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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the Coburn-DeMint trigger amendment--that is what this amendment is--is about setting right what has been promised since 1986. It is about requiring that the existing border security and immigration laws we have on the books today be enforced and that the fact they are being enforced be approved by Congress before the amnesty in this bill can be granted.

The Federal Government has an obligation to secure the U.S. borders and enforce U.S. laws. The American people expect that their laws will be upheld. If the U.S. borders are not secure and an estimated 12 million--of which 4.5 million or 5 million have overstayed their visas and make up part of this 12 million illegal immigrants in our country today.

The United States faces a history since the 1986 amnesty bill of being overpromised and undersold on immigration enforcement by their Government. The Federal Government has failed and has rightfully lost the trust of the people. How can the people trust that this time things will be any different than 1986? This is not about having welcoming arms; this is about the security of this country and the rule of law.

This amendment is the first step to help restore some of the trust Congress has lost. It says that before this bill can go forward, the President must demonstrate to Congress, and Congress must agree, that current laws are being enforced--laws that are on the books.

This amendment is common sense. If the agencies can demonstrate that U.S. borders are secure and immigration laws are enforced, then the American people have reason to believe that this time things will be different. They will demonstrate that compassion, once again, so often seen in the past.

What will the trigger do? This trigger is the legislative mechanism for ensuring that the Federal Government meets certain legal obligations before the process for legalizing illegal immigrants can begin. It is very simple. It will add to the current trigger amendment.

It takes several provisions of existing law, laws that are on the books, and requires they be fully implemented before we grant amnesty or legal status to illegal aliens.

What are they? The Department must achieve and maintain operational control over the international maritime borders of the United States, as required by a law passed last year by 80 to 19 in this body--the Secure Fence Act.

All databases maintained by the Department with information on aliens shall be fully integrated, as required by section 202 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. That is not accomplished yet.

No. 3. The exit portion of the U.S. visa system is to be fully implemented, as required by section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. That is not being enforced.

That the provision of law that prohibits States and localities from adopting sanctuary policies is fully enforced by section 642 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996; that the Department employ fully operational equipment at each port of entry in accordance with section 303 of the Enhanced Border and Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; aliens with border crossing cards are prevented from entering unless their biometric card is matched to them, as required by section 1101(a)6 of Title VIII of United States Code.

How this trigger works. It requires the agencies that are responsible for
implementing these laws and the various portions of them to report to the President when they have been fully implemented, and that the President review the certifications and either approve or deny them. If the President denies the agency has fulfilled the requirement, according to the law, the President must instruct the agency on what to do and when to bring it up to date. Congress shall then, on an expedited basis, once the President has certified, review the report and pass a resolution affirming the laws have been enforced; that they have been implemented.

We are not ever going to gain back the trust of the American people on immigration until we do what we have already passed. It is not about not welcoming people, it is about the rule of law and understanding that only can they have a future if we maintain the rule of law.

Why is this needed? The Gregg amendment did several good things, but it didn't go far enough. It lacked two key elements. It did not require that existing laws be implemented and enforced. Why is it we are debating that existing laws should be enforced? We are ignoring existing laws. And the Gregg amendment did not require congressional approval.

A recent Rasmussen report found two-thirds of Americans believe it does not make sense to debate new immigration law until we can first enforce and control our border and enforce existing laws.

The bill is flawed because it allows those here illegally to adjust to legal status before any of the new or old enforcement provisions are made. It requires those who are here illegally become legal before we have control of the border. This is not about not wanting and admiring and accepting the work ethic of those who come here, but it says we must secure our border.

Remember Fort Dix, NJ? One out of three of those involved in Fort Dix, NJ, were terrorists who came in through our southern border.

This amendment requires before any illegal alien is allowed to adjust their legal status that Congress certify the Department of Homeland Security has operational control of the border.

The second problem: It creates a new temporary worker problem without first having a mechanism in place to verify that temporary workers and visitors leave when their visas expire. We are going to set up a whole new program and we cannot even tell you now when they have exited under the current U.S. visa law. It has never been implemented, the visa exit system. So we have a system that controls who comes into the country but no control over who goes out. You cannot have a temporary worker program if you don't know when they come in or go out under the existing proposed statute under this bill.

The U.S. visa exit component is key to the successful new temporary program. The system created in the 1996 bill for the U.S. visa program was supposed to be in place September 30, 1998. The deadline was changed to October 15 and then to March 30, 2001, except the exit portion has never been operational. It has never been implemented.

The third problem addressed: The American public does not trust we will enforce the laws we have; namely, they do not trust the enforcement provisions in this bill, such as the employer verification system, will be implemented. Congress continues to pass laws that do not get enforced and then does nothing to ensure they are enforced. Part of the purpose of the last amnesty was to enhance our enforcement so Americans could maintain sovereignty, as President Reagan put it.

Specifically, on November 6, when President Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, he stated this legislation would help meet the challenge to our sovereignty caused by illegal immigration. He highlighted three provisions of the 1986 bill, including employer sanctions--nonexistent--to increase enforcement of our immigration laws, and legalization of those here illegally more than 4 years later. The amnesty happened, yet significant portions of employment sanctions and the increased enforcement measures have been delayed or, in some instances, never implemented.

Americans have a right to question whether things will be different this time. What this amendment will do is ensure that a employer verification system, required by the current trigger, is actually implemented and working properly before we grant legal status to those who are here illegally. It is not enough to allow Presidential certification; that will not likely be reviewed. We have that problem now. Congress must review, discuss, have hearings, and then publicly vote to certify that the provisions required in this bill, and by prior laws, are functioning. That is when we will regain the trust of the American people.

This amendment will provide the transparency and accountability to the public Americans want. Not only that, if the public views the enforcement mechanism as inadequate and not in compliance with our laws, they will be able to hold elected officials accountable at the voting booth.

The May 30, 2007 Rasmussen report revealed the public does not support or trust this immigration bill. Seventy-four percent do not believe illegal immigration will decline if the Senate passes this bill. Forty-one percent believe illegal immigration will increase, as we heard the group of retired Border Patrol agents state.

Interestingly, if those polled had a chance to improve the legislation, 75 percent would make changes to increase border security measures and reduce illegal immigration. Sixty-five percent of Americans are willing to accept a compromise on illegal status if you can assure them the rest of the laws are going to be enforced. This bill does not require that, and what they are going to get is the same thing they got in 1986.

What this amendment will do is to help improve enforcement at the borders. It will reduce illegal immigration, it will give the public confidence, and it will give elected officials the opportunity to vote on the status of where we are in terms of enforcing the law.

How did we get here? We got here through well-intentioned mistakes. We got here because we gave amnesty in 1986. We said we were going to have employer verification, and we told the American people the borders would be secure. What this amendment does is, it says: Fool me the first time, shame on you. Fool me the second time, shame on me. What this amendment does is assures the American people that this time, as we grant amnesty to those who came here illegally, it is not going to happen again.

There is no assurance in this bill that this is not a repeat of 1986. It is not about not being compassionate to those who are here and are contributing. It is not about saying no. As a matter of fact, 65 percent of the American people want to say yes, if you can prove to them things are going to be different this time. However, under this bill, there is nothing that will say things will be different.

I praise the people who worked on this bill, who put together this compromise. But I think history points us in a direction that says we have to have proof this time. We have to know if we do this again, with at least 12 million people, if we grant amnesty--and I know the President says it is not amnesty, but if you come here illegally and eventually are legal, that is amnesty--if we are willing to do that, this time the American people ought to have the assurance we are not going to do that again; that we are going to have an immigration enforcement policy, an employer verification system, an entrance and exit system, and border security that is going to make sure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. I believe this bill needs a lot more work. I believe it has a lot of complications that are unforeseen, and complications that we are aware of at this time.

I wish to take a moment to thank the majority leader for allowing me this time, and Senator Kennedy for working with me to allow me this time to talk about this amendment. I believe we have a critical problem in our country. The President's ratings are low, but our ratings are even lower. The trust of the American people in this institution is less than a third of the people in this country.

How do we build it up? We build it up by passing this amendment. We build it up by showing them we understand their concerns, we understand they are willing to accept and allow people who came here illegally to live here as citizens and get on that pathway to citizenship provided we do the necessary things to not go back to this again. This bill is severely lacking in demonstrating that proof to the American people.

We have to build their confidence. We have to regain the trust of the American people that we will, in fact, this time do what is necessary to secure our borders and control our borders. We are at risk, as the discovery of the Fort Dix belated plan reflects, in terms of our own national security. So it is not all about immigration, it is about national security, and there is nothing in this bill that forces the President of any party who is in charge or forces the Congress to do anything different than we have done in the past.

I believe it is highly important we have this trigger mechanism for the assurance of the American people that we have a secure border; that we have a visa entrance and exit system that works; that we have employer verification that works; that those key things are intact before we grant legal status to those who are here illegally.

I say again I appreciate Senator Kennedy working with me in allowing me the time to do this, and Senator Reid for his graciousness for this time.

I yield to the Senator from Texas.


Mrs. HUTCHISON. I thank the Chair.

Let me say first I thank the Senator from Oklahoma for allowing me to have the rest of his time, and I don't disagree with one thing he said. I agree with his purpose. However, I have to oppose the amendment for this reason:

Last year, the House put in the Secure Fence Act specificity about exactly where the fence would go. There was no requirement that the local people, private property owners, cities that are right on the Rio Grande River would have any input whatsoever. I do not think Congress can say that the priority fencing is 15 miles on either side of the port of entry of Laredo. It might be 10 miles. We might be spending billions of dollars that are unnecessary putting in 15 miles. It might not even be possible to put it in certain places because of the geography and the topography.

We have an amendment in the underlying bill that does require local input so that Congress is not mandating, but, instead, the Border Patrol chiefs, who have been designated by the Department of Homeland Security, will make these decisions.

Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mrs. HUTCHISON. I am happy to yield.

Mr. COBURN. Would that not negate the direction of the Secure Fence Act of last year?

Mrs. HUTCHISON. It would most certainly--it doesn't negate the purpose.

Mr. COBURN. No, no. I agree. But it would relieve that problem as you saw in the Secure Fence Act of last year, of 2006.

Mrs. HUTCHISON. Would what?

Mr. COBURN. Your underlying language would alleviate that problem in the 2006 Secure Fence Act?

Mrs. HUTCHISON. It doesn't relieve the specificity of miles of fence. It does relieve the specificity of exactly where it goes.

Mr. COBURN. So that would supersede whatever we had in the Secure Fence Act in my amendment?

Mrs. HUTCHISON. That is correct.

Mr. COBURN. So therefore your argument, I believe, is moot, because if you have that in the underlying bill, then that problem is solved and you should be able to support this amendment.

Mrs. HUTCHISON. Unfortunately, I am afraid the amendment overrules that minor revision in the Border Fence Act to which, frankly, I have to say to the Senator from Oklahoma, we had agreement from the leadership on both sides of the aisle in both Houses that we would take out that particular part. But the leadership changed, and we were not able to vote against and hold up the bill because it was the Defense supplemental bill to which that Border Fence Act was attached. To have held up the bill would have been to hold up our Defense supplemental, which of course overrode everything. That is why we waited to try to fix that minor part in this bill, which we have done and which would be undercut by the Coburn amendment.

I find myself having to oppose the amendment of the Senator from Oklahoma, even though in many ways I understand his purpose and agree with his purpose. Nevertheless, I must protect the rights of my constituents--cities and private property owners. We have to have the input from those local people, and the Border Patrol should be the ones deciding exactly where those fences are needed, not the Congress, most of whom have not ever visited Laredo, TX.

I do hope we can defeat the Coburn amendment and go forward with the bill--well, not go forward with the bill as it stands today but certainly with this part of the bill.


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