(Speech does not reflect my current views on the issue.)
The United States is a nation of immigrants. This fact has degenerated into a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Americans are not of one ethnicity, race, or religion; but we are one people. And our national motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ still means we’re unified by our faith in the freedoms assured by our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
The Republican Party today is split on the president’s immigration reform plan that has been wending its way through Congress. Make no mistake — the debate about immigration is as old as the country itself — and it has always been contentious. But the waves of immigrants that came to America’s shores always enriched us. Always. Every successive wave stirred controversy, yet every wave impacted the United States positively. The waves have not eroded our nation’s foundation, they have strengthened it. Immigrants came seeking a better life and made America a better place.
The Irish helped win the Civil War. The Chinese built the railroad. Additional immigrant groups helped win two World Wars. And in recent years many nationalities revitalized New York City — my hometown and the most diverse city in the world, where I worked closely with immigrant communities as their mayor. The Statue of Liberty remains a beacon that continues to attract people from every nation — and American society and culture remain strong enough to assimilate them — just as they did my grandfather, Rodolfo, more than 100 years ago. Like so many of you and your ancestors, he knew fear — fear of a strange land, fear of learning to speak a new language, fear of the unknown. But he didn’t let any of that stop him. He dreamed that life could be better for him and his children in New York City. And he lived that dream.
An estimated 12 million people are now in the United States illegally, but the vast majority is decent and hard-working. They are not unskilled because their willingness to work as hard as they do is a skill in itself. They didn’t come for a free lunch. They came to work. And — like those that came before them — that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.
On farms across the country, they’re harvesting the crops. Migrant workers in California have supported the agriculture industry there for more than 100 years. On construction sites, they’re building residential and commercial structures. In restaurants, they’re waiting tables and working in the kitchen. In shopping malls, they’re cleaning the floors. In office buildings, they’re working through the night emptying the trash. In cities across the country, many immigrants are opening their own businesses. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re bravely serving beside American service men and women — fighting and dying in the military ranks of a country that has not yet accepted them into its civilian ranks.
They’ll put a roof on your house and pick the fruit and vegetables for your table. They’ll wash your car, landscape your property, care for your elderly parents, and won’t ask for much in return — just the opportunity for a better life. They risked their lives to come here and missed the weddings of siblings and the funerals of parents because they could not return. They labor in a black market and deserve better than to be isolated in the shadows. America shouldn’t be giving her immigrants pink slips and deportation tickets. As generations of Americans climb the ladder of prosperity, we should allow those who have been holding the ladder steady to grasp the bottom rungs.
It’s simply not possible to deport 12 million immigrants as some are advocating. The American people would not countenance mass deportations, which would cripple important industries to include lodging, food service, retail, construction, agriculture, and health care. Immigrants account for almost half of the labor growth since 1996 and make up 15 percent of our current workforce. What happens if you remove these millions of workers from a country with just 4.4 percent unemployment? You hamstring the American economy.
Our diversity is our greatest source of strength. Not only does our economy depend upon the labor of immigrants, our nation is enriched by their presence. Immigration is not only our past, it is our future. And if we deny our past, we deny the great potential of our future. Immigrants are integral to our economy and should be integrated into our society. Those of us who were born in the United States won freedom’s lottery. We can rise as far as our God-given potential will allow. It is right and fitting that we expand this freedom at home just as we’re trying to expand it around the world. Immigration is not a failed policy because immigrants have never failed the United States.
I support the president’s temporary guest worker proposal because it will actually enhance our national security by keeping us competitive in the global economy. It will also take pressure off the border, enabling the Border Patrol to focus on capturing terrorists and intercepting weapons of mass destruction. The president’s plan matches willing employers with willing employees in jobs most Americans will not do. He is a profile in courage on this issue because his position is not popular with many in our party. And legislation has not moved through the Congress largely because of Republican opposition. Republicans who disagree with the president have the nation’s best interest in mind, and I want to address their concerns.
First, I agree that we should not reward illegal behavior by granting amnesty. The president’s plan is not an amnesty because there are substantial financial penalties and there is no special path to citizenship. Illegal immigrants will not start at the front of the line. However, we also must realize that immigration laws have changed arbitrarily in the last century. For example, under today’s more restrictive laws my grandfather would have been illegal. Our current law does not reflect the law of supply and demand in the U.S. labor market.
Second, immigration does put a strain on our health care, criminal justice, educational systems — but the contributions of immigrants far outweigh the costs. Immigration increases our tax base and our productivity, creating more jobs while keeping inflation in check. It gives the United States renewed economic vigor and a new class of entrepreneurs. All of this allows us to continue to compete with the burgeoning economies of China and India. Regularizing the immigrants currently here would also alleviate the looming entitlement crisis by making the United States demographically younger.
Third, immigrants don’t push Americans out of jobs. They take the jobs we won’t take. Since the 1970′s, unemployment has decreased from the double-digits to less than 5 percent while immigration and real wages have increased. Under the president’s plan, American workers will always be given priority over guest workers.
All Republicans agree that assimilation is the linchpin that holds the nation together. It is critical that newcomers become American. The United States is the melting pot, not the gorgeous mosaic. We are not a multicultural nation. And we must continue to be unified as a party to defeat the multiculturalists. Special rights and privileges will not be granted. Teddy Roosevelt said “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.” Teddy Roosevelt was right. Our door is open if you want to assimilate. Our door is closed if you want to use our freedoms against us. Those that commit serious crimes should be punished and deported. And we must remain vigilant for terrorists. We will not admit or allow anyone to or stay who has the intent of subverting the government of the United States.
Republicans also agree that assimilation means immigrants must learn English. Language is culture. And English is the key to unlocking opportunity in the United States. American citizens should not be expected to be bilingual in order to communicate with their coworkers. Their coworkers should be speaking English. There is also no need for ballots to be printed in hundreds of languages. If you are eligible to vote, you should be expected to learn the language well enough to make informed choices at the polls. States provide sample ballots that immigrants can study before they go to the polls. And all of America’s school children should be taught in English.
Throughout our history, we have shown a tremendous capacity to absorb and assimilate. About 70 million people have immigrated to the United States since 1840. And we wouldn’t have come so far as a nation without them. The percentage of foreign born in the United States now is roughly 10 percent. In 1910, that figure was 15 percent. So you see we’ve been here before. Many of the problems we face with immigrants are due to the fact that they are not full-fledged members of our communities. We don’t need to grant them citizenship immediately, but we must give them a stake in the future of the country they are doing so much to support.
A nation is neither sovereign nor safe without a secure border. The president has done a great deal to strengthen border enforcement. He has more than doubled border security funding from $4.6 billion in FY 2001 to $10.4 billion in FY 2007. He will have also increased the number of Border Patrol agents by 63 percent – from just over 9,000 agents at the beginning of his administration to nearly 15,000 at the end of this year. He is also on track to increase this number to approximately 18,000 by the end of 2008, doubling the size of the Border Patrol during his time in office. I believe we can control the border — partially with a fence, but mostly through the use of advanced surveillance technology. In addition, under the president’s plan, our country will be more secure because immigrants here to work will be issued tamper-proof ID cards with biometric information.
Some people in other countries believe the United States is a nation in decline, but you can’t tell that to the immigrants. They’re here because they believe in America. And we need to believe in them. The United States achieved greatness due to the striving of millions of immigrants. We are indebted to all of those who immigrated to the United States seeking only the freedom to succeed or fail based upon their own innate abilities. They literally built a nation while pursuing the American dream.
A tragic event in American history occurred in 1939 just months before WWII when more than 900 Jews fled Nazi persecution in Germany on the ocean liner SS St. Louis. They languished off the coast of Florida and ultimately were denied asylum by President Roosevelt because of political pressure from members of his party. The St. Louis was forced to return to Europe where almost all of her passengers were murdered in the Holocaust. Today, thousands of Iraqis have been helping the United States and coalition forces and they may soon need our help as thousands of Vietnamese did in the 1970′s. If necessary, the United States should give them asylum.
And for immigrants who eventually do become citizens, the Republican Party can compete for their votes because we’ve got the best ideas. If immigration threatens our national security, it is only because our party is divided on the issue. And it will be difficult to retain the presidency and regain the Congress if we remain so. The Republican Party must come together on this issue because Democrats in the White House and in control of Congress are a threat to national security. Immigration is one of those ideals that the founders knew to be important to the future of the United States, and we must remain true to the principles that made this country great — that’s what conservatism means.
Republicans today yearn for Ronald Reagan’s brand of leadership. In 1986, President Reagan signed a bill that allowed those here illegally at the time to stay. Although the new law wasn’t the comprehensive reform President Bush is seeking, there’s no question Reagan understood the important role immigrants play in our society. In a radio address in 1979, Reagan said “One thing is certain in this hungry world, no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.” On a trip to Moscow, Reagan told Russian students “You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman; you can go to live in Germany, you cannot become a German — or a Turk, or a Greek, or whatever. But anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in America and become an American.” And in his final address to the nation, Reagan said “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.” That was Ronald Reagan on immigration.
Our party’s great contribution is to expand freedom in our own land and all over the world. People who live in freedom always prevail over people who live in oppression. That’s the story of the Old Testament. That’s the story of World War II and the Cold War. That will be the story of the global war on terror. Quoting from Leviticus in the Old Testament: “If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself — for you were once strangers yourselves in Egypt.”
My friends, this is our history, this is our tradition, and this is what makes America the shining city on the hill.