Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he's going to need “all the help I can get” on immigration reform.
“I've been fighting this sucker since 2007,” Graham said.
Graham spoke about immigration during an appearance at the Easley Rotary Club in South Carolina last week.
“When it comes to immigration reform, now is the time,” he said. “I've never seen a better political environment.”
Graham believes the GOP's stance on immigrants cost them heavily in the 2012 election.
“On the Republican side, we went from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote under President Bush in 2004 down to 27 (percent),” he said. “That is not growth. And you'll never convince me it's not because of the rhetoric around the immigration debate. I don't think Hispanics see us as not conservative enough. I think we've created a wall between ourselves and the Hispanic community based on word choices, more than anything else.
“But that's a political problem,” Graham said. “I'm not doing immigration reform to solve the Republican Party's political problem. I'm trying to save our nation from, I think, a shortage of labor and a catastrophic broken system.”
Borders must be secured “before we do anything else in terms of a pathway to citizenship,” Graham said.
“If you don't get the border right, you're going to have 12 million 20 years from now,” he said. “I have one simple goal: get this fixed so that 20 years from now we don't have a bunch of illegal immigrants coming into the country. Why do most of them come? Work. We're not being overrun by Canadians. Canada's got a stable government and a stable economy. The people coming here come from very corrupt nations with unstable economies and unstable governments. I would try to get here too.
“But we have a right as a nation to pick and choose who comes and on what terms,” Graham continued. “So secure that border and more than anything else, control who gets a job in America.”
Graham asked how many business owners were in the room.
“If I came to you to apply for a job, the only real card I need is a Social Security card – easily faked,” he said. “We're going to find a system called e-Verify and improve it so that you can find out without spending a bunch of money that you don't have to spend on government to verify that the person in front of you is who they say they are.”
Controlling who gets a job will act as “a virtual fence,” Graham said.
“Take the magnet off the table,” he said. “People come here to work, and if they find it hard to get a job here illegally, they will not come.”
He realizes businesses need access to labor.
“Anybody ever worked in a chicken processing plant?” Graham asked. “Anybody ever been to one? How many of you want your kids to work there?It's tough work. When you go to these meatpacking plants in Saluda, harvesting the crops or servicing the hotels along the coast, you may not believe it, but it is true – there is a shortage of labor in some parts of our economy, even though we have high unemployment.”
Graham said the Kiawah Golf Club advertised for 600-700 service positions in advance of hosting the PGA.
“They got 9 applicants for these jobs,” he said. “Three of them failed the drug test. They ran out of visas. You have an allocation of visas for seasonal service workers. I had to go to beg the Department of Labor to give them a waiver so they could get people from Jamaica to come in here and service the PGA.
“There's a shortage of labor,” Graham said. “The visas we have available just are not enough. On the high-tech end, BMW and other companies like Boeing, we just don't produce enough engineers here in America to meet the needs of American business.”
America is suffering from a “brain drain,” where engineers are being educated in this country then returning to their home countries, Graham said.
“I think it's crazy to give them a degree from Clemson and they go back to India,” he said. “They should stay here. They should get a green card with their degree. We're going to need people.”
Today there are three workers for every Social Security retiree, Graham said.
“In 20 years, there will be two,” he said. “We're going to need to bring people into this country to make sure we have the labor we need to keep America strong and to grow our economy. We need temporary worker programs to take the pressure off businesses so they won't have to hire illegally.”
America is “a land of immigrants.”
“This comes natural to us,” Graham said. “They're having a hell of a hard time in France and Germany. An American is an idea. It's not a race or one group. It's not a religion, it's an idea. The good news is that a lot of people will buy into this idea. The bad news is, more people want to buy into it than we can afford to bring in in an orderly fashion. That's why you need a new immigration system.
What about the 12 million illegals currently here?
“Some can stay and some are going to have to leave,” Graham said. “Those that stay need to learn our language, pay taxes and get in the back of the line and wait their turn.”
That remark drew applause from Graham's audience.
Graham said American currently has a “family-based immigration system.”
“If you get a green card today, it's not just your minor children and your spouse that are eligible for a green card,” he said. “It could be your adult children, your grandparents. Every green card you give away is one less worker.”
He wants to replace the current system with “economic-merit based immigration.”
“Under the new system, only minor children and a spouse will be allowed a green card,” Graham said. “That will free up thousands of green cards for workers.”
Terry Garrison asked Graham where the country stands on securing the border with Mexico.
“We have 362 miles of fences built, we're going to go to 678.” Graham said. “You don't need a fence everywhere. You need a fence where people can walk across the street in high-volume area. In these remote areas, drones and sensors seem to be doing the job.”
He says the identification rate is currently 88 percent.
“Of the people we identify as coming across the border illegally, we're catching about 88 percent of them,” Graham said. “My goal is to get it to 95 percent. The problem with the border is, you can make it more secure, it's going to take about $6 billion and we're going to be rolling out our border security plan soon.
“But if you don't control why they come, you could build a 100-ft-high wall, they'll climb over it or go under it if they can still get a job,” he said. “If you don't get the border right, everything else will fall apart. When Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to three million in 1986, the reason we have 12 million today is because we never secured our border and we never controlled who could get a job. I'm not going to do that twice.”
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