We are a nation of immigrants, enriched, in large part, because of their hard 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 comprehensive 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 appeared to combine enforcement with realism about our economic needs, but it ultimately stalled. The Senate passed legislation again in 2013 but House Republicans refused to consider it.
In the 111th Congress the House passed H.R. 5281 –the DREAM Act. This legislation sought to address the status of young persons brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents when they 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. This bill was narrowly drawn and set forth careful criteria for eligibility. Unfortunately, it did not pass the Senate. 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. In late 2014, the President again announced a series of executive orders on immigration in the continued absence of legislative action.
We cannot and should not attempt to deport every undocumented person. We can disagree about how many, length of residence to be required or fine imposed, but we must recognize that many undocumented persons have become essential members of our society.
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 filed The Best Return on America’s Investment Now Act (BRAIN) to encourage highly educated foreign students to remain in the United States. It amends the Employment Based Visa (EB) program to create a new category for persons who have earned Doctorate Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in the United States. Our higher education system attracts the best and brightest students from around the world. We provide an education, and then send graduates home to compete against us. It just doesn’t make sense. My legislation does not create a single additional visa for anyone and is targeted only to STEM Doctorate graduates. It simply makes 14,000 of the existing visa pool available to the very best and brightest young people in the world, future innovators and entrepreneurs.
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, Defense and Homeland Security 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. It is time for reasonable people to agree on reasonable policies.