Also, because undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety. This puts companies who follow those rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime or just a safe place to work, at an unfair disadvantage.
Think about it. Over the past decade, even before the recession, middle class families were struggling to get by as costs went up but incomes didn’t. We’re seeing this again with gas prices. Well, one way to strengthen the middle class is to reform our immigration system, so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everyone else. I want incomes for middle class families to rise again. I want prosperity in this country to be widely shared. That’s why immigration reform is an economic imperative.
And reform will also help make America more competitive in the global economy. Today, we provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities. But our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or power a new industry right here in the United States. So instead of training entrepreneurs to create jobs in America, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense. In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can get – not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contributions will benefit all Americans.
Look at Intel and Google and Yahoo and eBay – these are great American companies that have created countless jobs and helped us lead the world in high-tech industries. Every one was founded by an immigrant. We don’t want the next Intel or Google to be created in China or India. We want those companies and jobs to take root in America. Bill Gates gets this. “The United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge,” he’s said, “if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete.”
It’s for this reason that businesses all across America are demanding that Washington finally meet its responsibility to solve the immigration problem. Everyone recognizes the system is broken. The question is, will we summon the political will to do something about it? And that’s why we’re here at the border today.
In recent years, among the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security. These were legitimate concerns; it’s true that a lack of manpower and resources at the border, combined with the pull of jobs and ill-considered enforcement once folks were in the country, contributed to a growing number of undocumented people living in the United States. And these concerns helped unravel a bipartisan coalition we forged back when I was a United States Senator. In the years since, “borders first” has been a common refrain, even among those who previously supported comprehensive immigration reform.
Well, over the past two years we have answered those concerns. Under Secretary Napolitano’s leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. They wanted more agents on the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.
They wanted a fence. Well, that fence is now basically complete.
And we’ve gone further. We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working the border. I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California. We’ve forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries. And for the first time we are screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments – to seize guns and money going south even as we go after drugs coming north.
So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform.
Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.
They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.
But the truth is, the measures we’ve put in place are getting results. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, and 64 percent more weapons than before. Even as we’ve stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago – that means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally