Hearing Statement: “Securing the Border: Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows”

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held the hearing, “Securing the Border: Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows”. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling today’s hearing focusing on the undocumented population in the United States. Too often, our border security discussions begin and end with how to create more and better barriers at our southern border. As important as that is, I think it is critical to look deeper and ask ourselves at least three key questions:

1. Who are the undocumented individuals living here?

2. How and why did this undocumented population come to our country?

3. What is a pragmatic way forward for these individuals and our country?   

“Finding the answers to these questions will help us better secure our borders and also finally address the immigration issues that Congress has been debating for a number of years now. We are told there are an estimated 11.2 million people living in the United States without permission. We probably don’t know as much about them as we’d like, but some things are clear.

“First, most of these individuals are productive, law-abiding members of our communities. Indeed, some are children or young adults who literally do not remember any other home. Some don’t even know they were born in another country. Many others are the parents of U.S. citizens.

“Second, for all the focus on unauthorized entries along our southern border, experts believe that close to half of the undocumented population entered our nation legally and then overstayed their visa or violated its terms.

“This brings me to my third point: Jobs. Jobs are why the lion’s share of undocumented immigrants come to the United States in the first place, and it’s why they stay. We need to get serious about enforcing laws against the hiring of undocumented immigrants. And, we need to take a hard look at our labor needs and provide adequate ways for immigrants to work here legally when we do need help.

“I think all three of these factors point in one direction: comprehensive immigration reform.

“Congress needs to begin a new and real debate on a comprehensive and thoughtful immigration policy for the 21st Century. First, we need a policy that is fair. One that will significantly reduce our nation’s budget deficit and one that will strengthen the economic recovery now underway. That policy must also continue to slow the flow of undocumented immigrants to our border with Mexico and allow those living in the shadows to step forward, undergo background checks, demonstrate proficiency in English, remain gainfully employed, stay out of trouble and contribute to our nation lawfully

“Last Congress, two-thirds of the Senate came together and overwhelmingly passed such a measure. It wasn’t perfect, but it took significant steps to fix our badly broken immigration system while reducing our deficit by nearly $1 trillion over the next 20 years and increasing our GDP by 5 percent. Had it been enacted,  it also would have improved our security, in part by making it easier for border security officials to focus on the people or things that pose a true risk – such as the transnational threats we heard about earlier this week.

“I know that some of my colleagues would rather focus on one or two pieces of the immigration and border security puzzle – for example, how many Border Patrol agents we should hire and how much fencing we should build along our borders. But the issues and challenges we’ve been discussing in these hearings are more complex than that, and they certainly can’t be solved solely with more security. I continue to believe our best hope of progress is trying to tackle several of these areas comprehensively.

“Again, the bill the Senate passed last year wasn’t perfect, but it was a very good start and something members of both parties were able to come together around. I hope we can recapture that spirit and get to work on a bill right away.

“I also think we must look beyond our border and try to support efforts to address the root causes that are pushing some people to our country – in particular the dangerous and sometimes desperate circumstances some Central Americans face, as we heard yesterday.

“With that, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”