BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, our community of Nashville, Tennessee, and the Nashville banking industry lost an entrepreneurial banker, Brian Williams, who was the Music Row banker for SunTrust Bank, and he was such an extraordinary, truly extraordinary, man. Certainly, we feel that we have lost a visionary in not only the banking industry but in the music business industry.
Brian is one of those who really understood that the entertainment industry and the music industry is a business, and he approached it that way and he pioneered the music industry's banking division for SunTrust Bank.
He is a man who I honestly believe in all my years of working on the intellectual property issue, whether as head of the Tennessee Film Entertainment Music Commission or as a member of the State Senate or now as a Member of Congress, he understood the ability of intellectual property to generate an income. He understood that intellectual property is private property, and he understood how royalty income could indeed work for our creative community.
He is truly going to be deeply, deeply missed and to his wife, Marion, and his parents, our thoughts are with you all.
Now, to our issue of immigration. Mr. Speaker, the question that we have before us is one that we are looking at as an issue of border security, and I feel that many times this issue becomes clouded as we try to talk about so many different components of border security and immigration and illegal entry into the country and employer verification. Sometimes looking at the great big pie, the great big pie of the border security/immigration issue, all rolled into one, becomes very, very difficult for many of us.
We have started through a process of beginning to break it apart and take things one at a time and focus intently on this issue; and, indeed, it is an issue that we have had before us. As a former Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Immigration Subcommittee there, we have kept our focus on how do we make certain that we keep this Nation secure, how do we make certain that border security is addressed as national security, and how do we keep America safe, how do we make certain that we know who is coming in this country, how do we make certain that we know why they are coming and how do we make certain that we know the people who have come here have come for the right reasons, have come with the proper paperwork and do not overstay those visas and that paperwork.
This is a question to look at. It is a discussion to engage in and it is an issue that I would hope every Member of this body, from both sides of the aisle, would participate in discussing and finding a solution.
Of course, the House has passed a bill. We passed it last year. We sent it to the Senate. It has first and foremost a focus on securing this border. We know that this is a problem that the American people are frustrated with. They are frustrated with D.C. and I understand why. We are, too. Some of these issues you can absolutely talk to death. The American people are ready for action, and indeed, the House is the body that has been leading on that action.
As we have watched illegal entry, the act of illegal entry, and that is our focus, as I said earlier, it is not immigration, our focus is on illegal entry, and addressing the act that is being committed as individuals, as weapons, as drugs all come into this country illegally, this is an enormous problem. It is not a secret. The American people know this, and that is why they have joined with the House in saying this needs to be handled.
Mr. Speaker, lack of action on this issue over the past few years and lack of responsiveness by some who want to confuse it by making it a big comprehensive, difficult-to-get-your-arms-around issue has caused a couple of things to happen, but that is the way it is many times, in life, in politics, and certainly in this issue of security.
The fact that action was not taken when the House first got ready to move forward and that we have seen thousands and hundreds of thousands of people illegally enter this country has caused every town to be a border town and every State to be a border State.
When I was in the State senate in Tennessee, I started working on this issue, trying to make certain that those that illegally entered this country could not secure valid driver's licenses and then have carried that activity with me, coming here to Congress and again continuing to focus on this issue.
As I said, every State is a border State, and we are hearing from States like my State of Tennessee and other States around the country. Border security is the number one issue. We have seen enormous populations of people who are not legally in the States gravitate to certain States for specific reasons, and Americans know that there ought to be laws that are enforced. They know that there are laws on the books, and they cannot figure out why in the world, why in the world those laws are not being enforced, why are we choosing not to enforce those laws and defend those borders.
Our constituents are right to ask those questions. We need to tackle the illegal entry problem. We need to do this one step at a time. We need to demonstrate in good faith to the American people that efficient, effective border security can be accomplished and we are ready to move forward on it. We encourage the other body and we encourage the American people to join with us on this issue and addressing this issue.
At this time, I would like to yield to my colleague from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) for some of his thoughts and comments on this issue.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman. He is so correct. An essential element in winning the war on terror is controlling our borders.
And one of the things that we heard this weekend, this past week, on Tuesday as we took our first field hearing to San Diego, was, we heard how the Iraqis have been reaching into Central America and into Mexico, and how al-Qaeda is reaching in there and doing what is necessary for them to make these connections to be able to enter through this southern border.
What a frightening thought that is to us. How very difficult it should be for them. But, unfortunately, it seems they are saying how very easy it can be. Mr. Speaker, think of that. Al-Qaeda and those that would seek to do us harm are choosing to see if they can come across our southern border, one more good reason why we should be certain that we secure that border.
The gentleman from Texas also said something else I want to return to. We ignore this at our own peril. And we hear that repeatedly. We would ignore this at our own peril.
And I mentioned the hearing that we held in San Diego. Chairman Royce did a terrific job chairing this hearing for the International Relations Committee, focused on terrorism and border security. And I commend our leadership, our Speaker and our leader for making certain that we, as a body, have the opportunity to go and listen and talk with the American people on this issue.
And as we were at Imperial Beach outside of San Diego on that border, we heard from sheriffs, we heard from border agents, and we heard from those who have studied this issue closely, very closely over the past several years, just not weeks, not just months, but several years.
And each and every one of them talked about the importance that is upon us for examining and moving forward with action in securing this border. And the gentleman from Texas is right. We ignore this at our own peril.
He also mentioned with the State of Texas, the billions that are spent on education, the hundreds of millions that are spent on health care for those that have illegally entered this country. He also mentioned incarceration and the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent in his State of Texas on incarceration.
I asked the sheriff from Los Angeles County during the hearing in San Diego what they spent every year on incarceration, because 26 percent of their jail population are criminal aliens; 70 percent of those are repeat offenders. They are spending about $80 million a year, $80 million of taxpayer dollars each year in Los Angeles County for incarceration of those who have committed offenses and are being held and detained as criminal aliens.
Another point that the gentleman talked about was that our laws are not up for discussion. And one of my constituents over the weekend said, you know, U.S. citizenship is not a lottery, and it is not. And this comment came from a gentleman who is a veteran. And he grabbed me by the arm as we were out celebrating our freedom, celebrating Independence Day, and looked me straight in the eye. And he said, ``Marsha, I fought for this country. I fought for this freedom. I fought for everyone to have this citizenship. Let me tell you right now, it is not a lottery.''
Our laws are not up for discussion, and our citizenship is not a lottery; and we need to remember that. And I appreciated those comments from that gentleman.
I had another constituent who said, ``You know, if you illegally enter my car, my bank account, my private information, my house, my business, my church, you are going to pay a penalty. You have committed a crime. Why in the world does that not apply to this great Nation?''
Mr. Speaker, the American people understand that the issue at hand is border security and illegal entry. Many in this body and certainly our leadership concur with that. Legal immigrants, as the gentleman from Texas talked about the naturalization ceremony where he spoke, legal immigrants know that the laws on the books are for abiding. And they appreciate that and they honor it.
And we want to be certain that those are kept as the rule of law, and this Nation remains a sovereign nation. As my friend, Alfredo, said, as I talked with him over the weekend, he said, ``You need to protect the American dream. I am here for the American dream.''
He is here legally. He is looking forward to the day when he stands and raises his hand and takes that oath and becomes a U.S. citizen. And he too wants to have his very own personal story to tell about how he achieved the American dream.
And for Alfredo and his wife and thousands that come here every year legally to seek that dream, their message to us is: secure the border, and make legal entry a priority. Put your focus on illegal entry, and put a stop to that.
You know, the message that we are continuing to get from our constituents is: stop the bleeding, secure the border, narrow your focus. And I hear that from State legislators back in my State of Tennessee. If we don't do that, we leave with them the issue of addressing the problems that are then passed to the States: driver's licenses, insurance issues, looking at educational and health care and law enforcement issues. They feel as if all of that is left for them to deal with. Our towns and our cities look at us and say: when it comes to law enforcement, we are the folks on the street. When it comes to who opens the hospital doors, that is us. When the school bell rings, we are the ones providing the service. And that is why they look at us and say: what your lack of action is doing is turning every single town into a border town and every single State into a border State.
So they want us to get in here and complete our work on securing this border, to look at the options that are out there. As we heard from some of our Border Patrol agents, put our focus on intelligence-driven, threat-based mechanisms. Look at what it takes to integrate electronic surveillance, human surveillance, and physical barriers. And we heard from some of the sheriffs that, yes, indeed, physical barriers work, and they were happy to give us plenty of information about how it had driven down crime.
The House has passed a bill; and if we need to pass one more, we can do that. We have to be certain that we demonstrate the results that are necessary for securing this border.
At this time I would like to yield again to the gentleman from Texas.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I want to participate in this discussion with you about the difference in these bills. And you are so right when you mention that our House bill would increase personnel on the border, put the K-9 units there, look at a virtual fence as well as a physical barrier, the electronic surveillance, and really tighten up that border. And one of the things we have said in the House repeatedly is, let us lay out an orderly process. Let us secure the border first; then let us move to the employer verifications which you mentioned. But let us secure that border first. Let us deal with the enforcement mechanisms.
And I am so delighted that you mentioned catch and release. As I mentioned earlier, the sheriffs that we had, two from California, one from Texas that were at our hearing, said catch and release is a huge problem. Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, one county alone, Los Angeles County, 26 percent of the jail population is criminal aliens. After I left that hearing and I was through out in my district in Tennessee and I would talk to sheriffs, I would say, What portion, what portion of your incarcerated population is those that entered the country illegally? I have not spoken with anyone who has less than 10 percent. And the recidivism rate, as I mentioned the one sheriff who was before our committee talked in terms of upwards of 70 percent.
And when I talk to our law enforcement personnel, it is always a high percentage that is in their jail not once, not twice, but many times. That criminal alien population, the recidivism rate is very high. And you are exactly right, that is a cost to our local communities.
One of the concerns that we hear from when people talk about the Senate bill is they are concerned about wage protections, they are concerned about favorable treatment, they are concerned about a favorable way for those that entered the country illegally to pay their taxes or to access tuition or to receive Social Security benefits. And they look at us and they say, You know, this is not fair. This is not right. And there is great concern.
And I think that that is one of the reasons that the American people return to looking at the House bill and saying, this is what we want to see: first, secure the border. Second, deal with that magnet. Look at the employer sanctions, then deal with the enforcement mechanisms. And then, once you have stabilized the situation, look at the visa programs, but only after the situation has been stabilized.
I yield to the gentleman from Texas.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. As we talk about securing this border and the reason for it, and in the House bill we have stretches where there is a physical border and a fence that would be very difficult to penetrate, and there is a reason for that, Mr. Speaker. And the sheriff from Laredo, Texas, Sheriff Flores, was so articulate on this issue as we talked about the border there and spoke about the 18-wheelers, 6,000 to 7,000, 18-wheelers a day coming through that exchange point and through that immigration point.
Now, Mr. Speaker, one of the things that is of concern for us is how you check the cargo that is in here. And as I mentioned earlier in my comments: illegal entry, human trafficking, drugs, weapons. As we look at this 6,000 to 7,000 18-wheelers a day that are on the road, and couple that with trucks and vehicles that are coming across the unpatrolled areas and open land, what we have are vehicles that are driving drugs and meth and arms into this country. We don't know what all is coming in them. What we do know is that in my State of Tennessee we have a problem with meth and dirty meth. They know that it is made many times in Mexico. When they confiscate and interdict, when the interdiction units bring in marijuana and cocaine and meth, they can tell where it is coming from by how it is packaged, how it is being delivered. And we know for a fact that this is a problem.
We have a county in west Tennessee that we worked closely with on this issue, and just a little under a year ago they put a meth interdiction unit on the road. Interestingly enough, nearly every time that unit goes out, nearly every time it goes out it is conducting an interdiction. And it is sad to see, but when you go in and look at that evidence room and look at the weapons and the drugs, and hear the stories of individuals that are being brought in, some of them against their will, it is not a story that is a happy story. It is a very sad story.
Our constituents are tired of this, and they want the borders secured so it will decrease that flow, decrease the opportunity for that flow of human trafficking and drugs and weapons.
I yield to the gentleman from Texas.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, as you talk about focusing in on that issue of illegal entry and focusing in on border security and being certain that we deal with that first, first and foremost, handle this issue.
I appreciate the comments that you said regarding amnesty and how opposed to amnesty I personally am and how opposed so many of my constituents are because they feel that is such a dishonor to those who are coming here legally.
During my time at home, as we were holding town hall meetings and visiting with constituents, I have had constituents say, If you start passing out amnesty, then I want amnesty from the IRS. If you let those who have illegally entered this country choose to pay 3 years of 5 years of back taxes, I want to pay 3 years out of the past 5 years. Those are questions that we are getting from our constituents, and they are right to be asking them.
I had someone say they wanted amnesty from OSHA, a small business manufacturer, paying taxes and creating jobs and working hard. He said, They come into my plant, they stand there, they hold a meter; I want amnesty from that. I want amnesty from the EPA. So we are hearing this over and over.
Mr. Speaker, what it really speaks to is the breakdown of the rule of law. Why? Our constituents are so right to ask that question. Why? Why in the world would a body pass a bill that would do that? Why would they encourage that? Why would they not honor the rule of law? Why would they not choose to deal with the crisis situation, which is illegal entry, and focus on that?
That is the area where everyone agrees: Secure the border and secure it now. Secure it first. Put additional people on the border. Put additional resources on the border because border security is national security and a very important component of our national security.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman from Texas for joining with us in this debate this evening and for continuing to talk with our colleagues and with the American people, because this is about illegal entry.
The situation of illegal entry and immigration are two completely different debates. Those who are trying to blend them into one are doing a disservice. We have to move forward in addressing illegal entry, and we have to move forward in securing this border.
Mr. Speaker, America is an incredibly welcoming Nation. It is a wonderful Nation that for years and centuries, we held our arms wide. We welcome those that choose to legally enter. We love the energy and vitality that they bring. We love their excitement. We love the way they bring an entrepreneurial spirit and they bring diversity and they bring to each of us a challenge, a very well-placed challenge, to work harder, to do better.
And we love it when they succeed, and we celebrate it. We take the time to celebrate that success, every little success, with them. And when they receive that citizenship after years of hard work, we are standing there with them, celebrating with them.
Some of them are in our families, some are in our extended families; and some of our close friends that we love like family have been through this process. And because of this, we stand with them in saying, Let's secure the border and end the practice of illegal entry into this Nation.
Let's be certain that legal entry and legal immigration are recognized and rewarded and celebrated in the appropriate way, as they are meant to be. But let's roll up our sleeves and let's get to work securing the border, ending illegal entry into this country, ending the human trafficking, ending the flow of drugs, ending the flow of weapons.
Let's be fair with our law enforcement officials and our Border Patrol agents that are on the border, who are tasked each and every day with keeping this border secure and, in turn, with being the first responders on the issue of border security. And let's be certain that we continue to put our focus right where it should be in realizing that border security and national security are one and the same.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, it isn't about immigration, it is about illegal entry. It is also about the rule of law.
There is a sense from the American people that we have lost control of these borders, and they are right. There is a sense that if we lose control of the borders, that then we are going to have more of the war on terror fought on American soil.
Mr. Speaker, it is issue number one. Securing this border is the most important issue that faces this body today.
I want to thank the House leadership for being so consistent in saying that this body will make border security the primary focus of our work. I want to thank our colleagues who are working on the field hearings and working to be certain that the message is communicated with our constituents and with our colleagues here on the Hill, that this House is ready to see borders secured and national security as our top priority.