U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., Monday made the following statement on the Senate floor in anticipation of the upcoming two weeks of debate on border security and immigration reform:
“This week, if there are no obstructionist tactics, the Senate can begin debate on protecting our country and fixing a broken immigration system.
“Since last fall, when I announced that the Senate would take up this issue, the Judiciary Committee has spent over five weeks and six markups on it, and I want to thank Chairman Specter for his leadership. Judiciary Committee members and staff have worked long and hard under his guidance. And even as we speak, his committee is in session trying to finish. I appreciate that.
“Mr. President, America needs secure borders. Right now, we don’t have them. Every day thousands of people violate our frontiers. We don’t know who they are and, quite often, we can’t stop them. As a nation of immigrants who honor the rule of law, we must secure our borders to make America safer, so that we can fix our country’s immigration system.
“We are a nation of immigrants. We all came from somewhere else, and we’ve all benefited from America’s uniquely inclusive ethos.
“But America is also a nation of laws. Our laws bind and protect us. They transform us from seekers into citizens, and are the very foundation of our democracy.
“A nation that can’t secure its borders can’t secure its destiny or administer its laws. And the situation along our southern border now ranks as a national security challenge second only to the war on terror.
“Before we left for last week’s recess, I introduced the Securing America’s Borders Act so that the Senate would be able to take up border security and interior law enforcement, and allow the Senate to focus on comprehensive illegal immigration reform.
“It includes a number of common-sense, consensus measures that improve security along our physical border, crack down on human smugglers, simplify the process of deporting wrong-doers, and make it easier for employers to confirm their employees’ legal status. And many of its provisions are built from ideas in the 9/11 Commission Report.
“Why should we act, and act now? Well, Mr. President, every day we delay, we discover new facts that show how waiting makes America less safe and less secure.
“To take just one example: in January, officials discovered a massive tunnel stretching nearly a half mile from Tijuana to San Diego.
“We don’t know how many, or who, snuck in through this tunnel.
“We don’t know what materials came into our country, or when, through this tunnel.
“Mr. President, when people break our laws and come through our borders, we do know that mixed in with families looking for a better life are drug dealers, human traffickers, terrorists and common criminals who cross into our country. Increasing our border security reduces that threat to our country and our citizens.
“The danger isn’t only to America. There is danger to those who try to cross our borders, as well.
“Unofficial data collected along the Arizona border – the only area for which we have information – show that nearly 225 people died along the border in 2005 alone. About 10% perished under circumstances that suggest foul play.
“And we all know the terrible stories of those who prey on vulnerable migrants, who charge outrageous prices to smuggle them across the border and then, often, abandon them the moment trouble strikes.
“This is wrong. We must act.
“We need better enforcement and more manpower on the ground. Last year, the Senate led the charge to provide funding to hire 1,000 additional officers, more equipment and more detention beds. This was a start, but only a start.
“My proposal adds nearly 15,000 more officers over the next few years in a sustained and focused effort to buttress the 20,000 already deployed to work on border issues.
“It also requires new investments in unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, and sensors, and a comprehensive national border security strategy.
“It establishes the long-term project of building a virtual barrier to cover every mile of our 1,951-mile long border with Mexico. This will both make America safer and reduce the number of people endangering themselves trying to come into the country.
“In addition to physically strengthening the border, the bill makes it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to catch people who violate our immigration laws. It enhances the collection of biometric data about who enters the country, and allows the homeland security department to set up additional border checkpoints.
“The law creates tough new penalties for human smugglers and document forgers.
“And under this bill, terrorists, dangerous gang members, and others with serious criminal connections face expedited removal from the United States.
“But my bill doesn’t just draw on the common sense of the American people for its provisions. It also looked to the 9-11 Commission Report for guidance.
“Many of the bill’s provisions reflect the guidance of the Commission.
“For example, the commission recommended that we consolidate border screening systems. SABA does that.
“It encouraged the use of biometric data to keep track of who was coming and going. SABA does that.
“It identified the need of State and local officials to work with Federal agencies to identify terrorist suspects. SABA does that, as well.
“Mr. President, securing the border and enforcing our laws are crucial first steps to make America safer. But much more remains to be done. There are over 11 million people in this country illegally. Congress cannot turn a blind eye to this growing number. We need to act.
“As many know, I oppose amnesty. With our economy at full employment, many who break our laws come to this country to do the work others won’t so as to make a better life for themselves and their families. I honor that.
“America has always been the place where one can come to live out a dream of improvement and renewal.
“But while we welcome those who refresh and restore our American spirit, we have always done so within a framework of law. And the full Senate should have the chance to discuss, to debate, and to decide how we balance that rule of law with the situation as we find it.
“I’m here to solve problems, not stand around. All members came here to act, not fill space. We need to work together so that all 100 Senators have the opportunity to work within our rules to solve this problem.
“I do hope that the minority will not put procedural roadblocks in the way of the Senate resolving these issues, so we can put some of the country’s best minds to work here on the floor, now, this week.
“I invite all who have ideas to come and work with me, together. Together, rather than apart, we can bring the best to bear to solve this problem of illegal immigration so that America is safer and more secure.
“As I said when I introduced SABA, I want this coming debate to reflect our history as a nation committed to the rule of law and our immigrant inheritance.
“I’m glad many agree on the need to ensure our debate is in the best keeping of the Senate’s traditions. We ought to be honest about the problems we face, and the outcomes we seek, within a framework of conversation that does credit to the Senate and the nation.
“This debate, and our effort, is about the American dream and the hope that this country holds for so many hard working people.
“But it’s also an issue about what it means to be a nation. And every nation must keep its citizens safe, and its borders secure. We shouldn’t have to choose between respect for our history and respect for our laws. With hard work and responsible debate here, we can have both.
“I’m hopeful that we can conduct this debate with civility and seriousness. I look forward to a thorough and full discussion over the coming days.”