WASHINGTON, DC, Thursday, June 27, 2013 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor regarding his opposition to immigration legislation.
“Thank you, M. President.
“Before I begin my remarks on immigration reform, I would like to acknowledge the diligence and leadership of my colleague from Alabama, Senator Sessions, on this issue. I commend his relentless effort to bring to light the many problems and questions surrounding the legislation before us.
“M. President, as a member of the House in 1986 I opposed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to nearly three million illegal immigrants.
“Supporters of that law promised that it constituted a one-time fix to our nation's broken immigration system. Instead, the promise itself was broken. At least four times as many illegal immigrants now reside in the U.S.
“Despite this failure, the Senate is considering legislation 27 years later that repeats the mistakes of Simpson-Mazzoli. The provisions are different, but I believe that the results will be the same.
“Still, supporters of this legislation promise border security in return for amnesty, just as proponents of Simpson-Mazzoli did.
“In light of these facts, M. President, here's a more credible promise: The child of Simpson-Mazzoli will become the mother of all amnesties.
“Compounding the mistakes made a generation ago will ensure that the problem of illegal immigration revisits generations to come on a much grander scale.
“Therefore, I rise today to urge my colleagues to reject this deeply flawed legislation.
“M. President, during consideration of Simpson-Mazzoli in 1986, my former Senate colleague and co-author of that legislation stated the following: “The American people, in my mind, will never accept a legalization program unless they can be assured this is a one-shot deal.”
“The assurances to which he referred were border security and tough enforcement of immigration laws. Specifically, Simpson-Mazzoli called for 50 percent more border patrol personnel for two years and new penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the former proved insufficient and the latter was hollow. But it was too late; nearly three million illegal immigrants had already been granted amnesty by the time most lawmakers figured out that the assurances were a sham.
“Despite the drastic increase in illegal immigration in the intervening years, supporters of the bill now before the Senate make similar assurances of border security in return for amnesty. They say that there will be a surge in border patrol and a fence along the Southern border.
“But they claim two main distinctions between their promise and the one we heard in 1986.
“First, they say that this bill does not contain amnesty, but a “tough path to citizenship.” Second, they say that this bill will secure the border before legalization occurs.
“M. President, neither claim holds water, in my judgment. Under this legislation, once the Secretary of Homeland Security notifies Congress that the department has begun to implement a so-called Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and a Southern Border Fencing Strategy, she can commence processing applications for registered provisional immigrant status. In addition, the Secretary must begin implementing these plans within 180 days of enactment.
“I’ll clarify that legalese: No later than six months after this bill becomes law, those who came illegally will be allowed to stay legally. I’ll clarify further: That’s amnesty.
“The sequence is also noteworthy. No fence must be built before amnesty is granted. No surge in border patrol must occur either. Those things come after amnesty, if ever.
“So I return to the fundamental question, M. President: Will these measures, as structured, stop illegal immigration?
“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says no. Instead, CBO provides only a vague and uninspiring assessment that the legislation will slow illegal immigration by some amount greater than 25 percent – if, and only if, the dubious promises of this legislation are fulfilled.
“Perhaps that’s the more salient point: We don’t know what the impact of this will be. We don’t know what we’re doing. We only know that even the best outcome won’t be nearly enough.
“M. President, we should know what we’re doing. We should know that the border is secure before any discussion of legalization begins.
“What we do know, M. President, is that the economic consequences of this massive amnesty will make struggling Americans struggle even harder.
“By some estimates, this legislation will produce a surge of more than 30 million immigrants in just the first decade after enactment.
“CBO projects that passing this legislation brings grim news about what this will mean for working Americans as well as those looking for work:
“The unemployment rate will accelerate over the next six years; average wages for Americans will drop over the next decade; meanwhile, average wages will rise for those granted amnesty; economic output per capita will decrease over the next decade; and the on-budget deficit will increase by more than $14 billion over the next decade.
“In short, this legislation is projected to increase Americans’ difficulty in finding a job, and then reduce their paycheck when they get one. In my judgment, that’s reason enough to oppose any legislation.
“M. President, I understand that supporters of this legislation point to better economic projections in the so-called “out years.” However, even if those projections prove accurate, we should never put the economic well-being of Americans on hold.
“Finally, M. President, I am deeply concerned that this legislation will further strain our over-committed entitlement and welfare programs.
“Our nation is already $17 trillion in debt. We should be working on a long term plan to put our nation back on sound fiscal footing, not adding to the burden.
“M. President, long term thinking would also aggressively promote American competitiveness. Immigration reform presents a golden opportunity to advance that cause. Unfortunately, this legislation misses the mark.
“By some estimates, China and India together graduate a million engineers each year from their universities. The U.S., by comparison, graduates approximately 120,000 engineers annually. In addition, The Manhattan Institute estimates that 51 percent of engineering Ph.D.’s and 41 percent of physical sciences Ph.D.’s who are foreign-born are forced to leave the United States.
“M. President, if we want to continue to lead the world, we must attract and retain the best and brightest minds. Yet this legislation would cause a tectonic population and labor market shift in the opposite direction.
“Specifically, CBO projects that among the tens of millions of immigrants who will come to America under this legislation, there will be seven low-skilled workers for each high-skilled worker. Seven to one. It’s little wonder, then, that CBO projects that Americans’ wages will fall.
“Two provisions in the legislation will affect this change. First, the current cap on family-based visas will be removed. This will create an unlimited influx of low-skilled workers.
“Second, the cap on visas for high-skilled workers will be increased, though not nearly enough to meet demand. Moreover, the legislation will impose onerous new restrictions on employers seeking to hire such workers.
“Still, the authors of this legislation claim that it contains a merit-based approach, which will ensure that more high-skilled immigrants receive visas. They emphasize that their point system favors higher education, consistent employment, and English proficiency.
“Yet a closer examination of the details reveals that points would also be awarded on the basis of non-merit factors, such as family ties and civic involvement. In effect, this dilutes not only the point system, but also claims of a merit based approach that will promote American competitiveness.
“M. President, we have the best universities in the world. They attract the most gifted individuals from around the globe, deepening our country’s vast pool of talent. This, in turn, attracts companies here and abroad seeking the brightest minds in math, science, and engineering. Graduates will go on to attain high-paying jobs or even create jobs themselves – if they are allowed to stay.
“M. President, we must do more to allow such talent to stay, especially in light of an increasingly global and competitive economy.
“In closing, M. President, Mark Twain once cleverly observed, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." In the context of immigration reform, the promises we hear today sound a lot like those we heard in 1986. But this time, the amnesty will be exponentially bigger.
“I believe that the consequences will be many: Undermining the rule of law; failing to secure the border;
increasing economic difficulties for American workers and job seekers; eroding our nation’s finances;
and weakening our competitive position internationally.
“M. President, I believe that my fundamental responsibility as a lawmaker is to support policies that foster the conditions for job creation and economic prosperity. America must remain a welcoming nation, but we must always put Americans first.
“In my judgment, this legislation fails that test. Accordingly, I will respectfully but firmly oppose it.
“Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.”