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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to share her perspective and priorities on immigration reform.



According to Murray, a comprehensive immigration reform should do seven things:

  • It should improve enforcement.


  • It should treat the Northern border fairly.


  • It should include a guest worker plan, which includes a path to citizenship.


  • It should provide a path forward so that people who are here have an opportunity to become citizens and realize the American Dream.


  • It should protect the rights of victims and refugees.


  • It should not turn into criminals those compassionate souls who care for their wounds, teach their children or feed their families.


  • And finally, it should provide the resources to help families rise above their circumstances through education and training.




Murray’s full remarks follow:

Mr. President, the Senate is now engaged in a spirited debate about reforming our immigration policy. I rise today to share my perspective and my priorities.



Let's remember that this isn't just about immigration. 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. It's easy to get caught up in the specifics of one policy or another, but I would encourage my colleagues to not lose sight of the bigger picture because this debate touches nearly every aspect of American life – from our economy to our security, and from our classrooms to our workplaces. I know there's a lot of pressure to "do something" about immigration especially in an election year. But if we do the wrong thing, it will have a painful affect on millions of families, on our economy, and on our future for generations to come. Let's take the time to get it right.



Perhaps the biggest mistake we could make is to think that addressing enforcement alone will create the changes we want to see. Enforcement is important, but enforcement without investments in our people and communities will do little good.



Mr. President, I approach this debate with a clear understanding of what's at stake, and frankly with some skepticism that Congress can achieve this delicate balance in a heated, political environment, but I'm going to keep pushing for the right policies. Those policies are based on my personal experiences, on people who have shared their life experiences with me, and on the unique perspective that Washington state provides.



Washington State Perspective



Washington state has a lot at stake in the debate over immigration reform, and I have led discussions around my state with key stakeholders who have experiences in areas like border security, labor needs, agriculture, education and housing that all help inform my perspective.



Border



First, Washington is a border state, and we know the dangers of an insecure border. For years, I have fought federal policies that steered critical resources away from the Northern Border to the Southern Border. Year after year, I fought budgets that were biased against the needs at our Northern border. My border communities have struggled with inadequate staff, equipment and facilities. Tragically, it took the September 11th attacks to finally get the federal government to listen to what we'd been saying all along – that you can't keep America secure if you shortchange the Northern border.



Since then, we've made some progress. I worked with Chairman Gregg and others to secure the money to triple the number of agents along the Northern border. I helped fund the Northern Border Air Wing in my state to patrol our skies and provide enforcement and surveillance. I should note that we still need to extend their patrol hours beyond 40 hours a week.



We've made progress, but not nearly enough. Just this week, we learned that federal investigators were able to smuggle parts for a dirty bomb across the Northern border into Washington state. That's unacceptable.



As we've increased enforcement at the Northern Border, new challenges have emerged. Federal agents are arresting more people for smuggling and other crimes. But the feds are just handing those suspects over to local officials for holding and prosecution. As a result, communities like Whatcom County are struggling to deal with a huge new burden of federal prosecutions. Whatcom County is spending $2 million a year to process federally-initiated case. Whatcom County is not being reimbursed, but communities along the Southern border are. That's not fair, and it's something I'm working to correct.



So Washington state understands the importance of border security, and I believe that any bill we pass has to treat the Northern border fairly. Our communities need help to combat the scourge of drugs and violence that accompany rampant smuggling operations. And we cannot wait until a terrorist tries to move a dirty bomb across our Northern border.



Agriculture



Washington state also has a great stake in how immigration reform affects one of our largest industries, agriculture. We rely on immigrants to harvest the crops that put food on our table and bring our state billions of dollars a year in economic activity.



Last week in Moses Lake, Washington, I heard personally from farmers and orchardists who had to leave fruit on the trees last season because they could not get enough help to pick it fast enough. This costs our farmers and our entire state economy money. Already many farmers have told me that the 2005 season was the worst season they have had in trying to get the employees they needed. It's estimated 200,000-250,000 undocumented workers are living in Washington state.( Note: corrected figure. Source: http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=61] That means Washington state has one of the highest per capita concentration of undocumented workers of any state in the nation. We know how important laborers are for our economy.



Schools



Washington state's public schools and universities are also impacted by our nation's immigration policies. I hope we can all agree that the children of immigrants deserve a decent education, which builds our communities and our economy. For years, I've worked to increase educational opportunities for all students living in this country. I'm a proud supporter of the Dream Act, which helps make higher education more accessible to the children of immigrants. I've been proud to celebrate with young students through the Latino Educational Achievement Project and other organizations in my home state of Washington that break down barriers to education. Our educational policies have to ensure that immigrants and the children of immigrants are not denied the opportunity to share in the American Dream.



Housing



Housing is another area that's connected or our immigration policy. Many communities in Washington state are struggling with a lack of affordable housing. That can mean families are trapped living in unsafe or substandard housing. We also have to address the housing challenges in agricultural communities. For several years, I've been working on a farmworker housing initiative to help address a tremendous shortage of safe and affordable housing for the people who work on our farms.



A Comprehensive Approach



All of these experiences – the Northern border, agriculture, education, labor needs and housing help inform my view on immigration policy. And I believe from that we need a holistic approach. Enforcement is important. Securing our borders is important, but if we leave out things like education and job training, if we ignore the tools that families need to rise above their circumstances and build a better life, we'll be missing the big picture, and we will be throwing away the ladders of success that generations of Americans have relied on to make their families and subsequently our country stronger.



A Reform Bill Should Include



I believe that comprehensive immigration reform should do seven things.

  • It should improve enforcement.


  • It should treat the Northern border fairly.


  • It should include a guest worker plan, which includes a path to citizenship.


  • It should provide a path forward so that people who are here have an opportunity to become citizens and realize the American Dream.


  • It should protect the rights of victims and refugees.


  • It should not turn into criminals those compassionate souls who care for their wounds, teach their children or feed their families.


  • And finally, it should provide the resources to help families rise above their circumstances through education and training.


So let me take a minute to talk about each of these priorities.



1. Improve Enforcement



First, we should improve our enforcement. That means providing the personnel, equipment, facilities and resources to enforce our borders. In the wake of 9/11, security at our borders and enforcement of our immigration rules is now more critical than ever. That’s why I have pushed for years to hire more Border Patrol agents, deploy more resources along the border including the new Northern Border Air Wing, and to make sure we are using the latest technology to secure our nation’s borders. We must continue to make investments in securing our borders and protecting ourselves from those who seek to do us harm.



2. Treat the Northern Border Fairly



Second, we have to treat the Northern border fairly. We won't be shortchanged again as we have been in the past. If we're going to secure our borders, we can't leave the Northern border behind.



3. Guest Worker Plan



Third, immigration reform should include a guest worker plan to keep our economy moving forward. We have tremendous labor needs in our country, especially in labor-intensive fields like agriculture.



Our economy will not survive without access to the workers we need, and a responsible guest worker program can help address our country's economic needs. As one farmer in my state put it, "We need reform, but we can't commit economic suicide in the process." I am a cosponsor of the bipartisan AgJobs bill (S.359). It allows current workers to earn citizenship, while setting up a guest worker program that would really work. I hope we can follow a similar path.



But whatever we do, we can no longer tolerate a system that expects our farmers to be experts in document verification. Our farmers should not be turned into criminals. One option is to provide a way to electronically verify someone's identity. If we pursue that approach, we must not put a new financial burden on our farmers, who are just trying to follow the law and do the right thing. We have to establish a realistic system that allows employers to legally hire the help they need. Agriculture is not the only sector that would be affected by these proposals. It would also affect the construction and hospitality industry among others.



4. Opportunity for Earned Adjustment



Fourth, immigration reform should provide hope and a path forward for a resident to be able to earn legal status.



5. Protect Victims



Fifth, any legislation must protect the rights of victims and refugees to access the courts. You know, over the years, we have worked to protect victims and refugees, but if we enact an "expedited removal" process, we could undo all that work and cause tremendous human pain. We've worked very hard through the Violence Against Women Act to protect victims no matter where they come from or what their legal status is. The Act allows victims of domestic violence to petition to stay in the United States. We should keep those humane protections in place.



6. Don't Criminalize Advocates



Sixth, we should not make felons of those who seek to help the most vulnerable. Churches and other support groups should not be threatened with jail time for showing compassion toward anyone who needs help. It's not the job of hospital workers, teachers or priests to enforce our immigration laws nor should it be. We shouldn't block any emergency room doors, any classroom or any police station to the needs of all our residents.



7. Invest in the Things that Help Families Succeed



Finally, we need to invest in the things that help immigrants and all Americans rise above their circumstances. I am concerned that many important issues are being left out of this debate. As leaders, it’s our duty to protect and foster the American Dream for all of our citizens, as well as those on the path to citizenship.



We need to invest in primary and secondary education. All of our children should have the opportunity to become more successful than their parents. We need to invest in adult education and literacy programs. Immigrants on the road to earned adjustment should have the opportunity to improve themselves and learn the English language. We also need to invest in workforce training. All of our citizens should have the opportunity to increase their skills and earning power and achieve a greater share of the American Dream. We need to invest in healthcare and secondary education if this path to earned citizenship will truly allow all of our neighbors to participate in the American dream, while also allowing our economy to grow. We're not talking about charity for someone else. We're talking about investments that help every American family achieve their dreams.



Let's Get It Right



Mr. President, throughout our history, the United States has been a beacon of hope for people throughout the world. That light shines as bright today as it ever has. As we work here to reform our immigration policy, let's make sure our actions reflect our security, our economy, and the opportunity that America offers generations of immigrants. Let's take the time to get this right. Our future depends on it.