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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. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I want to second the chairman's willingness here to accept this amendment. We think it's a good amendment, straightforward, intended to achieve goals about which we all ought to be able to agree. It simply seeks to ensure that Federal funding for the Department of Homeland Security is not used by law enforcement to discriminate or to deprive individuals of their constitutional rights.

I commend the gentleman for offering this amendment and urge its acceptance.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment, which would negate the recent rule that would grant certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while still in the U.S.

Applications for the unlawful presence waiver can take months or even years to adjudicate. This change in processing, this new rule, would permit U.S. citizens to remain united with their loved ones and ensure that the U.S. citizen is not subjected to the very harm--that is, prolonged separation--that the waiver, if granted, was meant to prevent.

To be clear, a pending or approved provisional waiver will not provide the interim benefits, such as employment authorization, it will not provide lawful status, it will not stop the accrual of unlawful presence, it will not provide protection from removal.

What it would do is eliminate the catch-22 faced by many American families who want to do the right thing by having family members already eligible for the waiver come forward to adjust to legal status. Under the current process, they're penalized if they come forward, penalized by long-term separation from U.S. citizens who are immediate relatives and who depend on them for emotional and financial support.

By allowing the processing of waiver applications in the United States, the proposed rule would improve the efficiency of the process and would save taxpayer money. It's a much needed change. It's a good rule. This change in processing is vitally needed. I see no reason to approve an amendment here tonight that would cancel out this beneficial change, and I urge the amendment's defeat.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment. It would prohibit any funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's new Public Advocate, a crucial position formed just this past February.

The public advocate works directly with ICE's Executive Assistant Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations to respond to acute and pressing concerns from those going through the immigration process, as well as family members and advocates. For example, the public advocate assists individuals and community members in resolving complaints and concerns with agency policies and operations, particularly those that are related to the use of ICE enforcement involving U.S. citizens. It proposes changes and recommendations to fix community-identified immigration problems and concerns. Without the public advocate, individuals proceeding through the immigration process would not have the same level of access to neutral, unbiased internal oversight, fulfilling the role of ombudsman for the public.

Since its inception on February 7, the public advocate has provided effective resolution of serious complaints, assisted in increasing public engagement at all levels, and acted as a good steward of the public dollar.

By adopting this amendment, we'd be saving ICE less than $200,000 per year, while severely impeding community participation and commonsense enforcement strategies.

I can't imagine why we would want to cancel a position that is so effective in helping citizens, helping those who have a stake in all this, helping them penetrate the bureaucracy, helping them get a resolution of serious complaints, making this agency, in effect, more user friendly, more responsive. Why would we want to damage that or destroy it? But that's exactly what this amendment would do, and I urge its rejection.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the gentleman's amendment.

I think it's fair to say, if we are talking about common sense, that the balance of common sense lies against this amendment and with section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act.

It's quite a straightforward provision intended simply to ensure that the environmental costs from the use of alternative fuels, whatever they may be, are at least no worse than the fuels in use today. Why shouldn't that burden of proof be placed on the use of alternative fuels? It requires that the Federal Government do no more harm when it comes to global climate change than it is already doing through the use of unconventional fuels.

So this is a commonsense provision. It escapes me as to why we would want to violate this or bypass it in this Homeland Security bill, so I urge the rejection of the amendment.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. This is an amendment that it seems very clear would actually hamper DHS operations and make us less safe.

Every component of DHS has to communicate effectively in their daily operations in order to accomplish the mission of the Department. How can ICE enforce our immigration laws without being able to communicate meaningfully with foreign-born persons with limited English proficiency? This is a critical executive order. It was a top priority in the Bush administration.

There was a memorandum issued during the Bush administration to the heads of all Federal agencies that helped facilitate the development of limited English-language proficiency plans.

To elaborate on that further, I yield to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Chu), a leading member on the Judiciary Committee.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, this amendment would prohibit the use of funds to enforce memos, internal ICE memos, on civil immigration enforcement priorities and on prosecutorial discretion.

Now, our friend from Texas rightly talks about the importance of law enforcement, and I would just ask colleagues, is there any law enforcement agency in the land that does not set priorities?

Every law enforcement agency set priorities. They have to make the most effective use of limited resources.

No law enforcement agency can go after every violation indiscriminately. Every law enforcement agency has to prioritize its resources to decide what's most important, what's most protective of the public safety and go after the perpetrators that would do us the most harm. That's about as basic as it gets.

In a world with limited resources, it's dangerous and irresponsible not to prioritize the detention and deportation of people who pose a threat to public safety and national security.

Why would we want ICE to spend as much time and energy going after innocent kids in college who were brought to this country by their parents as it spends going after known, dangerous criminals? Why would we want ICE to focus on the detention and deportation of the spouses of U.S. citizens serving in our military, rather than on people who pose a threat to national security?

The answer is, we would not want them to do such reckless and indiscriminate things. We want them to set priorities, and that's exactly what the Morton memos are about.

I yield to the ranking member of the Immigration Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Zoe Lofgren).

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, this amendment is aimed at the people who protect us in our airports. It disparages their service, devalues their contribution, undermines our efforts to make this a more professional and competent force. Why would we do this? What an unnecessary and damaging amendment.

This amendment would prevent the Transportation Security Administration non-law enforcement personnel from wearing a metal badge or wearing a uniform that resembles the uniform of law enforcement. What an insult to these people. We count on these people to protect us. We put them in our aviation system as critical protection against terrorism and against others who could do us harm. How counterproductive is this to our efforts to develop a competent professional force?

TSA's current title and uniform policies are consistent with the skilled and professional nature of TSA's frontline workforce. These policies are aligned with policies for other security professional positions within the Department of Homeland Security.

So how gratuitous is it to disparage this workforce? These are skilled professionals. We want to make them more so. We want to boost their morale and show appreciation for their efforts. This amendment would be a backward step and, I think, a fairly petty backward step. It would hinder our efforts to develop a risk-based, intelligence-driven organization to secure our airports.

With that, I yield to our colleague from the authorizing committee, the gentlelady from Texas.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. I first want to express some puzzlement though, and perhaps the sponsor of this amendment can clarify this as she closes.

One of the early scribbled versions of this amendment did indeed refer to VIPR teams, and about two-thirds of her statement was about VIPR teams, but my understanding is that the copy of the amendment we now have has had that portion scratched out. So the amendment no longer pertains to VIPR teams.

Could I, just for a moment, get some clarification on that.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Reclaiming my time, I asked a very direct question: Does the amendment include or not include VIPR teams?

I yield to the gentlewoman.

Mrs. BLACKBURN. At this point, the amendment is addressing those that are working outside of our Nation's airports. This is an overreach; it is a stretch. They are not put in place to do that, and I think the gentleman from North Carolina understands that very well.

Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. I thank the gentlewoman for clarifying that.

There is a lot of confusion about this amendment. The VIPR teams aside, let me just say that to put in this bill a blanket prohibition against TSA officers operating outside of an airport is overly broad and really would be damaging with respect to the things our screeners often are asked to do. Some screeners do assist in passenger screening at transit facilities, for example, and sometimes they are asked to help in screening at national security events. I am told there may be a role at the national conventions or events of that sort where a surge capacity is called for.

Now, some discretion, some good judgment is called for in the use of these personnel, but it escapes me why, in an appropriations bill, we would want to write in a blanket prohibition of this sort when there are demonstrable uses for these personnel outside the airport that are very valuable and contribute to our security.

So I urge defeat of the amendment, and yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, this amendment would prohibit any funds from being used to terminate 287(g) agreements.

The 287(g) program, as many people know, is a well-intentioned effort to allow State and local law enforcement entities to enter into a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is well intentioned, but it has turned out seriously flawed in the practice. Nine years after the 287(g) program was first initiated, there has been a thorough documentation of abuses and of the poor management of the program. There have been three audits by the DHS Inspector General that have raised serious concerns about the program.

As a result, ICE has had to reform the 287(g) program to ensure consistency in immigration enforcement actions across the country. The agencies have also had to terminate some 287(g) task forces, notably in Maricopa County, Arizona, after the Justice Department clearly documented racial profiling and other program abuses. Two other counties were also terminated for cause. There are also questions about cost-effectiveness, in fact, very serious questions about cost-effectiveness. Under the 287(g) task force model, it costs $13,322 to apprehend one alien and $19,941 to remove that alien.

Because of these costs, as well as other concerns I've already mentioned, Assistant Secretary Morton began notifying communities this spring that ICE would no longer be considering any 287(g) task force model request from State and local jurisdictions. It, instead, will devote resources to the expansion of other ICE programs and to the continued deployment of Secure Communities. For comparison purposes, under Secure Communities, it costs ICE $649 to apprehend one alien, and $1,321 to remove the alien. That's 10 times less than the 287(g) task force model.

Many communities across the country are agreeing with the transitioning away from the 287(g) program to Secure Communities. For example, the sheriff of Davidson County, Tennessee, questioned whether the 287(g) program was necessary given its low level of apprehensions and the fact that only 68 communities participated across the country. With Secure Communities being fully implemented nationwide in over 3,000 communities by the spring of 2013, I, frankly, see little need to continue the 287(g) program. Now, if this amendment is adopted, it's going to force ICE to fund this cost-prohibitive and questionable immigration enforcement activity in order to keep on doing what we know isn't working and wasting Federal taxpayer funds.

This is a time of fiscal restraint. This is a time when we should be applying cost-benefit standards, effectiveness standards. So Members need to oppose this amendment and allow the Assistant Secretary to prioritize funding decisions based on the most pressing immigration needs of this country and on reasonable standards of cost-effectiveness.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, this amendment is merely a restatement of existing law. It doesn't need to be in this bill. Moreover, there's no evidence that any State or local government has violated Federal law in this area.

In 2007, in fact, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a Republican, as we all know, testified that he wasn't aware of any city that interferes with the Department's ability to enforce the law. It's a largely fabricated problem, I believe, and the amendment itself would simply restate existing law.

I yield to Ms. Lofgren, the ranking member of our Immigration Policy and Enforcement Committee.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I confess to some puzzlement as to the intent of this amendment. Despite the gentleman's explanation, what he's doing here is, in effect, totally restructuring the surface transportation security program. He's limiting to $20 million the funds available for surface transportation security inspectors. That's a potential decrease of $70 million from the carve-out in the bill.

Now, he also, in the current draft of this amendment, excludes from the prohibition, excludes the national explosives canine training program and the VIPR teams, in essence shifting--he's not reducing funding overall. He's shifting a huge amount of funding to these two functions. I just don't understand the rationale for that, particularly when you consider the vital functions of the surface transportation security inspectors, why would we want to virtually phase them out? The mission of these individuals is to assess the risk of terrorist attacks for all nonaviation transportation, to issue potential regulations, to enforce existing rules and protect our transportation systems.

This proposed limitation could hinder rail inspections, baseline assessments, mass transit assessments, and risk mitigation activities. As I read the amendment, all these functions would be drastically compromised, and with them, I think the security of the traveling public. So I'm baffled by the amendment, but I feel constrained to oppose it and urge its defeat.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, our colleague from Colorado is a persistent critic of the Department of Homeland Security, and I think often his criticisms have force--for example, his remarks a few moments ago on the unneeded so-called ``sanctuary cities'' amendment. This amendment, though, I believe is an overreach, is indiscriminate, and I do feel constrained to oppose it. It would reduce funding for every frontline agency within the Department of Homeland Security by 2 percent.

The bill already includes a 1 percent reduction for the budget request, and it reflects the third year in a row that funding for the Department of Homeland Security has decreased. I think this amendment would do damage to our security. If this reduction were adopted, critical programs such as border security, immigration enforcement and transportation security would no longer be shielded from ill-advised cuts throughout the bill.

The reduction would require the Department to lay off crucial staff we've hired over the past 3 years, including more Border Patrol Agents, CBP officers at the ports of entry--and many of those ports of entry are already backed up--ICE investigators along the Southwest border, and Coast Guardsman who work on environmental efforts such as oil spills.

This reduction would also mean the Department would need to abandon critical research and technology procurements, the science and technology program that we're painstakingly building back from unacceptably low levels in the current fiscal year. These research efforts will better protect our aviation and transit systems, and we need to continue cutting-edge research.

We also need to protect our national security so that we can prevent or thwart attempted attacks before they occur. As we saw just last month, terrorists remain committed to attacking the United States, our citizens, and our allies.

Finally, with this amendment, front office and management activities would also be negatively affected. Already, this bill slashes funding by 21 percent below the administration's request.

I know that's an easy target, Mr. Chairman. There's no constituency out there for good management and for necessary administrative expenses. But believe me, cutting those front offices, cutting those administrative functions does affect front line operations at the end of the day.

The Secretary and her staff have to run the day-to-day operations of the Department. They need adequate personnel, adequate staff support. The offices are already operating on fumes. This additional cut would do great damage.

So this is an amendment that I believe, despite the offerer of the amendments good intentions and his conscientious critique of certain departmental operations, I believe the amendment is overly broad, would do damage, and should be rejected.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I want to associate myself with the remarks of the chairman.

I confess to some confusion as to the exact intent of the amendment. Like some earlier amendments we were dealing with, it seems to have gone through many drafts. I'm not sure if the idea is to say you can't terminate an agreement or that somehow you can't restrict access to the program. But, in any case, it seems to me the problem with this amendment is a tying of the Administrator's hands when some flexibility and some judgment is called for.

I certainly have no objections to the principle of the Screening Partnership Program. If a private company can provide screening in accordance with TSA standards and a local airport authority wants to contract with them, so be it. In fact, this bill increases funding for the SPP by $15 million over current year levels.

But to say that under no circumstances can the TSA exercise discretion in granting these contracts or continuing them, I think, really goes too far. We need standards. We need qualified professionals to screen passengers. We need for the TSA Administrator to have some flexibility to protect the flying public. So if a private company fails or doesn't meet the standards, then they shouldn't be given this contract, and we have to have the flexibility to make sure that they don't receive the contract.

So I associate myself with the position of the chairman, and urge rejection of the amendment.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. I would associate myself with the words of the chairman and also oppose this amendment.

The behavior detection program utilizes specially trained individuals to identify potentially high-risk passengers. It's not a new or a novel idea. In fact, it has been a cornerstone of the Israeli Government's aviation security for many years. Administrator Pistole, a man who has spent his entire professional career dedicated to protecting this country, does believe in this program. He is also attempting to refine it and to utilize it to its fullest potential.

Our committee has resisted greatly expanding the program. In fact, we don't fund the administration's request for an additional 75 officers, and we do reduce the funding by $7 million. The program is important. It is part of a layered system of security, so it would, I think, not be wise to eliminate the program altogether. I think it would be unsafe, in fact, so I urge the rejection of the amendment.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I have read this amendment carefully, and we dealt with it, as colleagues may remember, on the floor last year.

The gentleman offering the amendment says it does nothing but restate existing law, but, at a minimum, it sends a strong anti-immigrant message.

The gentleman says the amendment prohibits the use of funds by ICE to process the release of illegal immigrants to administer alternative forms of detention to immigrants who have committed crimes which supposedly mandated incarceration. If we're following the existing law, I don't understand the need for this language, the need for this amendment.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, that's the point. There is no evidence that the gentleman has presented or that I've seen that ICE is, in fact, releasing or holding in alternatives to detention people who, according to the law, should be detained. The law is what it is. This amendment does not add or subtract to the law. It clearly insinuates that things are going on that we have no evidence that are occurring. For that reason alone, it seems redundant on one level, but has a misleading and hostile message on the other. I urge its rejection.

ICE isn't pursuing alternatives to detention in cases where they shouldn't be doing so. I see no evidence for that. In fact, I think alternatives to detention often are useful and certainly more cost effective, and the absconding rate is very low. If we have people who should be detained, then of course we should detain them. But the notion that ICE is not doing that, that ICE is pursuing these other alternatives with people who really shouldn't have access to them, is not accurate. For that reason, I urge rejection of this amendment.

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