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Public Statements

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HONDA. As a member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, I would like to thank our chairman, Mr. Wolf, Chairman Aderholt and my friend, Judge Carter, for speaking on this important issue today.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, SCAAP, is a bipartisan issue and a bipartisan effort to address it.

California jurisdictions already receive 10 percent of the total cost of reimbursement because of the drastic cuts this program has received over the past few years. The recent funding solicitation change that would stop reimbursements for all ``unknowns'' by the Department of Justice has the potential to worsen the situation. It will devastate county budgets at a time when they are already feeling the pinch of State and Federal cuts.

As a former member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, I know firsthand how terrible the impact of this change will be on our counties. It is undisputed that the vast majority of the undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. are unknown to the Federal Government.

Therefore, the unilateral decision by DOJ to only provide SCAAP funds for those criminal undocumented that are known to the Federal Government is deeply troubling and is a back-door attempt to kill the SCAAP program.

As my friend, Judge Carter, has noted, counties in particular will be hit by this change the hardest because of the inability for ICE agents to be present at all times to process unknowns in county jails. In State jails, prisoners are held longer and ICE agents are on staff, so there is ample time and opportunity for unknowns to be processed in the system.

If the Department would like to make this change, it has to provide clear, timely, and accessible methods to the counties to process unknowns properly, something which they clearly do not have now.

I look forward to working with the appropriate Agencies and subcommittees to ensure that we can find an equitable solution to this issue. I appreciate both Chairman Wolf and Chairman Aderholt's time on this.

Until then, however, I will be writing a letter with my good friend, Judge Carter, to the Department of Justice to delay this change until the appropriate time.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HONDA. I would like to thank the chairman, the ranking member, and members of the subcommittee for recognizing the importance of supporting a path for legal immigrants to become citizens. The United States has a special interest in and draws unique benefits from extending citizenship to immigrants who have met legal residence, character, English, and civics knowledge requirements. I appreciate the chairman's willingness to encourage U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to keep the naturalization application fee affordable so that we don't prevent legal immigrants from pursuing citizenship simply because they cannot afford it. But I am concerned that the way the bill approaches funding for immigrant integration grant programs could undermine this effort to keep fees affordable.

Integrating immigrants strengthens their commitment to the United States and makes us a stronger and more prosperous democracy. Integration grants have proven to be a cost-effective means of encouraging immigrants to integrate. It is unfair that the cost and limited availability of citizenship education and legal assistance is the reason that many of the more than 8 million legal and taxpaying permanent residents are unable to naturalize, despite their eligibility to do so.

This bill only allows funding of immigrant integration programs through fees collected, departing from past practice of providing discretionary funding to support the program. This approach will require fee hikes that push naturalization further out of the reach of people who already struggle to pay costs of up to thousands of dollars for the current application, attorneys' fees, required document collection and preparation for the naturalization examination, defeating the subcommittee's own stated goal of keeping fees affordable.

The future viability of the immigrant integration grant program may depend on Congress's willingness to reinstate discretionary funding to support it, as the Senate has proposed to do in its version of the bill. I support the Senate's approach to provide direct discretionary funding in the amount of $5 million, regardless of the funds deposited into the immigration examination fee account, and I hope that as we move forward to conference with the Senate, we can adopt that approach.

It is in this country's interest to support our future U.S. citizens, and so it is in all of our interest to get support for immigrant integration grants right.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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