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Migration and the New Congress

 

Cullum: Our next speaker is one of the most influential voices in the country when it comes to immigration.  Senator John Cornyn chairs the Immigration Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He is absolutely central to any effort to pass a reform bill on this subject, and he has proposed more than one bill over the past few years, and these are bills that make very good sense.  I think he has just moved into, is it number five in the leadership of the Republican Party, so we should be very proud, as Texans, to have number four and five be senators from Texas. He too will be involved in the rebuilding of the party and the re-emergence of the Republican Party in Washington and across the country.

I also want to say that he has been quoted in a very sensible way recently - and I hope The New York Times quoted you correctly, Senator - they were talking about the great wall that everybody is discussing to go along the U.S.-Mexico border, the 700-mile wall, and he said that he wasn't sure that the $2- to $9 billion it might cost would be the most economical use of that money.  He also pointed out that it's a long road from authorization to actual appropriation, and I think that makes very good sense.

 

So listen carefully to what he has to say.  Even in a minority position in the new Congress, the 110th Congress, I don't think anything important will happen without his effort and his support.  And we're very happy to have you here today.  Thanks, Senator.

 

Cornyn: One of the first phrases I learned when I went to serve in the United States Senate four years ago - given my junior status, I was number 99 out of 100 when I started - is this phrase which I think is appropriate for the time on the agenda in which I'm speaking.  The phrase is this:  Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet.

 

My task this afternoon is not only to rouse you from your post-luncheon slumbers, but to try to talk about this issue in a way that hasn't already been discussed, maybe from a little bit different perspective, and one that will help shed a little bit of light and maybe provide some food for thought on what I believe is the single most important domestic issue that faces our country today.

 

In many ways the challenge is how we achieve an immigration system that reflects American values and reflects American interests.  Of course, we know - and Senator Hutchison spoke to this subject - in a post 9-11 world the environment has changed.  Just last year, out of the 1.1 million people that were detained coming across our international border with Mexico, 160,000 of them came from countries other than Mexico, so-called OTMs, Other Than Mexicans.

 

Well, the fact is we do have a broken and porous border along our southern border, but if you think ours is bad, just look at Mexico's southern border and Mexican officials acknowledge this up front.  And so what I hear from my constituents, as I travel in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas and El Paso and all along the border is people are worried because they can no longer assume that the people who are coming across their ranches and across their property along the border, they can no longer assume they're just immigrants who want to come and work and want a better life.

 

Matter of fact, recently I had the occasion to talk to one of my friends from Houston who owns a ranch along the border, and he said, “The border patrol came to my ranch house the other day and told me they had detained twelve people; guess what country they were from?”  I said, “I don't know, where were they were from?”  He said, “Albania.”

 

The fact of the matter is because of Mexico's porous southern border, Central America, South America, Mexico have become literally a land bridge for illegal immigration into the United States.  That, I believe, along with the post 9-11 consciousness we have about our vulnerability to those who would exploit such things, really, I think, has caused more people to focus on our immigration system and broken borders than perhaps we have in the past.

 

The problem is, of course, you know we've been there before.  Many people remember 1986 which was supposed to be the very last amnesty, the solution to all of our problems.  Matter of fact, I would commend for your reading an op-ed in The New York Times that Ed Meese wrote[i].   He was the attorney general, to then Ronald Reagan, who signed an amnesty for 3 million people.  The tradeoff was supposed to be - and I'm just summarizing here - Ed Meese said the tradeoff was supposed to be an immigration enforcement system that actually worked.  But we got an amnesty for 3 million people and we got virtually no enforceable immigration system.  And so I think many people come to this debate skeptical of the federal government's commitment to deal with this problem, and I think, unfortunately, with good reason.

 

So my goal, simply as an individual member of the United States Senate:  How can we achieve an immigration system that reflects our national values and reflects our national interests?  Well, I think, as Senator Hutchison said this morning, you certainly have to start with security - that is the single most important element of the federal government's responsibility.  She mentioned her ideas, many of which I share completely.  We need to at least double the number of border patrol agents.

 

Do you know how many police officers there are in New York City?  About 40,000.  And you can reflect upon the number of people we have along our 2,000-mile border and understand why, notwithstanding their professionalism and their good work, they're overwhelmed. And yes, there may be some need for physical barriers in hard to control places, but no one believes that a 700-mile fence is a complete solution to our problems.

 

I happen to think that technology is a substantial part of the answer here, and you know what, we don't have to start from scratch to figure out what kind of technology might work because the Department of Defense is using that technology now in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, everything ranging from ground sensors to thermal imagery cameras to night vision technology, to unmanned aerial vehicles that can create a technological web that will allow our border patrol agents and other law enforcement professionals to secure our southern border.

 

Now, of course, some are skeptical, and I understand way, of our ability to do that while we maintain the open access for legal commerce and trade that's so important to our economy and to who we are as a state and nation, but I think we can do it.  I believe that deterrence, of course, has to be credible.  One of the problems we've had is the catch and release program because we simply have neglected over the last 20 years to build the infrastructure and the capacity necessary to provide for a secure border.

Let me just give you one example.  You heard me mention the number of people who have been detained just last year alone from countries other than Mexico, 160,000.  Well, you would perhaps be surprised to know that we only have about 20,000 detention beds for people to be detained, and on average, it has taken anywhere from 30 to 60 days to process individuals who've come from countries other than Mexico back to their countries.

 

So what has happened, to further compound people's skepticism, and some would say cynicism about some of the proposed efforts to deal with this issue is the Department of Homeland Security had for a long time a so-called catch and release program.  Now, this is releasing people on their own recognizance, asking them to come back 30 days hence for their deportation hearing.  Well, you're not surprised - I can tell by your reaction - to know that only a fraction of those who are asked to return did so, the rest melted into the American landscape, and I've always wondered about those who did return.

 

They must have known that we did not have the capacity at the time to actually enforce the law and actually locate them and to deal with that problem.  Well, it's somewhat humorous but it's also a terrible shame that the federal government has neglected this issue for such a long time and has allowed this sort of cynicism and skepticism to creep into our need to deal with this very real problem.

 

Let me just share one other sort of frightening number with you, and then move on to perhaps some other issues.  It may surprise you to know that there are about 500,000 so-called civil and criminal absconders who have had their day in court for violation of immigration laws and who have not shown up for their court date, but simply, again, like the catch and release folks I mentioned a moment ago, melted into the American landscape.  These are people who've already had their day in court, as I say, but defied the lawful judgment of our courts and gone their own way. Of those individuals, 80,000 are criminal absconders, people found guilty of crimes which subject them to deportation, but have simply gone on the lam, and we cannot, given our current capacity, locate them and make sure that justice is meted out.

 

Well, I believe that we have an immigration system that is out of control, that's broken, does not meet our needs or our interests.  At bottom, I think what frustrates people so much is they know we are a nation of immigrants, we all know that, everybody in this room, perhaps without any exception, came from somewhere else at some time in the last couple hundred years, somewhere down your family tree, and we are a better nation for it.  We are the nation that has benefitted the most from the brain drain from the rest of the world; from the people who have been the best and the brightest, the risk-takers, the people that are willing to risk life itself to come to America for a better life.

 

But our immigration system has always been one that has believed in assimilation and the melting pot that has made us so great.  You know, we are perhaps the only nation in the world that it doesn't really make any difference where you came from originally or how you pronounce your last name, as long as you're committed to American values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and to the concept embedded in who we are in our DNA that believes in equal justice and equal treatment under the law.

 

That has been the sort of platform that people have come to when they came to America and worked hard, taken advantage of the opportunity they've had, and simply embraced that concept in their hearts and become Americans, and that has made us the envy of the world.

You know, I have to tell you that when I hear people talk about what's wrong in the United States, I agree, we're not perfect.  We killed 600,000 people in our Civil War, for too long we denied African-Americans equal status in our society, we denied women the right to vote, but you know what, ultimately in 2006, people are voting with their feet when they want to come to America to have a better life.  And I guess maybe in a perfect world we would say it would be great if we could accept anybody and everybody who wants to come to America and they could have what we have, perhaps by accident of our own birth, but unfortunately, we all recognize that a human tsunami like that would swamp our nation, would make it impossible to continue assimilating people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world, and would make it impossible for the melting pot concept - which has been so important to who we are - to work.

So what I think people are telling me and what I sincerely believe is we need to have some standards, we need to have some reasonable policy that determines who can lawfully come to the United States.  And again, it ought to be based on American self-interest.  I'm sorry, but that's what I believe.  And so we need to look at things like Canada's and Australia's point system where they determine 60 to 70 percent of immigration based on the attributes and qualifications of the immigrant.  Sixty to 70 percent of the visas are based upon characteristics that those countries find desirable among the immigrant population that they say we need you, please come to our country and become one of us.

 

In America, it might also interest you to know, that only about 16 percent of our visas are issued based on similar considerations.  The rest is family-based migration, and yes, we want families to stay together, but I think it raises a very interesting issue, a very important and pertinent issue about what kind of immigration system really reflects America's national interests.  That's why I believe it's so important to provide the kind of incentives that Senator Hutchison talked about this morning in the SKIL Bill[ii] to attract the best and the brightest, to continue to attract them to our schools and our universities so they can study.

 

I believe, like Thomas Friedman said, we ought to staple a green card to graduate degrees in math, science and engineering and encourage those folks to stay here, because the alternative is if we're unable to develop enough of our own brainpower domestically in some of those key areas, and we're unable to admit more foreign students and encourage them to stay here, we're going to see more and more of those jobs, along with the economic activity associated with them, outsourced to other countries where those people with those qualifications and attributes exist.

 

I also happen to believe that we need an effective guest worker program, here again, based upon American interests.  Clearly, as Jack Hunt and the panel talked about this morning, we have to have a guest worker program that provides an opportunity for individuals who want to come to the United States, who are willing to be screened, who are willing to pay taxes and play by the rules to do so to satisfy the demand that this big booming American economy has for that workforce.

 

I think perhaps the worst part about our current situation is that illegal immigration harms the immigrant perhaps more than anyone else because these are the same people who are turning their lives over to coyotes and other human smugglers, perhaps to die in the back of a cattle trailer in Victoria, Texas, when the law enforcement shows up and the coyote runs and leaves people to die in the back of 120-degree temperatures in the back of a cattle trailer.  That's the kind of conditions that exist, unfortunately, under an illegal immigration system.

 

Immigrants who are afraid to go to law enforcement when they're the subject of domestic violence or an assault or when their employer doesn't pay them for their lawful wages that they've earned, they're the ones who are exploited.  And so that is why I believe it is in the interest of the immigrants who are exploited under the status quo for us to create a legal system, as well as allowing America to once look ourselves in the mirror again and say yes, we are a nation of immigrants and we're proud of that, but you know what, we are also a nation of laws.  And we believe that there is no problem too big or too hard for us to try to figure out and to do our best.  We're not going to be perfect but we are going to create a system that is going to reflect American interests and American values.

 

I think the worst part about the status quo, of course, is that it tolerates so much illegality within our midst, and you'll have to forgive me, as a former judge and attorney general, I'm very worried that we find ourselves in - I guess it was James Q. Wilson that talked about the broken windows concept where cities, in order to deal with big problems had to deal with petty crimes like broken windows and graffiti because they realized that if you allow individuals to determine which laws are important and which laws are unimportant, then that confides in the individual the authority to make a decision on what they're going to comply with and what they're not.

 

I think we suffer as a nation if we have a society that says yes, some laws are important, but you know what, if it's inconvenient, if it's not advantageous, you can ignore these other laws.  So I think it is our responsibility, those of us who you have entrusted with the duty to represent you, with the honor and privilege of representing you in the halls of Congress, to sit down, roll up our sleeves and figure out what kind of immigration system really does reflect America's interests and values, and I think we can do it if we have the political will.

 

But what we can't do is repeat what happened in 1986, and I know there's a lot of debate about what constitutes amnesty and what doesn't constitute amnesty, but I have to tell you, I honestly believe that if we will do our very best to create a border security system that will allow us to determine who's coming into our country and why they're here, close off the ability of those folks to come here illegally, while opening the doors wide open to lawful commerce and trade and legal visitors, if we will create a system that will allow employers to determine who is eligible to work and who is not eligible to work by creating the kind of tamper-proof and secure identification card that will allow employers without having to be a forensic document examiner make that determination, if we will create a guest worker program to satisfy the huge supply of individuals who want to come to America simply to provide for their family and put food on the table while at the same time provide our employers with a legal workforce to allow them to satisfy their legitimate concerns, I think the American people will be enormously generous in terms of resolving what I believe is the single most difficult issue in this whole debate.

 

And that is one which we really haven't talked much about to this point, and that is what you do with the 12 million people who are already here.  Well, according to the Pew Hispanic Center that provides great data on this whole subject - I commend it to you, commend the organization to you and their research - they estimate that about 6 million of the 12 million people who are here, either who came illegally - that is, in violation of our immigration laws - or came legally and overstayed-  interestingly, about 45 percent of illegal immigration is people who came legally but who've overstayed - they estimate out of about the 12 million people who are here in that condition, about 6 million have either American citizen spouses or American citizen children.

 

Now, you tell me whether the American people are going to support a program that says all 12 million of those people, including the 6 million with American citizen spouses or children, have to be deported.  I have a difficulty accepting that and the will to make that actually happen.  I do believe there are also, by the process of definition, a lot of single adult individuals who've come to the United States who want to work and perhaps are not necessarily interested in permanently immigrating to the United States.

 

And I believe we need to create our guest worker program to accommodate both the demand, as I said a moment ago, and the supply, but also to restore what our friends in Mexico call circularity of migration that has historically exited between our two countries.  In other words, people would come, and have come for many, many, many years to the United States to work on a temporary basis and then return home with the savings and skills they've acquired working in the United States, send remittances home in the interim.  And paradoxically, what has made that harder to do is the emphasis on border security and some of our immigration laws which create a bar if you come and you've violated one of the immigration laws, you're no longer eligible to participate in a legal program of immigration.

 

We need to create a mechanism that will allow that circularity of migration to be restored.  It's in our best interests, for the reasons I've described, but if you think about it, it's also in the interests of countries like Mexico that are net exporters of human capital.  I don't know of any nation in the world that can long sustain the permanent exodus of its young workers - our nation couldn't do it.

 

And we need to help Mexico create conditions through our laws that are in our interests but also in the interests of Mexico that allow people to come work for a period of time and then return home with the savings and skills they've acquired working in the United States, as we continue to encourage Mexico to open up its economy to foreign investment, to reform its oil and gas sector by allowing foreign investment there, by encouraging them to eliminate the monopolies in telecommunications and other industries which are stifling their economy, because frankly, the United States and Mexico are married and we can't get a divorce.

 

Our prosperity in the long run and what happens in the United States is going to continue to depend, to some extent, on conditions in that country and whether it deals with its own border insecurity problem, along with the problems that that produces for us here.

So I do think that we can, if not re-create the amnesty of 1986 - which I do not support - I do believe we can give people a second chance.  I mean, we are a country, if there is a country in the world that believes in second chances, I believe we can achieve that goal of giving people a second chance.

 

Again, I'll quote the Pew Hispanic Center that took a poll of 5,000 applicants for the Matricular Consular card, the Mexican ID card, in Mexican consulates all across this nation.  They asked them this question, they said, Would you participate in a temporary worker program if you knew that at the end of a designated period of time you would have to return home to your country of origin?  Seventy-one percent said they would do so.

 

I believe that there is a huge desire on the part of illegal immigrants who are in this country, came illegally or those who came legally and overstayed, to come out of the shadows and to get the proper documentation, to get the protection that our laws allow and provide to them so that they're no longer victimized by the status quo.  And we can have some very good debates, and I'm sure we will, about exactly how we deal with the details of this second chance that I have suggested.

 

By the way, I would invite you to look at my website, www.cornyn.senate.gov, and you'll see a bill that I introduced about a year and a half ago, along with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, called the Comprehensive Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2005.  And really what it boils down to is the components that I've mentioned here today:  measures to enhance border security; measures to provide employers a means to verify the eligibility of workers to work; it provides a guest worker program that I've described here based on this concept of circular migration; and it provides immigrants who have perhaps become trapped here by virtue of their actions or own inactions, who do want to continue to contribute to our country, who do want to become part of that E Pluribus Unum, who do want to assimilate into American society, become Americans and share the values and commitments and dreams that we all share as Americans an opportunity to do so.

 

As I say, I think this is one of the biggest challenges that confronts our nation today on so many fronts.  We must be a nation of immigrants, we must continue to be a nation of immigrants, but we must restore our legacy as a nation that believes in and enforces the rule of law.  We've got to, as a federal government, regain the confidence of the American people that we're actually serious about creating an immigration system that works rather than coming up with half-baked solutions that really are not solutions themselves, hoping that you can slide by the next election and kick the can down the road.

 

I believe in the end what people want out of their government are public officials who will actually roll up their sleeves and try to solve hard problems, and there is no harder problem, in my opinion, in America today, in terms of our domestic concerns, than dealing with this issue.  But we can't ignore it any longer and it's up to us to solve it, and I trust and hope we will when we return to Congress in January.  Thank you.

 

Male Speaker: Senator, for the past six years we've had the same party in both houses and in the White House.  What is the other component that's missing that's kept Congress from tackling the issues that you described?  What you and the Senator talked about this morning seems very reasonable.  Some people would disagree on parts of it, obviously, but it seems like there's something missing we're not hearing about.  Are the rest of the states disinterested?  Are the rest of the members of Congress seeing this totally differently?

 

Cornyn: I think it's a matter of political will.  Part of it is a structural problem because our budget makes it very difficult for us to fund some of the measures that have to be undertaken as part of this confidence-building process, starting with border security and a work-site verification program.  But of course, you know, we did pass a comprehensive Senate immigration bill, the House passed a border security bill which is clearly not enough, but what hung up is there were some who calculated that it would be better from a political standpoint, going into the election, not to do anything and throw stones at the proposed solutions by the other body.  That was really what Chairman Sensenbrenner of the House Judiciary Committee and others calculated, and frankly, I think they were wrong.

 

In terms of what the process looks like going forward, it doesn't get any easier, I'm sorry to say.  While Republicans had a majority in the House and the Senate, there were many Democrat candidates for Congress who even appeared to run to the right of Republicans in their race on some of these issues.  And a lot of that is based on local considerations because, of course, they were trying to get elected which is the first order of business when you're trying to effect public policy as a member of Congress.

 

Labor unions are split, as you know, on this issue.  Byron Dorgan from North Dakota introduced an amendment during the Senate debates to strip the guest worker program out completely.  The AFL-CIO doesn't like it one bit.  Service Employees International Union has split off from the AFL-CIO on that issue. And frankly, I think there is a bipartisan or maybe non-partisan consensus or concern, skepticism about the sorts of things that I mentioned.

I mean, grandiose solutions sound pretty neat, and of course, they are, but I think people want to see some details, they want to see some political will to put the money and the programs in that are actually going to make the system work.  Then I think they will listen with a lot more of America's typical generosity in dealing with immigrants and the need for a guest worker program.

 

Male Speaker: Senator, I just want to thank you for very thoughtful remarks there, and I can speak for myself and maybe for others in the room that we appreciate the efforts that you and others are making to try to deal with this issue.

 

I have two questions, they're not directly related.  We know that there's a tremendous demand for legal immigrants to come to the United States, and we have some pretty severe limits in terms of the number of visas that we give out.  So my first question is:  Would you be willing to consider seriously raising the caps and the quotas that currently exist so that we could have a system that's a little bit more in line with the demand that we see around the world, not just in Mexico?  Because you know, Mexicans are a major source, but not the only flow coming to the United States.  That's my first question.

 

The second question is:  What would it take to get the Mexicans to cooperate with us?  I think that is a real stumbling block in dealing with immigration from Mexico, that we can't do this by ourselves; we're going to have to have some help on the Mexican side.  Thank you.

 

Cornyn: Jim, I agree with your first point, and we have set unrealistically low caps on legal immigration.  The other component of it is the administrative delays associated with people immigrating to the United States, even if they try to do so legally, can span a decade, and some simply decide, well, maybe it's just easier to join my spouse or my family by coming in courtesy of a coyote, paying 1,500 bucks and coming in illegally.

 

You know, our relationship with Mexico is an important one.  I'm the co-chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Inter-Parliamentary Meeting where we meet annually - we'll meet this year in Austin, last year we met in Mexico - talking about some of these issues.  This is the number one domestic issue in Mexico.  Because so many of their countrymen and women are living in the United States, they realize the importance of dealing with this issue.  President Fox and President Bush had a meeting immediately before 9-11 saying we're going to get this done, and then, of course, 9-11 occurred and changed the whole paradigm.

 

But Mexico continues to cooperate with us a lot on homeland security matters, and unfortunately, they have problems with their economy which I hope President Calderon will be able to deal with.  After 70-some years of predomination, I've told people that Mexico discovered democracy when Vicente Fox was elected, then they discovered gridlock.  My hope is that the PRI and PAN[iii] will create a coalition - perhaps especially in light of Lopez Obrador's antics since the election - that will allow the new president to work more closely with the Mexican Congress, their governing coalition, which will allow them to deal with some of their economic issues in Mexico, and I hope allow us to work together. But as I said earlier, we're married and we can't get a divorce.  We've got to work it out, and I believe we can do a lot better than we have.

 

Male Speaker: Senator, I'm Bill Gordon from Ithaca, New York, so I can't vote for you. You mentioned the advantages of the brain drain and what the scientists and engineers who have come to this country have produced in terms of our prosperity.  You didn't mention the reverse brain drain, and we now have a very serious one with the best people who work on stem cell research, they are leaving the country to go abroad where the materials are readily available for their research and where the regulations permit it.  If you'd like to comment on that, please.

 

Cornyn: Well, of course, the policy of the United States government is that stem cell research, whether it's adult or embryonic stem cell research, is a lawful enterprise under most circumstances.  The real debate has been to what extent the federal taxpayer will fund research into expanded lines of embryonic stem cells, and whether the current line that the president drew a couple of years ago is sufficient to provide the stem cell lines to allow the research to go forward.

 

Obviously, that's a matter of debate in the halls of Congress, and like every time you mix science and politics, usually science is the loser, but I will tell you that many people have firm moral and ethical concerns about what might happen if the federal government simply funded embryonic stem cell research without adequate conditions to make sure that there weren't new embryos created for the purpose of research and research only.

 

So to some extent we've seen states act, California and other states act, as they certainly can do, to provide embryonic stem cell research.  It's only a question of whether the federal taxpayer will fund expanded lines or not, and certainly people have to make their own decisions about where they want to work and where they want to do their research, and obviously, it continues to be a matter of some vigorous debate about where that line ought to be drawn.

 

Female Speaker: Hi, Senator.  I think you made the very valid point that there is certainly not a will in this country to ship off 12 million people - which could really be more like 20 million people, we don't know for sure.  In thinking about these Ellis Island Centers that would be the only way to get a second chance, it seems equally impractical that 12 million people could leave this country and have to go back to those centers to reenter.  Would you comment on that?

 

Cornyn: Sure.  Well, I invited you to look at my website.  Senator Kyl and I have come up with the best proposal that our brains and our staff would allow us which would provide people a period of five years, after having come forward to identify themselves, to essentially get their affairs in order and make a basic decision.  Now, I'm talking about the 12 million who are already here, not people who are not yet here.

 

Female Speaker: Would they still have to leave the country?

 

Cornyn: They would in order to return in a legal basis.  But the goal would be to provide them a way to do that on an expedited basis, perhaps a matter of days, through a consulate in their country of origin.  Some have expressed skepticism that that's workable.  I'm concerned about it because I've seen even our immigration system and the processing of visas get backlogged and turn out to be something we didn't intend in the first place.  But I think we can actually create a system that would allow people to do that, sort of what some people have called a touchback, but return and return in a legal status.

 

I have to tell you there's a political calculus there because the word "amnesty" - some people will see the word "amnesty" behind every bush.  I'm not one of them.  But I think with some element of a touchback, I think it ameliorates, to some extent, the political resistance to creating a way to give that population a second chance.

 

Now, there's some of the population that I think would like to return home.  I agree with some of the comments made earlier, that it's not lightly that people make a decision to leave their country and their culture and their family permanently.  Some people would like to come here and work, and if we lifted the bar to returning in a legal status as part of this comprehensive reform, I think that could address many people's concerns.

 

But I'm sure each of these is sort of an individual story and people would have to make their own decision whether this is the right tweak.  I just think that from a political standpoint, there's a lot of resistance to repeating the mistake that was made in 1986, where people almost felt like:  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.  That they want to make sure that what we are promising in terms of a system that will actually work and will be implemented, money will be appropriated, the infrastructure will be built, the people will be hired and trained to make it work, and then I think the hardest questions, such as the ones you raise, we'll have a lot more flexibility to deal with that.

 

Male Speaker:  I've read about the number of billions and billions of dollars that are being returned by immigrants to the United States back to Mexico.  I wonder if you'd comment on the effect of that income for Mexico and what effect it has on its immigration problems.

 

Cornyn: Well, I think Lee was the one who mentioned that the remittances are second only to oil revenue, it's a huge sum of money, and some have said, well, Mexico has avoided making the hard decisions at home because they can simply send their people abroad and they'll send money back home and that sort of solves their problem; they don't have to deal with their political problems or economic problems at home because they can just send their people abroad and they'll send that money.

 

I had an interesting lunch meeting with Secretary Derbez, the foreign secretary under President Fox, who said, “You know, if you think about that, Senator, that doesn't make a lot of sense that that would be a willful calculation by the Mexican government.”  He said, “Let's say the figure is $20 billion, if you figure that people save about 10 percent of their income and send $20 billion home, that means that there's roughly $180 billion in other economic activity occurring in the United States that could occur in Mexico.”  He helped me understand that it is a calculated position by the Mexican government.

 

I think we have to continue to work with the Mexican government.  They're not going to accept American direction, they are a proud country and a proud people and they're going to do it their way, but I think we can continue to try to encourage them.  I think the election of President Calderon is encouraging.  I wouldn't be saying that if Lopez Obrador was elected, I'd be saying the opposite.  But I think his election is encouraging, and the sorts of things he said when he was sworn in, might give us an opportunity, together with, I hope, a little less gridlock in the Mexican government on some of these critical questions.

 

Male Speaker: I want to applaud you for an outstanding presentation.  I really think that between what you have presented and what Kay Bailey Hutchison presented this morning, we have an opening of a window in which the next Congress can make some real strides.

 

Cornyn: I hope so.

 

Male Speaker: One of the key factors in this, of course, is the extent to which what you're talking about and what Kay talked about this morning, will actually happen. Senator Hutchison talked about her apparent conference agreement where there was close to 100 percent agreement between the Senate and the House in this small group that was meeting with respect to the detailed plan that she outlined this morning in her presentation.

 

Now, in either case, going with your bill of 2005 or going with her emerging bill that seems to be coming out of this conference, it will require a lot of delicate maneuvering with Mexico because both of them require something like the Ellis Centers in Mexico that are high fidelity, working closely with us in our government. Do you see this as happening over the next two or three years or so, and will the Congress that's coming together actually come together?

 

Cornyn: Well, that's the $64,000 question and I wish I could tell you with complete confidence the answer was yes.  I will tell you with complete confidence, I hope so.  We can't ignore it; we can't kick the can down the road.  And the devil is in the details.  The good thing about the debate we've had over the last couple of years in the country, as painful as that has been, perhaps, to listen to - and I will tell you, as a combatant to participate in - that I think it's helped people sort of sound it out and we've had sort of a national brainstorming session.

 

The American people are smart, they can sort of figure out for themselves what makes sense and what is fantasy, and I think it's helped us build a better consensus over the last two years about where that middle ground is.  And I would say that there's not going to be universal acceptance of any particular program, but all we need is a majority in the House and a Senate, on a bipartisan basis, to come together to try to come up with a solution.  I don't think anyone believes that we will finally solve this problem forever.  If we're lucky, maybe we can manage it on an acceptable basis for the next 20 years.  Then I would count that as a tremendous success.

 

Thank you very much.



[i] Edwin Meese III, “An Amnesty by Any Other Name ...” 6/24/06; available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/24/opinion/24meese.html

[ii] Securing Knowledge Innovation and Leadership Act of 2006

[iii] PRI = Partido Revolucionario Institucional [Institutional Revolutionary Party]; PAN = Partido Acción Nacional [National Action Party]