Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on Senate Vote on Immigration Reform


Date: June 28, 2007
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Immigration


"America is a nation of immigrants, but we are a nation that believes in controlled immigration. Since the beginning of the debate on how to fix our broken immigration system, I have emphasized three core concerns: strengthening our borders, holding employers accountable if they hire illegal immigrants, and dealing with the 12 million undocumented immigrants in a way that is practical and fair to American workers and taxpayers.

"In the post-9/11 world, our broken immigration system poses a very real threat to national security. I have supported and continue to support tough, rigorous enforcement of our immigration laws. This year's immigration bill added 20,000 new border patrol agents, more unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras and sensors, plus 370 miles of new border fencing, coupled with an additional $4.4 billion in funding to secure the border - measures that are long overdue.

"At the same time, we need to send a strong message to employers that they will be held accountable for hiring undocumented workers and perpetuating the flow of illegal workers. Until recently, the Bush Administration was extremely lax in enforcing the law, with virtually no worksite enforcement against employers who hire undocumented workers. In fact, in 2004, only three cases were brought against such employers in the entire United States. During the same calendar year, the administration imposed a grand total of only $118,529 in fines for such violations. By contrast, in just the last two years of the Clinton Administration, the government brought 291 cases against employers and imposed $5.9 million in fines. Enforcement efforts must be carried out in an orderly and humane fashion, but we must reverse this practice of turning a blind eye to employers who knowingly break the law.

"The bill before us does a decent job of addressing these three core concerns. But the bill as a whole, frankly, has evolved into an unworkable mess, and I cannot support it.

"As the bill has been debated and amended, I have listened closely to Iowans from all walks of life. Their concerns about the flaws in this bill are heartfelt, and most are legitimate. One of their most common criticisms is that the bill fails to address the harsh reality that a large, continuous influx of additional immigrant workers - workers who effectively have no rights and are vulnerable to exploitation - is having a negative impact on American jobs and wages. Iowans have told me that immigrant workers too often are pitted against American workers in a way that drives down wages and benefits, and weakens the bargaining power of all workers. I share these concerns.

"I voted for an amendment to strike the guest worker program because I believe it would hurt American workers. It would add millions of new immigrants to the workforce, likely driving down wages and benefits for American workers, especially those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Jobs in construction, manufacturing and transportation are the backbone of our blue-collar middle class. We should not deliberately allow a flood of immigrant labor to depress wages, benefits, and bargaining power in these critical sectors of our economy.

"Another important aspect of the Senate bill, Title III, which includes the employer verification system, would impact every single employer and every single worker in the United States. Yet the haphazardly designed system in the bill could have devastating consequences. Work-authorized individuals - including U.S. citizens - could be denied employment because of an error in a government database, and businesses could be denied their workforce. We included these important safeguards and privacy-protection measures in last year's bill, yet failed to do so in the underlying bill. I consider them essential to a workable and enforceable employer verification system.

"In addition, the current Senate bill dramatically changes more than 40 years of family-based legal immigration by eliminating existing family preferences in favor of well-educated, higher-income workers - workers who would provide even further competition for American jobs. Under this provision, it is entirely possible that my mother would have been prevented from immigrating to this country. She had little schooling, wasn't very proficient in English and just $17 in her pocket when she came over to the U.S., in steerage, to marry a man from her village. But my mother made her home in Iowa, worked hard, and raised six children who all went on to be productive members of society. This change was not in last year's bill, and represents a truly radical departure from our legal immigration system. It was made without a single hearing to review its impact, and an effort to sunset the provision in five years - so we could have an opportunity to evaluate its impact on immigrant families and American workers - was not adopted.

"The failure to pass a bill leaves in place a broken immigration system. The status quo is unacceptable, but this bill does not effectively improve it. Unfortunately, I do not see a realistic path for making sufficient improvements in this gravely flawed bill. I remain committed to working for a comprehensive solution that is fair to American workers and taxpayers, and that offers a practical solution to our nation's broken immigration system."