WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor to address the urgent need to fix our country's broken immigration system.
"New Mexico's remarkable spirit is rooted in our diversity, our history, and our culture, which has always been enriched by our immigrant communities and family members," said Sen. Heinrich in his speech. "We need a solution that includes a visa system that meets the needs of our economy, a tough but fair path to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in our country who are undocumented, and a plan that ensures security at our borders."
Senator Heinrich introduced three amendments to S.744, the senate immigration reform bill. Two of the measures aim to increase bilateral trade, create jobs, and strengthen security at New Mexico Port of Entries by extending the commercial and private hours of operation for vehicles at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry to 24 hours and requiring a $59 million modernization and reconstruction of the Columbus Land Port of Entry. The third amendment would ensure Hispanic-Serving Institutions are eligible to apply for grant funding to assist undocumented individuals in the transition to Registered Provisional Immigration status.
Sen. Heinrich is a strong advocate for accountable immigration reform and a lead proponent of the DREAM Act. Last month, he traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to get a firsthand look at issues affecting the region and to meet with local communities, small business owners, faith leaders, and border officials to discuss the need to pass immigration reform that works for New Mexico.
Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, fixing our broken immigration system is an urgent priority.
As the son of an immigrant, I understand how important this is for families across the country and in my home state of New Mexico. I know how hard immigrants work in this country, how much they believe in this country, and how much they're willing to give back to this country.
New Mexico's remarkable spirit is rooted in our diversity, our history, and our culture, which has always been enriched by our immigrant communities and family members. At the same time, the laws that govern our country's immigration system are antiquated and ineffective.
I'm encouraged that we are making progress towards a solution and finding some common ground. We need a solution that includes a visa system that meets the needs of our economy, a tough but fair path to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in our country who are undocumented, and a plan that ensures security at our borders.
Our broken immigration system does not match the realities of our nation's economy.
The H-2A program makes it difficult for farmers to hire the workers they need; The H-1B program sends some of our most talented students back to their countries of origin where they find themselves competing against American jobs rather than helping to create American jobs. And the labor pool comprised of millions of undocumented people allows for worker exploitation and low wages.
We must ensure our laws enable our companies to retain the highly-skilled foreign graduates of our universities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, in order to harness their skills, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, and create jobs here.
A commitment to reform our country's immigration system also requires a commitment to our students.
As a strong supporter of the DREAM Act, I am glad this legislation acknowledges that students should be treated differently. I want to thank Senator Durbin for his for his work in seeing this through. Thousands of students across the country will gain more education and training, which translates into better and higher-paying jobs. All of these extra wages will circulate through the economy, spurring economic growth and new job creation.
I have met many DREAMers in New Mexico. They are bright, hardworking, and most of them don't know how to be anything but an American. DREAMers represent much of what's best about our nation: hard work, motivation, and a willingness to serve this country in uniform. It's time to make the DREAM Act a reality.
Finally, those of us who represent border communities understand that there are a number of challenges that they face. We have made great advances in border security in recent years. Illegal border crossing apprehensions are at historically low levels, and have fallen in New Mexico by more than 90% since their peak in 2005. We also have more agents, technology and infrastructure devoted to our border than ever before. Our challenge moving forward is to continue to ensure our nation's safety, while balancing the need of our border communities to thrive and benefit from their unique bi-national culture and economy.
The mission of Customs and Border Protection is to both safeguard our nation's borders and facilitate lawful international trade and commerce. However, in the Paso del Norte region, which includes West Texas and Southern New Mexico, not all of our ports of entry are operating at full capacity. The high volume of commercial vehicles attempting to cross at the El Paso ports of entry makes it extremely difficult for CBP to efficiently service all would-be crossers while also maintaining security.
My amendment to extend the hours of operation at the nearby Santa Teresa Port of Entry will lead to more efficient trade between the United States and Mexico, grow our economy, create new jobs, and invest in border security efforts at our nation's ports.
On the subject of increased commerce in the Paso del Norte region, I'd like to thank Secretary Napolitano for doing her part. Earlier this month, she announced a plan to extend the border commercial zone in Southern New Mexico. This initiative was spearheaded by Senator Jeff Bingaman at the federal level and it received bipartisan unanimous support in the New Mexico State Legislature.
Increasing the number of visitors traveling to the region will help U.S. businesses, local economies, and bring in more tax revenue. New Mexicans are eager for a solution, DREAM Act students deserve a solution, and our economy requires a solution. With this in mind, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that we achieve accountable immigration reform that works for New Mexico and the country.
Este es el año.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.