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The Politics of Immigration

 

Cullum: We are turning now to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  You all know that Senator Hutchison has just won election to her third term in the Senate.  This is very good news for Texas.

Kay, as you all know, is a fine national senator.  She has moved up to number four in the leadership of her party, and no doubt will play a pivotal role in the rebuilding of the Republican Party.  She is a critical voice on the crucial issues facing the nation at the moment, but she also is a very fine senator for the constituents of Texas.  She takes very good care of her constituents, both in the aggregate as a state, and as individuals.

 

She was instrumental in the passage of the repeal of the Wright Amendment at Love Field, and she offered a very sensible compromise for immigration when the House and the Senate were at an impasse earlier this year.  She proposed that the Congress consider a guest worker program, a temporary worker program, after the president had certified that the border is secure.  It made a lot of sense, and it may very well come up again in the 110th Congress - I hope it does.

It seems to me, and I know that you agree, that Kay is capable of running anything, from the state to the nation, and we're very lucky to have her back in the Senate.  I think she's one of the most gifted politicians I have known, and even Kinky Friedman voted for her. I'm very pleased to introduce Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

 

Hutchison: Thank you.  This program may be the best and most timely subject that we have ever addressed at the Philosophical Society.  We are all lucky to be a part of this unique and wonderful organization, because it serves a different function from any of the others like it.

 

While reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin, I learned he started the American Philosophical Society in 1743.  Benjamin Franklin did that because they did not have many books back then, and he thought people could learn from the body of knowledge created by the gathering of individuals.  That is why he formed the American Philosophical Society.

 

When our founding fathers of Texas met in 1837, during the early years of the Republic of Texas, it was Mirabeau B. Lamar, Sam Houston, Thomas Rusk, Anson Jones and others who came together on much the same premise.  This was a young country, and they wanted to disseminate knowledge and create an education system, so they started the Philosophical Society of Texas that year.  It went by the wayside around 1859.  When Mirabeau B. Lamar was not president anymore, there was a gap.  But here in Dallas, a group from SMU reconstituted the Philosophical Society in 1936, and it has been active ever since.  We are very fortunate that our founding fathers started this organization and that the group from SMU revived it, because it has a flavor unlike any other institution in Texas.

 

Focusing on one issue, and particularly a timely one like immigration, is most enlightening.  I have listened to the presentations this morning, and some wonderful points have been made.  I am going to give you the more political, down-to-earth side of this issue.  The academics have the luxury, of course, of discussing this without ever having to vote on it.

 

In my 13 years in the United States Senate, this is the most difficult issue I have ever had to address.  It is complicated, it requires a delicate balance, and it is political.  Texas is a state that is one of the easiest to represent on every issue but this one.  While we are a diverse state, we are a state that has a basic philosophy that I am very comfortable to represent.  While representatives from other states are pulled in different directions, I do not feel pulled, except with the immigration issue.   

 

I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Cornyn, is also addressing you, because he has been a leader in this field since he came to the Senate.  He is actually Chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee, and he has made a huge mark.  He can offer a different perspective, because he was involved in the discussions and the debate surrounding the writing of the immigration bill.  He was also very active on the Senate floor when it was being debated.  Our lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, is also here, and he is going to be dealing with many of these issues as well.  You are going to be presented with the political facts, which I think are very important.

 

Throughout our country’s history, we have welcomed immigrants.  We have welcomed the poor and the huddled masses, and known that when people come here, they come for freedom, to make a better life, and to be part of America.  They did not come in the earliest years for “E Pluribus Pluribus.”  They came to be “E Pluribus Unum.”  They came to be part of this great country.

 

We must encourage people to celebrate their history and their ethnic backgrounds.  All of us do that.  We have traditions in our families that are passed down.  But we cannot forget that the fundamental tenet of this country is that we are one.  We are one.

 

During my time in the United States Senate, I have had more and more people and groups come to me and say, “I want you to take the position of my former country, whether it is in the best interest of the United States of America or whether it is in the best interest of our leadership in the world.”  That is something we must guard against, and we must fight against.  We must welcome people who come to our country legally, we must welcome people who are going to become part of our society, and we must provide avenues for them to come here.  We must also make sure that we are America, that they are Americans, and that they put America first in every way.

 

We have to come to grips with two different issues.  We have on one side illegal immigration, and almost an acceptance by some of illegal behavior that has populated our country with illegal immigrants.  This is at the lower end of the wage scale.  On the upper end of the scale, we also have to address the shortage of engineers, scientists, and others who are doing highly skilled jobs.  That has been largely forgotten as we have talked about immigration.  While we have both problems, they are problems that we can deal with and problems that we must deal with.  It will benefit our country to do so, but we must act appropriately.

 

Today we have 33-and-a-half million foreign workers in America.  Some people may say, “How can we absorb that many workers in our system?”  Well, today’s unemployment rate is near a four-decade low – 4.6 percent.

 

It was said very well by Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal that if you look at what immigrants do in our country, they spur jobs.  At the low end of the market, they are saving our declining industries.  They help us compete with foreign competition.  They also have children who generally strive to be successful.  Immigrants who come to this country in the lower wage scale tend to have children for whom they have dreams and for whom they provide the opportunity to realize those dreams.

 

But we have a system that does not work, because we do not have a viable guest worker program.  We have people living under the radar.  This cannot be healthy for us and cannot be healthy for them.  They do not play by the same rules.  Many of them do not pay income taxes.  Some do, but many do not.  Many of them drive cars that are uninsured, and that becomes a problem if there is an accident.  They are a huge cost in health care, and we know that because we know they use our emergency rooms for their primary health care if they are uninsured.  These issues would be better addressed if these individuals were legally present, above board, and within the rules by which everyone lives.

 

The issue that has now come into the mix, and the reason that we are now addressing an issue that should have been addressed years ago, is security.  Since 9/11, there have been security lapses.  There is no question about it.  We know that Osama Bin Laden has put out the word that the way to get into America is across the southern border.  We know that there are people penetrating our border.

 

Ninety-five percent of the people crossing our borders are generally law-abiding, but they have broken the law to get here.  They are looking for a better life.  But there are also the five percent who are criminals.  They are drug dealers, human traffickers, and potential terrorists.  It is our responsibility as members of the United States Congress to make sure that we have a secure border.  We have every right as a sovereign nation to protect the people of our country in this way.

 

With any immigration reform proposal, border security must be the place to start.  I have met with Hispanic organizations and officials, and I think it is unanimous among Hispanic-American groups and among everyone with whom I have talked that border security is legitimate, it is important, and it is a priority.  In addressing immigration reform, you have to start with border security.  We must do everything possible to make sure that our country has exercised this right of a sovereign nation. 

 

The plan I put forward came after the House of Representatives passed a security bill with no guest worker component, and the Senate passed a bill that included a guest worker program and border security measures, but it continued many other features that were just unacceptable.

 

The difference between the House and the Senate bills was stark, so I got together with Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.  I asked, “As a starting point for negotiations, can we put something together that can pass both the House and the Senate?”  Since bills had passed both houses, we wanted to give the conference committee a starting point.  We talked for a month, going through the priorities of each house as outlined in the basic tenets of each bill, and tried to determine what would be passable in each house.  We developed the Hutchison-Pence proposal as a place to begin conference negotiation. 

 

Our view was that you obviously had to first address border security, but you also had to have a guest worker program balanced with protection of the American worker.  You cannot allow foreign workers to come in at lower wages or without the same payroll deductions as an American worker, because naturally that would cause an employer to favor the foreign worker.  Protecting the American worker is our responsibility, and the foreign worker must also be treated fairly. 

 

The Hutchison-Pence plan has gotten terrific reviews, though not 100 percent, because there are people who want no guest worker program, and they do not like our plan.  They call any guest worker program amnesty.  Ours is not.  There are many people who think it does not go far enough.  There is not 100 percent support, but the Washington Post said it is a good place to start, and so did the Washington Times.  It has universal acceptance as a place to start, even if people think we should go farther or not quite so far.

 

It begins with border security, and it has specifics about the number of border patrol agents.  We say that there should be 12,000 border patrol agents.  We have around 6,000 now.  When I came to the United States Senate in 1993, I put forward a doubling of the border security force from about 3,000 to 6,000, but now we need at least 12,000.   We’re talking two borders now, not just the border with Mexico.  We’re also talking about a huge border with Canada.

 

Our plan also calls for 2,500 port of entry inspectors.  We have to remember that there is commerce between Mexico and the United States, as well as Canada and the United States.  We must have ports of entry inspectors to allow free access to the border.  If you have to wait two hours at a border station to get in, that does not foster commerce.  That is going to suppress commerce.

 

We also call for adding customs enforcement officials and using more technology.  We need surveillance cameras, infrared technology, and strategic fencing.  We are not going to have a 1,400 mile fence, but we do need fences in strategic places.

 

Congressman Sylvester Reyes was the border patrol chief in El Paso who put up the first fence, and it worked.  It was a two-mile fence in El Paso at strategic points where they needed to cover territory where they did not have enough people and cameras.  That worked very effectively and it started the process for putting in the next fence in San Diego, which was the next place that needed an extra barrier.  If we use common sense, we understand that there are places where we need fences.  There are also many places where do not need them, and they should not be erected because the geography is wrong.  I have told my colleagues in Washington, D.C., and so has Senator Cornyn, that we’re not going to tell the people of Laredo that we are going to put a Bastille on the banks of the Rio Grande.  It is part of their city and their culture, and they have development there.  There are many issues here, and we must use common sense with the goal of border security.

 

We must have a guest worker program that works.  Our proposal is based on the Canadian guest worker program.  It is essential that we find a way to allow for guest workers who are treated fairly and who have a good feeling about working in our country without forcing a citizenship track upon them.  When I speak to people along the border or to Hispanic groups, they say that not everyone wants to become a citizen of the United States.  Even if they like America and want to have the opportunity to work here, they do not necessarily want to give up allegiance and ties to their country, and they do not necessarily want to stay here permanently.

 

The Canadian system has been in place for many years and has worked very well.  It is an agreement between Mexico and Canada.  My proposal is based on that system, but it does have some differences.  It would require Ellis Island Centers, which would be private employment agencies licensed by the Department of Labor, to set up in those foreign countries where workers seek to come to our country.  In our proposal, the NAFTA-CAFTA-DR countries that have a working trade relationship with the United States would be eligible.  This is a starting point, but it encompasses the nations from which 90 percent of illegal immigrant workers come.  Ellis Island Centers in these countries would match willing workers with employers who need workers.  The Secretary of Labor would first certify that there is a need for workers in a particular field, giving Americans a chance to do these jobs before employers seek foreign workers.

 

Applicants would undergo a criminal background check and a public health check.  They would then be issued what we call a Good Neighbor SAFE Visa, a tamper-proof visa that is good for two years and renewable five times for a total of 12 years.  This would allow workers to come into our country and allow employers to be sure that the visa was absolutely legal and non-transferable. 

 

It is so easy to beat up on employers and say, “We ought to crack the whip on employers who hire illegal aliens.”  But if any of you have been an employer, you know that you can look at a counterfeit Social Security card and it can look absolutely legitimate.  There are so many Social Security cards that are not legal and valid, and many times you have no way of knowing they are counterfeit.  That is why it is so important to give employers the tools to know that they have a legal worker before we start cracking down on them.  There has been a disconnect with the real world in this instance until now. 

 

A person could leave the system anytime.  But after 12 years, if the person has had all of the renewals and is still eligible for the program, they would be eligible for a permanent work visa without having to apply for future renewals.  This would be valid for as long as they wanted to work here. It would be a permanent card called an X-visa, or exchange-visa.  After five years in the permanent program, if they decided they wanted to apply for a green card, then they could do it, but it would not be required.  After 17 years, if they wanted to stay here and go into the citizenship route, they would then be eligible.  However, they would not be forced into the citizenship track as required by the immigration bill that passed the Senate.

 

There has to be an avenue for people to come here and still have the option of returning home after being compensated and well treated.  This proposal does not shut out options available under the present law.  If you want to wait and enter the existing citizenship route, that is still available.  We are just offering another opportunity to people who want to get into the system more quickly from outside the country and come in legally.

 

Once a verification system is put in place, which would be necessary for this to work, employers will start favoring those with the tamper-proof visa.  This would provide closure, as employers will opt for legal workers and force those who are here illegally to go home and if they choose to return, do so legally.  This is necessary in order to have a guest worker program in which everyone is legal.  Because applicants have to apply in their home country to become legal, this program is not amnesty.  Workers accepted into the program would be coming into the country legally.

 

Here are the parameters of the program.  Workers would have the same deductions from their salaries as everyone working here, but they would not be eligible for Social Security, welfare, nor unemployment compensation.  Their Social Security deductions would be kept in a fund, and they would be allowed to take the contributions with them when they leave the program and go back home.  They would have this for their nest egg, their retirement, or whatever use they choose, and it would have come from their paycheck.

 

Their Medicare withholding would go into a fund to pay for health care costs for foreign workers not covered by their employers.  This would help stop the drain on public hospitals and health care providers by providing a fund from which they could draw to offset the cost of treating undocumented foreign workers.  It would also provide workers the ability to be treated if they are not covered by their employers.  There is a fund that was put in place two years ago which partially compensates health care providers for treating illegal immigrants.  This has been helpful to our public hospitals and very much needed, but it does not cover the full cost, and we need to improve that.

 

Once the verification system is in place, the legal workers will be preferred.  Employers will have no incentive to hire illegal entrants.

 

I was very encouraged that President Calderon said he wants to increase job opportunities and investment in Mexico.  He was educated in America, and he knows what is required to attract investment in Mexico, to keep people there, and to provide proper training.  That is a major step in the right direction, and I hope that he can accomplish that goal because no country wants their people to be leaving in droves.  No president can be happy with that, particularly when the people who are coming here are the entrepreneurs who are going to go for it even when it is tough and even if it is hard.  He wants to keep people in Mexico, and he should.  It will help the economy of Mexico immensely to become more equivalent with ours.  The draw will not be so strong if he can do that, and that starts with a good education system that works.

 

What was said here earlier regarding highly educated immigrants is absolutely true, and it has been documented in a study called “Rising Above The Gathering Storm.”  This study was commissioned by the National Academies of Science and headed by Norm Augustine.  It concludes that we are losing our magnet-like appeal to the best minds around the world.  In the past, we have attracted the most talented individuals because this is where they could do their research and work in freedom.  There was a year in which all of the Noble Prizes for sciences were given to Americans who were foreign-born – every one that year.  It would benefit us to keep that stature for a variety for reasons, yet we have not. 

 

There is a bill that has been introduced, of which I am a co-sponsor and Lamar Alexander from Tennessee is also co-sponsor, called the SKIL (Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership) Act.  It increases opportunities for people to come to our country to pursue advanced degrees with a focus in science and math, and it does not discourage them from staying here after they earn their advanced degrees.  It has been harder since 9/11 for our colleges and universities to get students in from foreign countries.

 

For one thing, colleges and universities did not have systems to document that students arrived and stayed in their system.  That was one of the security risks that had to be closed.  Now we are beginning to again attract the top students while having a system that ensures that they are enrolled in their university and remain in the program, for which their visa has been issued.

 

We want to attract those students, because it is a win for everyone.  If we have foreign students come here and stay, they enrich our society, and if they leave, then they are going home as great believers in America.  They have friendships and ties with America.  We want to keep that kind of growth in our society.

 

The SKIL Act addresses some of the concerns that were highlighted in the “Rising Above The Gathering Storm” report.  I believe Congress, in a very bipartisan way, is going to pass that bill.   We are going to increase H1B visas for highly qualified technical workers.  We also want to offer more opportunities to encourage our young people to earn math, science, and engineering degrees.  There are many incentives in the legislation we have introduced to encourage our young people from middle and high school to take the courses needed to then go into these college programs.

 

Very few – under 10 percent – of American high school graduates have done the prerequisite study for engineering.  We have to make sure our young people are encouraged to take those courses.  We must also encourage people who have majors in those fields to teach in high school.  We have an incentive for that, and we also have an incentive for high school teachers to go back and earn graduate degrees in fields such as chemistry, physics, and math.  I absolutely believe that we will be able to take on these issues in the next Congress because there is complete bipartisan agreement that these are issues that we must face.

 

We do have challenges.  We have to find a legal way for foreign nationals to come into the country and to be part of our economy, and to bring in workers to do the work that Americans are not doing in agriculture and in service industries.  We must also secure our borders so we know who is in our country and so we can continue to protect our people.  We know that there are still people who want to come in to the United States and kill Americans, and it is our job to see that we do everything possible not to allow that to happen.

 

We also need to make sure that people with high potential have an avenue and incentive to come.  We need to increase our higher education facilities to accommodate more students to fill the good jobs.  Last but not least, we must make sure that we keep “E Pluribus Unum.” We must make sure that Americans want to be Americans, and that they never put their former country ahead of the interests of our country and our place in the world.  We need to assure that we continue to welcome immigrants to our country as we always have.  Thank you very much.

 

 

Cullum: Kay, congratulations.  Obviously you have put a huge amount of thought and effort and time on this very issue.  We are all grateful as always that you are in Washington and doing such a fine job.  There is a grandmother I know in Colorado who emigrated from Mexico quite some time ago who has had her children and grandchildren here but is not legal.  She is washing dishes.  How does she become legal, what is her avenue, and how do we work with this person and the almost 10 million like her?

 

Hutchison: She would be able to have an expedited process to go home to Mexico, go to one of the Ellis Island centers, and apply for the job that is available.  She would be able to be matched to an employer.  If she has 10 years experience in a restaurant, that restaurant would be able to match her to their position so they could keep her as an experienced worker.  But she would have to go back and apply.  I would envision a two-week process, and I don’t think that would be onerous at all because many of the immigrants do go home for two weeks a year, or more.  The Ellis Island Centers would be established while the borders are being secured so once the border is certified secure, those systems would be in place for people who want to come here legally. Applicants could go home for two weeks and have the public health test and criminal background check.

 

Cullum: Who would pay for that?

 

Hutchison: The employer.

 

Male Speaker: Thank you for a wonderfully intelligent, thorough and politically grounded presentation.  I wanted to take up the last point about the emphasis on bringing in people from abroad through science, engineering, and technology.  I have read all of the versions of Charles Miller’s Department of Education report on Higher Education that came out between June and August, and one of the things that concerned me was the emphasis almost exclusively on these three categories.  I was at the National Security Agency giving a talk on decipherment theory last December, and when I sat down for lunch almost everyone around the table at the NSA that I was dealing with were people trained in the humanities; they were trained in classical languages, they were trained in history and so forth.  And one of the critical areas we heard mentioned earlier today included even bilingual high school teachers.  Is the next stage going to be looking at other areas we can open up, such as people who could make us better aware of Arabic culture, foreign cultures and histories, and also just the basic languages?  You know there is a big problem getting Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers to even interpret the intelligence they do there.  So is that on the table?  Is that something that was discussed?

 

Hutchison: It was not discussed in this particular report because they were asked to look at the science and engineering shortages.  But it is an excellent point.  One thing that we have already done to address part of that is providing Pell Grant enhancements for young people who will agree to major in science, engineering, and languages that we are in need of having more people speak.  Arabic is certainly one of those, but your point is beyond that, and it’s a good one.  We also need more people to be able to come in with those skills and the knowledge of the culture.  If there is anything that has become crystal clear, it is that we did not understand the culture well enough to do the follow through in the War on Terror, particularly in Iraq.  That is a very valid point, and when we are looking at H1B visas, which would be part of this, I am going to take that back and incorporate it.  We have tried to bring people in to speak Arabic, and I think we need to have more in the area of understanding the culture, too.

 

Male Speaker: Senator, I'm Eduardo Rodriguez from Brownsville. Senator, two things.  I applaud you for your thoughts on this problem.  Does your bill include people who have come in illegally?  Would they be ineligible for the guest worker program?  Number two, with respect to those who have been here some 15 or 20 years, would you consider setting up those kinds of Ellis Island places of employment for those people here in the United States, so they would not have to travel to Mexico?  There is a great fear among some of those people who have been here for many years that if they go back, they can never come back.

 

Hutchison: We would envision that if you were here with a job illegally that you would be able to go back to your country of origin and be able to come back in after passing the health and criminal background checks.  That is why some people call it amnesty.  I do not think it is amnesty if there are people who wait to apply legally or if people who have been here apply legally in their home country.  I think that is how you get a handle on the system.  There definitely is the fear for people who have been here that if they go home, they will never get back.  We have to overcome that by showing that the system works.  I think when people start coming in with the tamper-proof visas legally, they will be the preferred employees hired.  I also think that when people see that happening, they will see that that is the way to start accumulating your own Social Security contribution.  Today people are here illegally with a false card, and they are getting no credit for their contributions that are being taken out of their paychecks, so there will be an incentive for them.  They will see that it works because after the program is up and going for a period of years a verification system will begin, and every employer will be required to show that their employees are all legal workers.  You will have the incentive when people see that it works. Then, you will have the willingness for people to go back, and now they will have that opportunity.  Secondly, the Ellis Island Centers will be American companies.  They will be private employment agencies contracted by the American government, so you would be able to have an American company with an employment agency in Dallas, Texas, with an arm in Nuevo Laredo.  The worker would then be able to have the application process start in Dallas, Texas, and then go to Nuevo Laredo to do the final background check and public health check to come back in.  I think you will have the ability to do this efficiently once it’s up and going.

 

Female Speaker: Senator, Carolyn King from Houston. I was curious about how you are going to define for purposes of this act, a secure border.  You spoke in terms of 12,000 border patrol agents, various other types of agents, and better equipment.  Is it in terms of goals like that or is it in terms of the border patrol’s getaway rate and their estimate of how many people come into the country and do not get caught?  It is a pretty high rate.  So, is it in terms of certain levels that you are going to establish once we get this border enforcement level or is it in terms of the getaway rate?

 

Hutchison: What we would do is set out what we believe to be the requirements for securing the border, which would be 12,000 border control agents, DEA agents, et cetera.  Then when the President certifies that those things have been done, that is the certification.  It cannot be subjective, because you might never get there.  We set out those parameters.  A lot of people think that we have made no progress, but we have made progress.  We have added a lot of resources to the criminal justice system at the federal level in West Texas and South Texas because dealing with illegal immigration was straining the counties in those areas.  But we have also added detention beds to stop the catch-and-release program, because if people come in from anywhere but Mexico, you cannot just turn them back to Mexico.  Mexico has no responsibility to take a Salvadoran.  We have not had the detention space to hold people until we could process them back to their home country.  That has caused a huge number of people to come in, and say, “I’m from El Salvador,” and they are let go and usually never seen again.  Those people now will be detained until all of the proper procedures have been put in place to send them back.  That is going to be part of a system that secures the border against all illegal entry.  We have people coming in who are from China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.  We have a lot of different types of illegal immigrants, besides Mexican illegal immigrants.  Thank you.