Remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC
I am the son of an Italian immigrant. My father's journey to America rescued him from a childhood as a "brown shirt" and likely some cog in Mussolini's war machine.
But it wasn't as easy as simply boarding a ship and coming to America for my dad.
My Italian-speaking grandfather was able to come to America in order to flee this new fascist regime in 1923 in spite of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 that limited Italian immigrants to just a few thousand Italians per year. Turns out that his hometown in Italy was part of Austria before World War I, so my grandfather was considered an Austrian. He was able to come but wasn't unable to bring his Italian children with him.
In 1930, he became a citizen after working most of that time in the coalmines of southwestern Pennsylvania. He was then able to unite with his family in America.
When my father told me about our family's journey to America, I asked him the natural question: "Did you resent America for keeping you away from your father and in a fascist country for the first seven years of your life?" He said "no, America was worth the wait."
He was right. America was worth the wait, because we have been a country that puts the law above the people making and executing that law. The greatest protection each of us has is that no one, NO ONE, in America is above the law, including presidents, judges and, yes, immigrants.
The laws that kept my father and grandfather apart were passed because our nation needed to balance labor markets, national security interests, or any number of legitimate reasons for limiting an inflow of new immigrants. But the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 targeted Italians and Jews in part because of concerns about assimilation and in part because of rank prejudice.
Oddly enough, the laws in place today were last significantly altered in 1990 in a bill authored by Ted Kennedy. It is nothing like the laws of the 1920s which limited immigration not just in nationality but also in number to 178,000 people per year for what turned out to be 40 years. The Kennedy bill was designed to remove the need for illegal immigration by increasing the number of legal immigrants to over a million per year.
It hasn't worked. Thanks to the incentives offered by President Obama and bills like the Gang of Eight immigration proposal, last year the number of illegal immigrants rose to almost 700,000. That brings the total number of immigrants in this country to a record 42 million immigrants comprising 13.3% of the US population, the highest level in 105 years.
Is this flood of immigrants in the national interest? That is question we should ask about all of our laws isn't it? Immigration laws should serve the interest of the American people. Since immigration involves labor markets one key requirement of any plan is that it improves opportunities for better jobs and better wages by stimulating growth.
Let's look at the numbers. Without a doubt increased immigration has held down the cost of labor leading to higher profits for businesses, but has it caused growth that has led to higher wages, particularly for workers who these immigrants compete against for jobs? Real hourly wages have increased by about one dollar in the past 25 years and have slightly declined during this presidency. From 2000 to 2014 there were 5.7 million net new jobs created for workers aged 16-65 and all of them went to immigrants in spite of a 17 million increase in native born workers.
Democrats like Hillary Clinton say they are for the American worker yet they demand amnesty and huge increases in the number of immigrants for one overriding reason, votes, which leads to political power.
They have no interest in fixing our broken immigration system. The President had filibuster proof majorities in Congress his first two years in office, majorities so strong that he was able to ram through ObamaCare – yet he never even introduced an immigration reform bill. To the president and Mrs. Clinton immigration is only about dividing America by injecting ethnic and racial politics into this debate, not doing right by struggling American workers. Immigration is just another example of how Mrs. Clinton has abandoned the millions of Americans who want the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families by using divisive identity politics to gain more power.
What I will be proposing today is in direct contrast to Hillary's vision. My proposal says to American workers of all races, genders, and ethnicities that you are welcome to an America that will provide you the opportunity to rise if you work hard and obey the law. My proposal is based on hope and opportunity, not fear and bigotry.
The establishment, big business community is not much better.
They see immigrant workers as a way of diluting the labor market and lowering labor costs. To them, workers are commodities and increasing the labor supply means more bottom line profitability.
Workers are not commodities these are real people, with real families, who have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed, and they deserve leaders who will put them first.
That is why I am here today! I am not running for President for the sake of power or profit, I am running for President to fight for real people, who have real families, and who are struggling to make ends meet.
Over the past twenty years, nearly 35 million legal and illegal immigrants have come to our shores. This is the largest mass immigration America has seen in our history – even surpassing the Great Wave from the turn of the 20th Century. These immigrants are largely unskilled and low-skilled labor and they are competing for the same jobs as the 74% of Americans who do not have a college degree.
Because labor supply and demand works, corporate profits are up and executives and share holders are doing well. But the American worker has seen their wages stagnant for over a decade. The American worker is struggling and as a result the American family is struggling.
I know some of the establishment of my Party roll their eyes whenever I make this point. I see it when I'm in Manhattan's corporate boardrooms, Party fundraisers, and business dinners. Contrary to what the elites along the coasts think, the economy does not start on Wall Street and end at Route 128. The economy starts with the family and includes many routes and streets, including Main Street.
The American family is the first economy. Just like a business, each family needs revenue, pays expenses, and at the end of the month the books must balance.
As families struggle in this ever competitive labor market, we must make sure our policies do not throw up further roadblocks and dead ends to their ability to succeed. We must rebuild this first economy, and one step is to ensure we have a responsible immigration policy that puts the American worker and their families first.
Up until a few days ago I was the only candidate in this race who put forward a legal and illegal immigration proposal that puts the American worker first. I wanted to use this opportunity to flesh out those proposals and cast a vision for a stronger, healthier and more prosperous America.
This plan will fix our broken system that has served as a catalyst to economic stagnation, soaring government spending and lawlessness that threatens our personal and national security.
I am not new to this debate. Nearly a decade ago, I authored border security legislation that stood in contrast to the legislation President Bush and Senator Kennedy advocated. Unlike some who are running for President today, I was never a member of a Senate "gang," because I understood amnesty was not a solution but a perpetuation of a problem.
Whether it was the path to citizenship in the Gang of Eight bill or the right to a permanent work permit supported by Ted Cruz and others, it is amnesty. Those workers who serve as grounds keepers or waiters, bartenders and maids, they are the hard-working Americans who are being hurt most by record levels of legal and illegal immigration. They are the blue collar Americans who are in direct competition with cheap, and at times illegal, immigrant labor. Amnesty will make competition more fierce, encourage more illegal immigration and further depress wages.
As important as the debate over illegal immigration is, we can't just speak about securing our borders and turn a blind eye to an entire system that hurts American workers. Until this spring I was the only candidate who had a message focused on helping American workers by putting common sense limits on this surge of immigrants. Governor Walker was first to change his position and with few specifics call for limits on immigration. Now Donald Trump has joined a majority of Americans and me with some ideas on helping to put American workers first. I welcome them both and encourage all the candidates and all Americans to listen to my vision for how we make America stronger.
Let's face it, the problem with illegal immigration can mostly be solved immediately because it doesn't involve changing the law, it simply requires the current laws to be enforced!
The president today has the authority and the access to resources to secure our border. Let me be clear. I will do what five presidents have promised the American people. I will control our border. I will build hundreds of miles of new walls, use state of the art technology and deploy whatever manpower necessary to secure our border with Mexico. I will end the catch and release policy of this administration and have personnel deployed so as to maximize apprehensions at the border. It is time to stop the bait and switch game with the American worker.
While I won't demand the government of Mexico to build the wall, I want US workers to do that, I will make it clear to the Mexican government they must stop facilitating this lawlessness on the border and cooperate with our efforts. I will do all I can to change Mexico's behavior to the benefit of both countries. However, if they fail to cooperate I am prepared to stop authorizing border crossing cards as a first step in getting their cooperation.
Visa overstays is one of the largest – if not the largest – factor contributing to our illegal immigrant population. The defacto policy of this administration is to track visa entries, but not exits. I will do what no previous Administration has. I will enforce the law by implementing a biometric tracking system for every immigrant who enters America so we can track who is here and who has overstayed their visa. Anyone apprehended who has overstayed their visa should be subject to fines and then subsequently removed.
I will end the practice of sanctuary cities by withholding federal funds from any city that refuses to cooperate with federal authorities. I support Kate's Law and with it ending the policy that resulted in 30,000 criminal illegal immigrants being released from prison because their native country won't accept them. I will exercise my authority to deny visas to any foreign countries that will not take responsibility for their people.
The federal government has to end policies that have encouraged millions to break the law. I will put an end to president Obama's unconstitutional executive amnesty which is largely responsible for the latest border surge.
I will push for congressional action to require all businesses use e-verify for all employees to assure those who play by the rules are rewarded and employers who hire illegal immigrants are held accountable.
I will propose we join every other developed country in the world save one, and put an end to automatic citizenship for children born here to illegal immigrants.
This enforcement of, by in large, existing law will dramatically reduce the number of illegal immigrants competing against legal workers for jobs in America. However, reducing the number of illegal immigrants will not be sufficient to help struggling American workers.
I am proposing two changes to the legal immigration system that will reduce the supply of lower skilled adults holding wages down in America. Like Jeb Bush I am proposing eliminating both the visa lottery and chain migration. Unlike Jeb I will not be increasing other categories. These changes will result in a 25% reduction in legal immigration. This is in stark contrast with every Republican presidential candidate except Trump who says he also wants to return to historical averages. Some like Ted Cruz have actually proposed doubling legal immigration.
I believe immigration can be a very good thing. But as with anything, there can also be too much of a good thing. When our labor markets cannot manage the influx we are receiving, then it is time to recalibrate.
This is not anti-immigrant, this is pro- worker, especially those who are most affected by waves of new workers – recent immigrants, minorities and younger workers.
Even skilled workers have been hurt by our current system. This year Disney laid off Americans and replaced them with cheap foreign labor and Southern California Edison had the nerve to have its American workers train their foreign replacements under the H1B visa program. There is an oversupply of American workers who can fill entry level tech jobs coming out of our education system. They should be given the opportunity to get work in their chosen field, grow in experience and rise.
I propose overhauling the H1-B visa program so that only the highest skilled workers who can stimulate the economy, and create more jobs here at home are eligible. Again this is in stark contrast with other Republicans particularly Ted Cruz who seeks to quintuple H1Bs.
But in the same vein, there is a sector of our economy that has needs that are not currently being met by US workers – namely agriculture. Of the over 400 job classifications at the Department of Commerce, only a handful are the majority of workers in that category immigrant workers. Most are in agriculture. For illegal immigrant workers who are in these classifications, I will provide the opportunity for their employers to pay an annual fee to permit these workers to continue to work as temporary guest workers.
As my father said, America is worth the wait and it is worth doing it right. This means we need an immigration policy that rewards those who do it right, an immigration policy that fits our economic needs, and an immigration policy that puts the American worker first.
I was asked in the first presidential debate how I would explain the enforcement of our immigration laws to the child of an illegal immigrant. I said our compassion as a nation is found in our laws because we treat everyone equally under those laws. This must be true for our immigration laws.
Having an immigration system that turns its back on American citizens and legal immigrants so that more immigrants can come to our shores at a time when there are not enough good paying jobs to meet their needs is not compassionate.
What is compassionate is an immigration system that not only says we want you in America, but says we can give you the opportunity to rise and reach the American dream each and every immigrant strives to achieve.
That will be my policy as President.
Rick Santorum, Remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/311847