April 05, 2006

American Bar Association Section of International Law 2006 Spring Meeting

This event has already occurred.


I first developed a fondness for international relations and communications when I became Attorney General in 1979. Staff who are sensitive to bureaucratic protocol need to know how to address the Attorney General -----

Today I will address briefly a hidden threat to our foreign policy.

Three of the principles of U.S. foreign policy are:

1. The maintenance of a strong military, not only to preserve the security of our nation but also to deter the military adventurism of other nations.

2. The promotion and expansion of the rule of law in and among all nations.

3. The promotion of human rights throughout the globe.

It is obvious that the effectiveness of these objectives of foreign policy requires the United States to observe and protect these principles within our own country. Our foreign policy will not be credible unless we lead by our example.

I am concerned that we are endangering the rule of law and the strength of human rights by the present status of immigration in the United States. I will have even greater concern for these principles if the immigration bill passed in December by the House of Representatives was to become law.

Twenty-six years ago in 1979 and 1980 I served as a member of the President's Commission on Immigration Reform. It was first chaired by Governor Reuben Askew who was succeeded by Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame. The Commission took evidence at hearings at sites throughout the country. One hearing in Miami lasted about 16 hours until almost midnight. The stories of victimization of undocumented aliens were heartbreaking.

At the time, there was estimated to be between three and four million illegal immigrants in the United States.

The Commission recommended increased border manpower and enforcement, employer penalties to reduce the magnet of jobs, and an amnesty program subject to conditional requirements. Within two years, the recommendations were enacted into law.

Sadly, the reforms proved to be inadequate.

Today, it is estimated that there are 12 million plus undocumented immigrants in the United States. Immigrants with no standing, without access to justice, without health insurance, police protection, social security, retirement accounts, or ownership rights or even workmen's compensation.

These men and women comprise more than five percent of our work force. They are very hard workers in restaurants, landscaping, construction, agriculture, and other service industries. They come to work on time and work long hours diligently. They do not seek or obtain public assistance of any kind. But, generally, they do not pay federal, state or local income or real estate taxes yet they use many of the services and assets of the governments, roads, hospitals, parks, schools, etc. They place a heavy burden on local and state budgets.

The problems they present are no longer confined to the southwestern states, Florida, California and New York. The undocumented millions are now distributed in substantial numbers in more than 18 states.

They live in the shadows, in fear, and with few, if any, protections.

Some suggest the situation is an immoral arrangement between the undocumented and U.S. business and individual employers. The former seek earnings and the latter seek good, cheap labor – an arrangement that knowingly ignores or circumvents the law and welcomes illegality and abuse. But the public is an unwitting aider of the arrangement because it seeks low prices and rewards the businesses that provide them in the marketplace. That is the economic reality.

At this moment, Congress is debating these important issues. The substance is difficult and the politics are treacherous. It is easy to condemn the undocumented as illegals and criminals and demand harsh penalties for them. Protection of "American jobs" for Americans at a living wage level is the cry of the populists. Border blockades are yet another simplistic approach which has popularity.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives has passed an immigration bill in December which succumbs to this rhetoric in all three aspects. It proposes a 700 mile wall on our southwest border, felony penalties, up to five years imprisonment for undocumented immigrants and their aiders and abettors and massive increases in law enforcement by the border patrol on our southwestern border.

Is this the best the world's leading democracy built on freedom, opportunity and the rule of law can do?

This bill ignores the economic reality, provides few real remedies and drives 12 million people deeper into the darkness. The draconian provisions undermine the very tenets of our foreign policy.

Fortunately, President Bush has long stood against the House approach and advocates a program which is positive and realistic. The key points in the president's position are:

1. A major temporary worker permit program which meets U. S. labor needs and provides earnings and safety to foreign workers in the United States.

2. A six-year redemption program to be earned by the current undocumented, including payment of fines and back taxes for the 12 million who could come out of the shadows into eventual citizenship.

3. Increased money for border detection and administration to accomplish these ends and to have a more secure and safe border.

4. Trilateral cooperation by the North American nations to further long-term solutions to the problems.

The United States Senate seems to be leaning toward a similar approach to immigration reform as that of President Bush. A bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senators Kennedy and McCain, focuses on a temporary permit process and a path of redemption for the current undocumented workers.

Trilateral attention to the disparity of development and wages among the three North American nations is the long-term hope for improving and eventually solving these divisive and dangerous problems. Incentives developed on both sides of our southern border to improve economic development in Mexico domestically and by United States and Canadian businesses to further open economic progress across the border is essential. The President's current position, and such efforts as these, help further show the world that our nation's leadership is right and just and that the rule of law and our devotion to human rights is real.