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IMMIGRATION: Sen. Murray Lays Out Priorities for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in Speech on Senate Floor

Jun 12 2013

Shares story of WA state sisters struggling to achieve their dreams against the backdrop of a broken immigration system



Sen. Murray outlines issues that she will fight for in weeks ahead

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered a key policy speech on the floor of the Senate that laid out her priorities in the upcoming debate to fix America’s broken immigration system. After holding immigration reform meetings across Washington state over the past weeks and years, Senator Murray echoed the needs of Washington state families, businesses, and communities in her speech. Senator Murray also laid out her immigration priorities in an op-ed in the Yakima Herald in May. 

“Our history has long been that of a beacon of hope for people throughout the world,” Senator Murray said in her speech.  “From those who arrived at Ellis Island to start a new life decades ago, to the DREAMers who want to contribute to the country they love today.  As we once again take on the very difficult task of reforming our immigration policy, let's make sure our actions reflect our security, our economy, and our future. But let’s also never forget the past -- and the fact our nation has long offered generations of immigrants the chance to achieve their dreams.” 

Senator Murray’s priorities include a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans, reform that meets the needs of Washington state’s agriculture and high-tech economies, a humane policy that keeps immigrant families together, civil rights protections, and equality for LGBT couples. The speech comes as the Senate begins a three-week long debate on a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill. 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s speech:

“At its heart, this is a bill that touches nearly every aspect of American life – from our economy, to our security, and from our classrooms to our workplaces.  It's about the type of country we want to be, what we stand for, and what type of future we all want to build.”

“Immigration reform isn’t just about a person’s status, it’s about sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and families that want to live full, productive lives together in this country.”

“Too often in this debate – it’s difficult for some people to understand that the millions of undocumented families in our country are already an important part of our communities. Immigrants work hard,  send their children to schools throughout this country, pay their taxes, and help weave the fabric of our society. In all but name, they are Americans.”

“Our history has long been that of a beacon of hope for people throughout the world. From those who arrived at Ellis Island to start a new life decades ago, to the DREAMers who want to contribute to the country they love today.  As we once again take on the very difficult task of reforming our immigration policy, let's make sure our actions reflect our security, our economy, and our future.  But let’s also never forget the past -- and the fact our nation has long offered generations of immigrants the chance to achieve their dreams.” 

Full text of Senator Murray’s speech below:

“Madam President, just a few months ago I met two sisters from my home state named Mari and Adriana Barrera.

“The two sisters were brought here by their parents when Mari was seven and Adriana was just three.

“They were raised by a single mother who spoke no English after their father left the family behind.

“Growing up, their mother, who worked at a local hotel, did whatever she could to support the family, but Mari and Adriana often had to depend on themselves.

“Unlike other children her age -- Mari said she grew up the moment her father left.

“She told me about how she scheduled all her families doctor’s appointments, how she translated legal documents, and how at age 13 she started working as a hostess at a local restaurant - not for money for teenage indulgences – but to support her family.

“Mari also told me that when she was just about to enter high school, Adriana had to have life-threatening surgery and a dream was born within Mari.

“As her sister’s life hung in the balance – Mari realized she wanted to become a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon…. she wanted to help others the way she watched doctors help her sister that day.

“Mari decided that she would commit to her education and work toward her dream.

“However, when I talked to Mari that day, it was just after she had been forced to drop out of the University of Washington because she could no longer afford it.

“Now living in Seattle, she told me about how she’d been unable to find a job to support her studies because she lacks a social security number.

“Mari’s dreams, it turns out, like many like her, have been put on hold.

“They’ve been put on hold because our immigration system remains broken.

“They’ve been put on hold because for far too long Congress has failed to act.

“They’ve been put on hold because despite the fact that young women like the Berrara sisters want to contribute to our nation, our current system won’t let them.

“Madam President it’s not only stories like those of the Berrera sisters that point to a system badly in need of reform.

“I see it all across my state.

“I see it in rural parts of my state, like Yakima and Moses Lake, where farmers can’t find the seasonal ag workers they need to support one of our state’s largest industries.

“I see it in place like Seattle, Vancouver, and Spokane where high-tech businesses struggle to hire the world’s best and brightest.

“I see it in neighborhoods throughout my state, where families have been ripped apart by a system that forces them to choose between legal immigration and long-term separation from those they love.

“I see it along the Northern Border, where the need to secure a long, porous border must be balanced with smart enforcement policies that don’t use intimidation and fear as a weapon.

“And I see it among my state’s LGBT community. A community that badly lacks fairness and equality under today’s broken system.

“But Madam President, these aren’t problems that can’t be fixed.

“And although previous reform efforts have fallen short, this body is not incapable of this task.

“Especially now.

“And that’s because today –

“Because of the changing demographics of our nation.

“Because of the growing political voice of a new generation of Americans.

“And because of the energy, determination, and hard work of immigration advocates in my home state and across the nation - we are at a historic moment of opportunity.

“For the first time in the history of this debate, there is broad bipartisan agreement that this system must be fixed, and that a bipartisan solution is within reach.

“Madam President, no one in this country needs to be reminded that it’s a rarity here when Senators from different parties, and from very different states come together to agree on common solutions to a big issue.

“So it’s truly remarkable that over the course of the past year, the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” has worked to craft the bill that is before us today.

“The bill we are considering is focused on four bipartisan pillars that have drawn consensus support from members of Congress and the American people.

“First, this bill includes a path to citizenship so that with hard work many of the immigrants living in this country that are dreaming of citizenship can achieve that goal over time.

“Second, the bill provides employers certainty in a system that has often left them without answers.

“Third, this bill will help continue the progress we have made in securing our borders by focusing on the most serious security threats and by utilizing new technology.

“And finally, this bill helps to reform our legal immigration system so that it meets the needs of families and our nation going forward.

“These are all important steps.

“But this bill is only the beginning of a full, fair and open public debate over reforming immigration in this country.

“And while it will be tempting to get caught up in the specifics of one amendment or policy in this debate, we cannot forget about the larger questions this bill addresses.

“Because at its heart, this is a bill that touches nearly every aspect of American life – from our economy, to our security, and from our classrooms to our workplaces.

“It's about the type of country we want to be, what we stand for, and what type of future we all want to build.

“These are the questions that I have posed in meetings with advocates, businesses, and leaders in meetings all across my state - both in recent weeks – and going back many years.

“Those conversations have stirred passions, brought new facts to light, and have helped me bring the voices of countless advocates to this debate.

“They have also helped me to arrive at the core issues that I believe are essential to repairing our broken immigration system -- the issues that I will fight for in the weeks to come.

“Madam President, sitting and talking with the aspiring Americans this bill will affect has made clear that protecting families must be a central priority in comprehensive immigration reform.

“Immigration reform isn’t just about a person’s status, it’s about sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and families that want to live full, productive lives together in this country.

“We know that when workers have their families near they are more likely to be satisfied with their job, they are healthier, they work harder, and they contribute to our economy.

“We know that families are the building block of strong communities.

“Yet, under today’s broken system family-based immigration has been pitted against employment-based immigration.

“And far too often, immigrant families are being forced to choose between the country they love and the ones they love. 

“I firmly believe it is in our long-term national interest to change this approach.

“For immigration reform to best meet our national ideals we must focus on keeping families together, reducing backlogs, giving women immigrants access to green cards, and reuniting immigrants with their families.

“Madam President, immigration reform must also include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in this country.

“Many undocumented immigrants have lived in this country for more than a decade.

“These are our neighbors, our friends, and colleagues – they go to church alongside us, they pay their taxes, and they follow our laws. 

“But our current system creates a permanent underclass of people that are caught between the law and earning a living.

“And while citizenship must be earned, it is simply not feasible to deport this population or expect them to return to their nation of citizenship.

“And we certainly cannot make this pathway contingent on enforcement measures that are unachievable or unrealistic.

“I believe this bill lays the foundation for a pathway to citizenship that will bring aspiring Americans out from the shadows.

“Immigration reform must also meet the needs of our changing economy.

“This need is perhaps best on display in my home state where the diversity of our economy creates diverse immigration needs.

“Washington is home to some of our nation’s largest high-tech, aerospace, and composite manufacturing firms.

“These are businesses that demand a robust employment-based visa system that attracts the best and brightest from across the world.

“However, just across the Cascade mountains lie miles and miles of fertile farmland and orchards that demands a flexible and pragmatic agricultural worker program.

“I plan to support changes that help meet both of these needs, while also working to invest in job opportunities for American workers through STEM investments provided in this bill.

“Madam President, we also need a smart and humane system of securing our nation’s borders – including my state’s many land border crossings.

“But we must balance the necessity of securing our borders and enforcing our laws with the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. 

“This includes ensuring access to due process in immigration hearings, restrictions on the use of unnecessary restraints on pregnant women, the use of less costly alternatives to detention whenever possible, and humane conditions and strict oversight and reporting requirements at detention centers.

“Our strategy for enforcement and border security should focus on keeping Americans safe, fighting violent crime, reducing smuggling, and stopping terrorists– and we should always being doing it in a way that upholds our commitment to civil liberties and the rights of every American.

“And finally, Madam President, I strongly support efforts to craft a system that will unite families by extending immigration sponsorship privileges for married bi-national LGBT couples.

“I was very proud of my home state of Washington when it voted last year for marriage equality.

“However, my heart breaks each time bi-national LGBT married Washingtonians are split apart because their marriage is not recognized by the Federal government.

“The Defense of Marriage Act has long barred equal immigration sponsorship privileges for married bi-national LGBT couples.

“And while I’m hopeful the Supreme Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, we should also move decisively to include LGBT provisions in this bill.

“These are certainly not the only priorities that I will be fighting for in the coming days.

“In fact, I hope to introduce amendments that will help open new doors to education for DREAMers and that will expand our investment in STEM education.

“But I also know that we will also see amendments that will attempt to weaken and even defeat this bill altogether.

“Because as we saw in the exhaustive and inclusive committee process, there are those who are simply bent on standing in the way of a bill that Americans want and our economy needs.

“Those who will say or do anything to defeat this bill.

“But I’m confident that this is a new day for immigration reform.

“I’m confident because more Americans than ever before see the benefits of a modern immigration system that is coupled with investments that help families succeed.

“They see that we are stronger when immigrant workers are contributing to our economy, when employers have the resources they need to grow, and when a path to citizenship is available to those who are already here.

“Too often in this debate – it’s difficult for some people to understand that the millions of undocumented families in our country are already an important part of our communities.

“Immigrants work hard,  send their children to schools throughout this country, pay their taxes, and help weave the fabric of our society.

“In all but name, they are Americans.

“Madam President, when John F. Kennedy was serving in this chamber, he wrote a book about that fact that America is a nation of immigrants.

“And in it he wrote: ‘Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible.  With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.’

“Today those words continue to ring true.

“And it’s not only the world we have to turn to.

“This effort is about living up to our own ideals.

“It’s about as then Senator Kennedy said – living up to our own past. 

“Our history has long been that of a beacon of hope for people throughout the world.

“From those who arrived at Ellis Island to start a new life decades ago, to the DREAMers who want to contribute to the country they love today.

“As we once again take on the very difficult task of reforming our immigration policy, let's make sure our actions reflect our security, our economy, and our future.

“But let’s also never forget the past -- and the fact our nation has long offered generations of immigrants the chance to achieve their dreams.”