We are a nation of immigrants, enriched, in large part, because of their work, but we cannot accommodate everyone who wishes to live here. We are also a nation of laws that should not be broken with impunity. I seek to balance openness to newcomers with reasonable care for our citizens and legal immigrants. For years now, Congress has attempted to implement immigration reform. Despite the lack of action, I remain hopeful that Congress will finally act on this important issue. House and Senate leaders have expressed the desire to reform our immigration policies but questions remain about the most realistic way to accomplish that goal.
Congress has not taken meaningful action on immigration reform during my tenure. Legislation passed by the Senate in 2006, S 2611, appeared to combine enforcement with realism about our economic needs, but this legislation ultimately stalled. We cannot and should not attempt to deport every undocumented alien. Their numbers are conservatively estimated at around 11million. Most of the adults are gainfully employed, and some, with long residence and good moral character, should be given an opportunity to eventually become citizens. We can disagree about how many, required length of residence, the amount of fine imposed, but we must recognize that many undocumented persons have become essential members of our society.
In the 111th Congress the House passed H.R. 5281 –the DREAM Act. This legislation is designed to address the status of young persons who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents when they themselves were small children. Those eligible would be granted conditional legal residence in the United States which could become permanent legal residence if they successfully complete two years of post-secondary education or military service. Only after thirteen years could they apply to become US citizens. This bill was narrowly drawn and set forth careful criteria for eligibility. It did not pass the Senate but I hope that it can become part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order in the absence of Congressional action on this issue. There is still more work to do, but at least young people who are trying in good faith to obtain an education can now remain here without fear of deportation because their parents brought them to this country illegally.
I do not support the concept of "guest workers." There may be a need in some sectors of the economy for seasonal workers, but I would oppose any measure that granted work visas without the prospect of eventually seeking citizenship. We need a better understanding of how many new workers we require each year, in what sectors of the economy, with what skills, but, as a nation, we must remain open to talent. More than one third of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans were awarded to citizens born elsewhere. Our economy should be open to immigrants who can create jobs. Our universities, research institutes, and teaching hospitals must continue to attract the world's most brilliant scholars and scientists, and we should encourage more of those educated in the U.S. to contribute to our economy.
I believe we have a responsibility, shared with other democracies, to offer safe haven to political asylees and to a reasonable number of refugees. I believe too that we bear a special responsibility to Iraqis and Afghans who have risked their lives and the lives of their families to help us, and I have appealed to the Secretaries of State and Defense on their behalf.
The debate over immigration has become unduly bitter. For years sensible legislators in both parties have not been too far apart on immigration. It is long past time to act. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion with 68 votes. That bill included many of the principles outlined above. Similar legislation with bipartisan support languishes in the House. It is time for reasonable people to agree on reasonable policies.