WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor regarding comprehensive immigration reform prior to the final vote.
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I come to the floor at the end of a long but fruitful, bipartisan process. I come here thinking of what this bill will mean for families, and come here thinking of my family – of my mother who came from Cuba, worked hard, and made it possible for me to stand here today, one of one-hundred United States Senators on the verge of passing an historic piece of legislation that she would have wanted me to vote for, a bipartisan compromise that will finally fix our broken immigration system, and bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows. Not just the millions who have been here for years without status, but the millions more who have been waiting in line to be reunified with their families lawfully.
“When the moment comes to cast that vote, I will be casting it in memory of my mother – and for every immigrant like her who came to this country in the last century to give their families a chance to contribute to America’s exceptionalism -- and for all those who will now have a chance to contribute to America’s exceptionalism in this century. It will be a vote for the long history of immigration in America, for the millions of immigrant families -- Irish, German, French, Italian, Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek, Polish, Portuguese – whose blood sweat and tears ushered-in America’s industrial age. A vote for the immigrants of the Greatest Generation who brought this nation through the Depression, fought a World War, and ended the Cold War. And it will be a vote for America’s new, young, skilled, educated, DREAMers, and entrepreneurs who will now have a chance to become citizens and help lead this nation into a brighter, more prosperous, more productive future.
“It will be a vote in memory of a long list of immigrants and the children of immigrants who made this nation great. Marine Corporal Jose Antonio Guitierrez, a permanent resident of the United States when he became the first casualty of the Iraq War; Thomas Edison from my home state of New Jersey – The Wizard of Menlo Park – who has made New Jersey the home of invention in America, and there will be an immigrant who carries on that legacy – who will make the next great discovery; Jonas Salk whose parents came here and gave him the education he needed to go on to discover the vaccine for polio and save millions of lives, and there will be a DREAMER who will be the next Jonas Salk; Colin Powell – admired on both sides of the aisle -- his was an immigrant family and, be assured, there will be another great military leader and statesman who will be the son or daughter of parents who will become citizens under this legislation; Madeline Albright is an immigrant who became a citizen and went on to be one of our most respected and admired Secretaries of State.
“The list goes on: Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Joseph Pulitzer – all immigrants who contributed to American exceptionalism. This legislation is for all those immigrants and immigrant families who helped make America better.
“This is the culmination of a long journey for me. I have been fighting for immigration reform for 20 years in Washington, and for 20 years I’ve been blazing a pathway to citizenship that would keep families together and give them a chance at a better life -- and this bill does that.
“The road has been fraught with the same obstacles – the same pitfalls and prejudices -- that have stood in the way of every generation of immigrants who wanted nothing more than a pathway to acceptance and opportunity. But, as the saying goes, ‘the hardest steel must go through the hottest fire.’ What we are about to do today has been a generation-long drive for justice and tolerance. It has been -- and remains -- the civil rights issue of our community and, I believe, when this legislation finally becomes law, it will make us stronger as a nation, just as the Civil Rights Act strengthened this nation.
“M. President, we are on the verge of historic change, and I’m proud to have been part of the Gang of 8 that hammered out a strong bipartisan effort. Now I say to my friends in the other body: Do the right thing for America and for your Party. Find common ground. Lean away from the extremes. Opt for reason and govern with us. The time has come to act in the interest of all Americans. And I hope that message will be heard – loud and clear -- in the House.
“In my view, the leadership in the other body has a chance to be American heroes, a chance to bring both sides together in an alliance that will ensure passage of this bill, and I believe a vast majority of Americans who want immigration reform to pass will thank them for doing the right thing. I hope they have the political will and courage to unite the nation and send this bill to the President’s desk – a bill that will increase the GDP, reduce the deficit, promote prosperity, and create jobs. Look at these numbers. Look at them. Fixing the broken immigration system would increase America’s GDP by over $800 billion over ten years. It will increase wages of all Americans by $470 billion over ten years and increase jobs by 121,000 per year. Immigrants will start small businesses. They’ll create jobs for American workers. It’s time to harness that economic power.
“The CBO Report also tells us we reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next decade and by another $700 billion more between 2024 and 2033 through changes in direct spending and revenues. We’re talking about almost a trillion dollars in deficit spending that we can lift from the backs of the next generation. What other single piece of legislation increases GDP growth, increases wages, increases jobs and lowers the deficit? What we realize now – what’s been confirmed by the numbers -- is that giving 11 million people a clear and defined pathway to citizenship is, in effect, an economic growth strategy and exactly the right thing to do.
“It will be a long road for those who have earned the right to become citizens. Citizenship won’t be easy. It never is. The new Americans who follow the pathway we lay out will have to have played by the rules. They will have to pass background checks, pay a fine, and pay their taxes. But, if they do, there will be no obstacle they cannot overcome to the day when they raise their right hand and take their naturalization oath. Too many families have waited too long for that day. Too many have waited too long to say those words that will change their lives. They changed my mother’s life and, in turn, gave me the chance to stand here today and vote for a pathway to citizenship that can change the lives of millions of others.
“Today is a victory not for me or for the Gang of 8. It’s not a victory for the Senate or for any one community. By passing comprehensive immigration reform we will have taken the next historic step on America’s long journey to exceptionalism. I for one am proud to have been part of the process that will continue that journey.
“In 2007, when we failed in our last attempt at immigration reform, I quoted the last phrase of Emma Lazarus's poem emblazed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty says: ‘I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’ I said then, ‘That lamp is somewhat dimmer, but it will shine again....that ‘the course of history is unalterable, the human spirit cannot be shackled forever, the drumbeat for security, economic vitality and, most importantly, justice will only grow stronger when we pass this legislation.’
“And, my friends, today we will pass comprehensive immigration reform, and the light will shine brighter and it will shine forever.”