrowded, underachieving school system
can possibly deal with thousands of new immigrant children and come
even close to preparing them to cope with the competitive job market in
We are not being intellectually honest. We are not being honest with
the legal immigrants who are already in this country. We are not being
honest with these people.
We are not being honest with ourselves.
We can't assure these children an adequate education, and that is the
truth. Are we consigning these children to a sort of permanent
underclass when we fail to give them basic tools with which they can
achieve? The truth is, our American infrastructure--both physical and
human resource related--is 20 years behind, and falling further behind
with each passing year.
From everything to inadequate roads and transportation, to a health
care system that assists fewer and fewer people, to an education system
that fails to impart either discipline or knowledge, we need to face
the fact that our resources are limited. It is a sad yet very true fact
that we must all face. And we ought to think about it. I think these
are proper questions to ask. We are no longer a land of unlimited
possibilities because we no longer provide the basics which allow the
people to flourish. We have disinvested in our own Nation. We have
disinvested in our own people. The cupboard is not bare, but its
contents are decidedly skimpy, and it is a grave disservice to invite
the neighbors to a sumptuous feast at our house when we know that there
is nothing left in the cupboard, nothing to serve but poke greens and
salads that are cut from the hillside.
We risk turning a blind eye to the needs of our own Nation in future
years when we try to absorb huge, huge numbers of underskilled,
uninsured, undereducated immigrants without a cogent plan for handling
their needs and fostering their eventual assimilation into our own
We must not rush to appease the demands of our friends to the south
of our border without stopping to contemplate the consequences.
President Fox of Mexico has the responsibility of delivering on his
promise to the Mexican people of more jobs and a stronger economy. He
cannot look solely to the United States to solve his economic and
We must also proceed with caution when we advocate policies that
circumvent the intent of our own immigration laws. Those laws are
passed by the Congress of the United States and signed by a President
of the United States. Those laws are intended to allow for the orderly
absorption of immigrant populations, and to prepare that population to
become productive, participating English literate, United States
I can tell you Madam President, as the chairman of the Appropriations
Committee in the Senate and as a member of the Senate Budget
Committee--as is the distinguished Presiding Officer at this moment--we
do not have the infrastructure in place to absorb the number of
immigrants to whom this administration is seeking to open our borders.
It would be nice, it would be good, if we were able to solve the
economic problems of other countries and provide a higher standard of
living for people around the world--but, we cannot. This is no longer
the late 19th century or the mid 18th century. Our resources are more
limited today than they were a hundred years ago.
The Congress already faces enormous challenges in stretching our ever
shrinking financial resources--and they are ever shrinking. The
Congress will have to appropriate the 13 annual appropriations bills
this year with less than adequate resources to finance our
infrastructure needs. I am opposed to the further erosion and draining
of the limited resources that are available.
I did not vote for the tax cut. I vigorously opposed it. And my wife
and I are returning our check. And as resources shrink, we run the risk
of resentment, increasing resentment between those who are coming and
those who are here, and those are forces that we do not want to
We cannot be so generous that we strain our own resources to the
breaking point. And if we allow illegal Mexicans to come here, and to
stay, what about illegal immigrants from elsewhere? How can we be fair
to them if we do not treat them all alike? We cannot be so generous
that we strain our own resources to the breaking point.
It is time for us to think of the people of America, and their
children and their grandchildren. We need a national debate. We do not
need something that can be rushed through on the consent calendar. We
need a national debate on our immigration policies. The people out
there must seriously ask the politicians, what are the answers to these
questions that are being asked? They are legitimate questions. What are
We must seriously ask ourselves just how many more people our country
will be able to accommodate. This is not something, Madam President,
that should be rushed through Congress in 4 months or in 4 years,
without adequate debate. These are questions that should be thoroughly
Whatever proposal the President sends to Congress, it should be
debated at length in the Senate. The American people must know what
costs they are being asked to absorb. They must know what sacrifices
they are being asked to make. And legal immigrants should be asking the
same questions. What are the sacrifices they are supposed to make on
behalf of illegal immigrants? Those immigrants who have waited
patiently, knocking at the door, how do they feel about it? America is
a nation of immigrants. Our golden door should always be open to those
who seek refuge from oppression--``those huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.'' But we must not turn America's promise into a hollow
shell. It is well to remember that illegal immigrants don't just break
the law when they come here. They undermine the earning power of
America's workforce by reducing wages for the U.S. workforce who do not
have high school diplomas.
Madam President, in 1939, John Steinbeck's epic novel, the ``Grapes
of Wrath,'' was published. Its protagonists, the Joad family, traveled
from the Midwest to California, not to make their fortunes but merely
to survive as migrant workers. Through labor camps, hobo jungles, and
ruined farms westward to California, they faced a
peculiar kind of torment--the torment and isolation of hardship and
poverty amid plenty. Let us proceed with caution--I say this to my
political colleagues in this body, in the other body, and in the
executive branch, and in the State legislatures, in the counties, in
the towns and communities, cities across this Nation--let us proceed
with caution, lest we turn America's sweet promise of a cornucopia to
bitter grapes of wrath for us all, including our legal immigrants.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Nelson of Florida). The clerk will call
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. COCHRAN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. COCHRAN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that I may
proceed as in morning business for up to 10 minutes.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
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