DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010--CONFERENCE REPORT--Continued -- (Senate - October 20, 2009)
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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise to join my distinguished colleague from Alabama, as well as our colleague from South Carolina, who will come to the floor soon to talk about this Department of Homeland Security Appropriations conference report and specifically the major provisions which had broad bipartisan support which were stripped out of the conference report in the dead of night. I wish to thank my colleague from Alabama for all his work on this issue in general, particularly the E-Verify system. I strongly support the E-Verify system. I strongly support expanding it aggressively. It is part of a solution. It is not the whole solution; no one item is. But it is an important part of the solution to get our hands around immigration enforcement, particularly at the workplace. So I thank my colleague for that work.
Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. VITTER. Absolutely, I will yield.
Mr. SESSIONS. The Senator has served in the House and the Senate and knows how conference committees work. Isn't it true that the majority of the Senate conferees would be appointed by the majority leader, and a majority of the House conferees would be appointed by the Speaker?
Mr. VITTER. Absolutely.
Mr. SESSIONS. Isn't it a tradition that normally conferees appointed by those leaders tend to follow their lead in how they vote in conference?
Mr. VITTER. Absolutely.
Mr. SESSIONS. The Senator had an amendment that was stripped out, as I did, dealing with the immigration issue. It seems to me odd that amendments receiving such high votes in both the House and the Senate would be stripped out of conference. Would you agree that is an odd thing to happen?
Mr. VITTER. I absolutely agree with my colleague.
I would point out in that vein, the Sessions amendment got broad support. When the Democratic leadership handling the bill on the floor asked to table the amendment, that was rejected 53 to 44. In a similar way, they attempted to table the amendment of our colleague from South Carolina, and that motion was defeated 54 to 44. My amendment was adopted by unanimous consent. Yet with that clear support from the Senate floor, the leadership on the other side apparently went to conference and took out those amendments in the dead of night. I find that worrisome. I find it worrisome in terms of the process. I find it worrisome in terms of immigration reform and where we are apparently headed.
Again, as I said, these were three significant amendments put in this bill on the Senate floor. All three have been stripped out of this conference report.
Let me focus for a minute on my proposal. When the bill was on the Senate floor, my amendment, which was Senate amendment No. 1375, was passed by unanimous consent. So literally no one in the entire body, Democratic or Republican, objected. Essentially, everyone agreed to put this amendment on the bill. The amendment was to prohibit funding to the Department of Homeland Security if they implemented any changes in a final rule requiring employees to follow the rules of the Federal Social Security no-match notices. This, as E-Verify, is an important piece of the puzzle. It is an important piece of the solution.
In August of 2007, the Department of Homeland Security introduced its no-match regulation. This clarified the responsibility of employers who receive notice that their employees' names and Social Security numbers don't match up with the records at Social Security.
So under the rule, employers receiving these notices who did not take corrective action would be deemed to have constructive knowledge that they are employing unauthorized aliens. So, in other words, the intent and the way the rule worked was very simple and straightforward. If records went in to the Department of Homeland Security, if a name and a Social Security number didn't match according to Social Security records, then the Federal Government would notify the employer and would say: Time out; you have a problem. You need to do something about it. If it is a mistake, we need to figure that out, but otherwise it seems as though you are hiring an illegal. So stop and either clear up the mistake or do not hire that person.
This rule provided employers with clear guidance on the appropriate due diligence they should undertake if they received that sort of letter from the Federal Government. So employers who received no-match letters would know they have a problem: Either their record keeping needs to be improved or they have hired illegal workers. The DHS no-match rule gives companies that want to follow the law a clear path to safety. Companies that prefer to ignore the problem or have chosen to run their business with illegal labor cannot be forced to act responsibly, so they do so at their peril under this rule. Since the Social Security letter leaves a clear record for DHS investigators to build a case against employers, it makes the entire system far more workable.
My amendment simply said we are going to keep that new rule in place. It is important for enforcement. It is important for workplace enforcement. It is important to get our hands around the problem of illegal immigration because of the common sense behind that concept. My amendment was adopted on the Senate floor unanimously, by unanimous consent.
As I said, Senator Sessions had an important amendment which he just talked about to expand the E-Verify system. That amendment was actually opposed by some, and there was a motion to table the amendment, but that motion to table was defeated 53 to 44. Similarly, Senator DeMint of South Carolina had an important immigration enforcement amendment. He will be coming to the floor to talk about that this afternoon. His amendment required the completion of at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the southwest border by December 31, 2010. Again, his amendment was opposed by some liberals on the Senate floor. They moved to table that amendment but, again, by a significant vote that motion to table was defeated 54 to 44.
So if these amendments are adopted by comfortable, if not unanimous, margins in the Senate, why are they being stripped in the dead of night in the conference committee report? Unfortunately, I think it is clear this Congress, under the Democratic leadership, and this administration want to take a very different approach to immigration, and they are not serious about any of these enforcement measures.
I think that is a shame because these three amendments and other good enforcement ideas I believe represent the common sense of the vast majority of the American people. To me, this harkens back to the major immigration reform debate we had in the summer of 2007 when a big so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill came to the floor of the Senate. It didn't have enough enforcement, in my opinion. It did have a huge amnesty program instead. So by the end of the debate, the American people spoke loudly and clearly. They said: No, we want enforcement. We want to do everything we can on the enforcement side first. We don't want a big amnesty.
That so-called comprehensive bill was defeated by a wide margin. After that seminal event, so many on the Senate floor, including many who had backed that bill, Senator McCain among them, said: OK, we heard the American people. We heard you loudly and clearly. We need to start with effective enforcement. We need to start with commonsense measures, such as a certain amount of fencing, such as E-Verify, such as the Social Security no-match rule. Yet when we put those commonsense measures in this bill, what happened? In this Congress, led by Democratic leadership, under this administration, it was just stripped out of the conference committee report.
Sure, it got big votes on the Senate floor; sure, it has widespread House
support; sure, the Vitter amendment was adopted by unanimous consent. We don't care. We are going to strip it out.
The message is loud and clear. The message is, we don't care what the American people have said. We don't care what they said in the summer of 2007. We don't care what they say over and over and over again about these issues--no-match, E-Verify, fencing--we are just going to oppose any of those commonsense enforcement measures.
I truly believe the second half of where the leadership in this Congress and this administration is coming from is the same thing as the second half of that immigration reform bill in 2007: a big amnesty program with little to no enforcement, a big amnesty program.
We need to listen to the American people. We don't need to play games and say we are supporting provisions and then have them stripped out of conference reports. We need to be more straightforward, more honest in what we are truly about in attacking this problem. Unfortunately, this conference report is an example of exactly the opposite.
I urge my colleagues to pay attention to what is happening because so many folks in this body are speaking out of both sides of their mouth. They are saying: Oh, yes, fence, sure; E-Verify, absolutely; social security no-match, sure.
Then they get certain leaders of the conference committee to do their dirty work and just strip those provisions. They are ignoring the will of the American people. They are rejecting commonsense enforcement, and according to many reports, the Obama administration and its leaders in the Congress are going to attempt another push for broad-based amnesty.
We need to listen to the American people and not play games. In particular, we need to stop this game playing overall. Senator Sessions, my distinguished colleague from Alabama, was right when he said these sorts of antics--talking out of both sides of our mouths on this issue, stripping so-called popular amendments from a conference committee report--these antics are exactly what is eroding confidence in Congress overall. This is exactly what the American people are so frustrated and, in fact, so scared about with regard to many other issues, such as health care.
I believe this is of real concern as we go into the health care debate because, quite frankly, what does it matter what we adopt on the Senate floor when the conference committee work is going to be handled, perhaps, just like this Homeland Security conference committee was. People can have little confidence based on our votes on the Senate floor. The conference committee work can be diametrically opposed to it on significant issue after significant issue, just as it was on no match, on E-Verify, on fencing.
We need to stop eroding public confidence in that way. We need to do what is, in fact, our first job in the Congress, House and Senate, which is to listen to the American people and, yes, represent the American people.
I am afraid this DHS conference report, with its significant omissions in the area of Social Security no match, E-Verify, and fencing, is a sign that this leadership in Congress and this administration are not prepared to do any of that. I lament that.
I urge all of our colleagues to come back together and demand progress on E-Verify, on no match, and on fencing, and to stop this game playing as we move to other crucial issues, including health care.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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