Good morning. This week, Senate leaders introduced revised legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. I thank leaders from both parties for their bipartisan effort to fix our immigration system so it can meet the needs of our Nation in the 21st century.
As the Senate takes up this critical bill, I understand that many Americans have concerns about immigration reform — especially about the federal government's ability to secure the border. So this bill puts the enforcement tools in place first. And it means more Border Patrol agents, more fencing, more infrared cameras and other technologies at the border. It also requires an employee-verification system based on government-issued, tamper-proof identification cards that will help employers ensure that the workers they hire are legal.
Only after these enforcement tools are in place will certain other parts of the bill go into effect. To make sure the government keeps its enforcement commitment, the bill includes $4.4 billion in immediate additional funding for these border security and worksite enforcement efforts.
The bill also addresses other problems with immigration enforcement. Right now, our laws are ineffective and insufficient. For example, crossing the border illegally carries weak penalties. In addition, participation in illegal gangs is not enough to bar admission into our country. And when we cannot get other countries to accept the return of their citizens who are dangerous criminals, in most cases our government can only detain these aliens for six months before releasing them into society.
This is unacceptable. The bill before the Senate addresses these problems. Under this bill, those caught crossing illegally will be permanently barred from returning to the United States on a work or tourist visa. Under this bill, anyone known to have taken part in illegal gang activity can be denied admission to our country. And under this bill, we will be able to detain aliens who are dangerous criminals until another country accepts their return.
These enforcement measures are a good start. Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border. Hundreds of thousands of people come here illegally because our current work visa program does not match the needs of a growing and dynamic economy. To discourage people from crossing our border illegally, this bill creates an orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country legally to work on a temporary basis.
With this program in place, employers will have a practical system to fill jobs Americans are not doing — and foreign workers will have a legal way to apply for them. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in. And that will leave border agents free to chase down drug dealers, human traffickers, and terrorists.
Once the border security and worksite enforcement benchmarks are met, the bill will resolve the status of 12 million people who are now in our country illegally. Under this bill, these workers will be given an opportunity to get right with the law. This is not amnesty. There will be penalties for those who come out of the shadows. If they pass a strict background check, pay a fine, hold a job, maintain a clean criminal record, and eventually learn English, they will qualify for and maintain a Z visa. If they want to get a green card, they have to do all these things — plus pay an additional fine, go to the back of the line, and return to their country to apply from there.
This bill provides an historic opportunity to uphold America's tradition of welcoming and assimilating immigrants and honoring our heritage as a Nation built on the rule of law. We have an obligation to solve problems that have been piling up for decades. The status quo is unacceptable. We must summon the political courage to move forward with a comprehensive reform bill. By acting now, we can ensure that our laws are respected, that the needs of our economy are met, and that our Nation treats newcomers with dignity and helps them assimilate.
I urge members of both parties to support comprehensive immigration reform. By working together, we can pass this good bill — and build an immigration system worthy of our great Nation.
Thank you for listening.