I want to thank the March 10th Movement for inviting me and the rest of the Illinois delegation to today's community town hall meeting. I am happy to join with you to express my support for comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes the value of immigrants to our communities, the importance of family values, and the rights of all workers to fair and respectful treatment on the job.
All of us agree that our current immigration system is broken, although not everyone agrees on the repairs that are needed to fix it. I believe that our Congressional delegation can and must play a positive and effective role in making sure that everyone benefits from meaningful legislative change. Illinois has a long record of respecting the contribution that immigrants make to our state. I, myself, am a first-generation American, the daughter of parents who found a safe home in the United States that provided opportunity and hope. Like many of my colleagues, I believe that we can provide that opportunity and hope for others - including the millions of hard-working immigrant families who are looking for us to provide a path to citizenship and to allow families to reunite and build their future together.
Every member of Congress works to help solve the problems facing their constituents - both on a case-by-case basis and through overall policy changes. Since I came to Congress in 1999, roughly 4 in every 5 constituents who come to my office for personal help comes with an immigration problem. Some of the most troubling of those problems involve families who are being kept apart because of bureaucratic delays - who are working hard to prosper and build a better life and who, like the rest of us, want their families with them. In my nearly 8 years in Congress, I have been able to help some of my constituents. But I know, as you know, that we will never be able to solve these and other cases one at a time. We need comprehensive reform.
To protect our borders and keep our borders safe, we can improve investments in the Border Patrol, port security, cargo checks, and food inspections. To help law enforcement, we can give undocumented persons the opportunity to earn legal status, encouraging them to cooperate with law enforcement officials and report crimes, allowing our overburdened law enforcement officials to know who is here, and allowing us to focus on those who really do pose a threat.
To prevent employers for seeking out undocumented workers, we can require that all workers be paid living wages, earn decent benefits, and have full workplace rights - including the right to join a union. Employers should not be able to profit by hiring undocumented workers.To protect jobs, we can enact fair trade policies that create good jobs on both sides of the border.
I believe that the Illinois delegation can be a leader in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. I also believe that we can be leaders in preventing immigrants from being targeted as scapegoats for policymaking gone wrong. We have a good job deficit in this country. Wages are stagnating, plants are closing and jobs are being outsourced. But who is to blame? Immigrants who are working hard, paying taxes, and creating consumer demand or the policymakers who let our manufacturing base evaporate, provide tax credits to companies to hire foreign workers, and refuse to raise the minimum wage?
Affordable health care is hard to find, 46 million Americans are uninsured, and medical debt is rising. But who is to blame? Immigrant families seeking emergency treatment or the policymakers who refuse to join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing affordable health care to its people and let drug companies price gouge, who let insurance companies override physicians' decisions and charge whatever they want?
College education is beyond the reach of many middle-class Americans. But who is to blame? Immigrant children who want to success or policymakers who cut Pell Grants and student loans?
It is convenient to divert America's attention away from the damage that those policies are creating - convenient but wrong and dangerous. It ignores both the amazing contributions that immigrants make to our society and to reverse those misguided policies and take this country in a new direction.
I want to close by quoting from a June 19, 2006 Open Letter on Immigration sent by 500 economists to President Bush and Congress (including conservative Arthur Laffer (author of the "Laffer curve"). "Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis..America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon."
Speech from website: http://www.house.gov/schakowsky/ImmigrationTownHallBatavia_9_05_06.shtml.