This is the text of Senator West's statement on federal immigration reform legislation, first delivered at Dallas City Hall - April 5, 2006
On Immigration Reform
I stand here again in a show of solidarity with past and present public officials and my constituents as it relates to the issue of immigration reform. This by no means signifies that I have all the answers in response to this situation, but rather, my desire to be part of the dialogue to help develop sensible public policy.
I only hope that when the time comes when we debate issues such as voting rights, the sharing of political power and other issues related to the disenfranchisement of a class of people, that the people here today will demonstrate an equally united front.
There are many aspects of this debate on a national immigration policy. But while it is a federal issue, it has real implications right here in Texas, in Dallas County and in the Senate District that you have chosen me to represent.
While I am still in the process of studying the various pieces of legislation - the McCain/Kennedy bill, the House legislation and S.2454 by Sen. William Frist (TN) - there are a few positions that can be part of my record in this debate.
- While I support strengthening and securing our borders, I do not support the building of a fence or wall that runs along the expanse of the Mexican border. Let's build bridges of opportunity; not walls of division. (Debemos abrir caminos de oportunidades, y no construir muros de division.)
- I do not think that it is practical or feasible to expend resources in the effort to track down and expel the estimated 11 to 12 million Mexican citizens who are believed to be in this country illegally.
- I do believe that it is in our best interest to develop a sensible immigration policy that will allow persons who have come to this country by whatever means and from various countries to gain a legal immigration status that may allow them to earn citizenship.
- I do not support legislation that would criminalize individuals, agencies or religious organizations who feed or provide basic services to those who might be in this country illegally.
- I do not support legislation that would create a felony offense for persons found to be in this country illegally.
- I do support a concept proposed in the McCain/Kennedy legislation that would allow the creation of some type temporary worker program.
While we are on this subject of employment, there are also a great many issues to be examined. I understand that people come into this country from Mexico, from Central America, from South America, in search of a better way of life. But they also come here from Haiti, from Europe, from Asia, for the same reasons. If a new immigration policy is developed, it should not be an immigration policy just for illegal Mexican immigrants.
I understand that people come here looking for work, to help support their families. But I want you to listen really closely here. There has been an argument in this debate that says that the U.S. economy depends on immigrant labor; that immigrants do the jobs that no one else wants to do. I want to help clarify that argument in a way that helps define who the real culprits are in this scenario.
A more accurate statement is that immigrants do the work that no one else would do for the wage that's being offered by some employers.
What we have, is a pool of available workers, competing for sub-standard wage-paying jobs and industries who profit by paying workers at rates that are below their skill levels. This scenario pits this particular group of underpaid workers against other potential employees who are unwilling or unable to maintain their standard of living for the wages that are being offered.
So what we need to address also - during this debate on immigration reform - are employers and employment practices that exploit immigrant labor.
This is - in actuality - another of the many instances where we are in the same boat.
Another thing that I want to help clarify is that this argument is not one of Civil Rights. This is a debate about access to basic Human Rights. Hunger is not a Civil Rights issue. Access to quality healthcare is not a Civil Rights issue. Decent housing should not be a Civil Rights issue. Having a job that pays a livable wage should not be a Civil Rights issue. These are issues that effect Hispanics, African Americans, Haitians, Africans, people from Asian countries, Native Americans and the like. They are all matters of Derechos Humanos (Human Rights).
Historically, America is a country of immigrants; some voluntary, some involuntary. If we are to stay true to the basic tenets of democracy that we have established in this country, we will continue to embrace the immigrants who arrive at our doorstep.
We must work together to create a climate and policy in this country where the only limitations to freedom and prosperity that are placed on an individual - are those that are self-imposed.
For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123 or David Quin at 512-463-0123.