THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week I am traveling in Europe, where I am meeting with world leaders to discuss ways to address challenges like climate change, to work together to combat diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS and help advance freedom throughout the world.
Back at home, America is engaged in an important discussion about immigration. Most Americans agree that the 1986 immigration law failed. It failed because it did not secure our border, it did not include tough worksite enforcement, it did not help people assimilate, and it encouraged more people to come here illegally.
Today, illegal immigration is supported by criminal enterprises dedicated to document forgery, human trafficking, and labor exploitation. This is unacceptable, and we need to fix it in a way that honors our finest traditions.
People have strong feelings on this issue. I believe we can express our feelings, disagree on certain elements, and still come together on a solution. We can accomplish that through the bipartisan Senate bill. It is based on months of negotiation. The result is legislation that puts border security first, establishes a temporary worker program to meet the legitimate needs of our growing economy, sets up a mandatory system for verifying employment eligibility and resolves the status of the estimated 12 million people who are here illegally. If this bill becomes law, America will finally have in place a system that addresses all these problems — and can be adjusted to address future problems that may arise.
I understand the skepticism some members of Congress have regarding certain aspects of this legislation. Like any legislation, this bill is not perfect. And like many senators, I believe the bill will need to be further improved along the way before it becomes law. In the heat of the debate, critics and supporters can sometimes talk past each other. So I want to speak to members about some of the concerns I have heard.
I know some of you doubt that the federal government will make good on the border security and enforcement commitments in this bill. My administration is determined to learn from the mistakes of the past decades. And that is why we are now committing more resources than ever before to border security, doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, building hundreds of miles of fencing, and employing advanced technology, from infrared sensors to unmanned aerial vehicles. The bill builds on this progress by requiring that we meet border security objectives before certain other provisions can take effect.
This bill also addresses other problems with the 1986 reform. Unlike the 1986 law, this bill includes a temporary worker program to ensure that those who come here to work do so in a legal and orderly way. Unlike the 1986 law, this bill gives honest employers the tools they need to ensure that they are hiring legal workers — beginning with a tamper-resistant identity card. Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens will be punished. Workers who come here illegally will be sent home. And unlike the 1986 law, this bill does not grant amnesty for those who are already here.
Amnesty is forgiveness with no penalty for people who have broken our laws to get here. In contrast, this bill requires illegal workers to pay a fine, register with the government, undergo background checks, pay their back taxes and hold a steady job. And if at the end of eight years they want to apply for a green card, they will have to pay an additional substantial fine, show they have learned English and return to their home country so they can apply from there. In short, they will have to prove themselves worthy of this great land.
I also want to say a word to those in Congress concerned about family unification. This bill will create a merit-based point system that recognizes the importance of family ties by granting points to some applicants who have family members here legally. More than half of new green cards will go to family members, immigrants will be allowed to bring in their spouses and minor children, and we will clear the backlog for millions of people who have been waiting patiently in line.
Securing the border and upholding family values are not partisan concerns. They are important to all Americans. They must be addressed, and this bill is the best way to do it. I urge Senator Reid to act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote, and I urge Senators from both parties to support it.
The immigration debate has divided too many Americans. By coming together, we can build an immigration system worthy of this great Nation — one that keeps us safe and prosperous, welcomes dreamers and doers from across the globe, and trusts in our country's genius for making us all Americans — one nation under God.
Thank you for listening.