I am a supporter of this bill. It is not a perfect bill. I think it is easy to tell the people on the far right of the political spectrum and the far left of the political spectrum are not happy with this bill. But what this bill accomplishes -- like nothing I have ever seen in my 15 years in the Senate -- is that it is a piece of work that is a product of people on both sides of the aisle sitting down and trying to work something out that can get 60 votes in this Chamber and move on, and not be a useless piece of legislation, but rather one that offers a kind of comprehensive reform that has definition.
People use the word “comprehensive,” and nobody really knows what they are talking about. But in the case of this bill, anyone who carefully looks at the bill will understand what the word “comprehensive” means because the word means addressing all sides of the immigration issue: taking borders that are broken and repairing them, stabilizing a border with additional border patrol, prosecutors, detention facilities, and also strengthening interior enforcement.
Three major sections -- called titles -- of this bill really deal with enforcement of our borders, enforcement of the interior. Then there is the question of how do you deal with the 12 million people who have been here for some time illegally, most of whom are engaged in legitimate, bona fide work. How do you deal with what has developed to be an entire subterranean economy in this country, with its own special shops, stores, and special points of congregation for work? How do you remove the element of fear that drives all of this further and further underground?
The more the ICE agents -- formerly INS -- pick up people in the workplace for deportation, the more you see the inequality and injustice -- there was one family, about a week ago in San Diego, by the name of Munoz, who had been here for a long period of time. They both worked and raised three children who were born in this country. They owned their home and their furniture. Well, in came the agents, who picked up the parents. The parents were out of the country and the children were left. The home was sold and the furniture was gone. And this is a family who had the piece of the rock of America. They were contributing to the economy of America. But they were destroyed.
Many of us in this body believe you cannot find and deport 12 million people. My State of California has the largest number of people living in undocumented status, which is estimated to be in the vicinity of 3 million people. They are a vital part of our workforce. They are 90 percent of California’s agricultural workforce, which is the largest of the 50 States. They also work in service industries. You see them in hotels and in restaurants, and you see them in construction and housing. So they have become an indigenous part of the California workforce.
This bill puts together reforms in immigration with a process to bring those people out of the shadows. What has bothered me over these days, as I listen to the television and read in the newspapers, is I hear the drumbeat and I even see small signs on automobiles that simply say “amnesty.” This bill is not amnesty.
What is amnesty? Amnesty is the categorical forgiveness of a crime, an event, or whatever the issue may be. This does not do that. This sets up a roadmap, which is complicated for someone who wants to remain in this country, to be legal, to be able to work legally, and perhaps even someday get a green card, and maybe someday further off, become a citizen.
Well, there is an 8-year road created in this bill. There are fines of $5,000 plus an additional $1,500 fee for processing. There is a touchback, which may be changed in a further amendment, but at this stage in the debate it is this: If during that 8-year period the individual who has now achieved this Z visa, which gives them the right to work in this country, decides they want to pursue a green card, they would go to their country of origin, to the nearest U.S. consulate, and with the Z visa they can come in and out of the country at will. They don’t have to stay in their country of origin. What they would do is file their papers. They would submit their fingerprints, and they would turn around and come back into the United States. Then, electronically, the evaluation would be done after the present line for green cards expires. Everybody waiting in line legally for a green card gets it. They would have the opportunity to get a green card. This is estimated to be between 8 and 13 years. During that period of 8 years, they would have to re-up, come in and prove that they have done the things the bill requires them to do. This is not an amnesty.
Now, the other part is that there are changes made in what is called chain migration. Currently, one person on a green card can bring in any number of family members. This is changed to the nuclear family. The person holding the green card can bring in their spouse and their minor children. That future green card, after the 8 years -- after the list is expunged, future green cards would be granted on the basis of the point system, which deals with merit in the sense of the availability of job, work, the educational attributes of the individual, the family, and other things. I think it is as close as we are going to get to solving this problem and creating the interior enforcement, the border stability, and the laws that are necessary to secure the rule of law when it deals with immigration.”
Senator Feinstein then delivered the following remarks after introducing the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2007 as an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill:
“Mr. President, about 6 years ago, I was sitting at home and I was watching television. What I saw was, I believe, in Seattle. It was a 14-year-old Chinese youngster who had come to this country in a container. Her parents died in the container. She had survived. She had been in a detention facility for 7 months prior to coming before the judge. What I saw on television were tears streaming down her face, her hands in cuffs, and the chain went around her waist. She was unable to wipe away her tears. I thought this was very strange, something really must be wrong.
I found out that she is not alone. There are 7,000 unaccompanied youngsters who come to this country every year. Many of them -- at least up to a recent point -- were held in detention facilities for unlimited periods of time. They don’t speak the language, they have no friends, they have no guardians, and they have no one to represent them. Often, they are sexually abused. It is a real problem.
This amendment is the same as a bill that passed the Senate last year by unanimous consent. There are a few changes, and those changes remove provisions that were contained in the previous version that are no longer necessary because of changes in agency practices to bring this bill in line with other laws, and to require promulgation of regulations and reporting of statistics on children affected by this bill.
Now, in the Homeland Security Act, the responsibility for the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children was transferred from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. This amendment provides guidance and instruction to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, for how to handle the custody, release, family reunification, and the detention of unaccompanied alien children.
The amendment clarifies that any child who was deemed to be a national security risk, or who has committed a serious crime, will remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice and will not be released to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. For those who pose no danger to themselves or others, the amendment requires that the children be placed in the least restrictive setting possible, and it defines what those settings are.
This is the order of preference: One, licensed family foster care; two, small group care; three, sheltered care; four, residential treatment center; five, secured detention. So the least restrictive place for these children -- remember, in any given year, there are a substantial number of these children. The amendment also would establish minimum standards for this custody or, where appropriate, detention of these children, including making sure they have access to medical care, mental health care, some access to phones, legal services, interpreters, and supervision by professionals trained to work with these children.
I am delighted that Senator Martinez is a cosponsor, and I hope he will come to the floor because I believe he just said to me he found himself in a similar situation. I mentioned to him a case with which we are all familiar, Elian Gonzalez, who landed on the shores of Florida, whose mother drowned trying to get here. He had relatives in Florida. Florida has moved to create certain centers where these children are, in fact, secure, but many States have not.
The amendment also requires that wherever possible, these children are returned to their place of origin if there is a family member who can receive them. So a juvenile is sent home if there is a suitable placement for that child. If not, another appropriate placement must be secured for that child.
I think this legislation is very good legislation. As I said, it has passed the Senate before. We have amended it to comply with bills that have passed the Senate, and I am very hopeful that this amendment might even pass by unanimous consent today.