Mr. COATS. Mr. President, last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement--also known as ICE--initiated a precipitous action to reduce the population of the illegal immigrants detained by the U.S. Government for, they said, ``budgetary reasons.''
Let me quote ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen, who stated, ``As fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and the possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget.'' So the result was a release of a significant number of detained illegal immigrants and blaming it on the sequester's imminent budget cuts last week, when it appears ICE mismanaged its resources.
That is unacceptable. This was an unnecessary action. It has the potential to put communities at risk. It is ineffective, inefficient, and irresponsible government.
Let's be clear about something else that ICE points to as a reason for this action, ``fiscal uncertainty.'' Fiscal uncertainty is what has defined our economy over the past 4 years because this government cannot get its act together. This government has failed to define for the American people, whether it is business men or women or whether it is homeowners, or anyone else in this country who is looking to Washington to get its act together, what the future will look like. Then decisions can be made as to how to adapt to necessary changes or modifications given our dismal fiscal situation, plunging into debt at record rates, borrowing 40 cents of every dollar. It is unsustainable. But instead of providing a clear path forward on how we will address this, we continue to lurch from cliff to cliff, fiscal calamity to fiscal calamity. It is freezing everything in place. The economy is suffering for it, and more than the economy, Americans are suffering for it. The 23 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed are suffering greatly.
Sadly, this uncertainty and the budget constraints we face should not catch any department or agency by surprise. This is not good government, but it is the Washington way under this administration and the current Democrat-led Senate. The Department of Homeland Security and ICE have known since September 28, 2012 exactly what level of resources were available for ICE under the current continuing resolution.
For those who do not understand the jargon that comes out of this place, ``continuing resolution'' means a stopgap measure that Congress put in place last September in order to fund this government at the current levels. That expires March 27. We likely will do it again for the second 6 months of the year, instead of putting a budget together, instead of putting together something that would give the American people certainty as to how much money we are going to spend, and what effect it would have on the economy.
Anyway, ICE has known their spending level since September 28, as has every agency. So they had plenty of notice. Why then would ICE release detained illegal immigrants a week before the sequestration even took place? Why did they not take proper steps necessary during the 6 months time they had to evaluate this and manage their resources in a way that would not require that someone make the decision to release hundreds if not thousands of illegal immigrants?
In an effort to sort out the facts, I have requested Secretary Napolitano provide in writing more information and answer several questions regarding the release of those individuals from detention. Question No. 1: What triggered the ICE instruction to the field to reduce the detainee population by this date?
Secondly, what is the total number of detainees released between February 22, 2013, and February 25--a 3-day period of time? How many were released? These numbers have been all over the lot, from the low hundreds to well into the thousands. We need to know how many illegal immigrants were released in the United States and under what conditions that decision was made.
We need to know how many of these detainees were released solely due to so-called ``budgetary'' reasons. How many of the released detainees were designated as criminals? If additional funding can be found first within ICE or DHS for custody operations, will these released individuals be returned to detention, and how will they be rounded up and how will they be found?
We know that not all law enforcement authorities were notified of this in Arizona. It is unlikely to think that we know where all of those individuals are at this time. I do not think they are going to come back and voluntarily line up and say: Oh, I am back; I knew I should not have been released.
Have instructions been given to field offices to reduce the intake and arrest of illegal aliens into detention?
Furthermore, I want to know if the Secretary agrees with the decision to release these individuals. If not, what is being done to modify this action so it does not take place in the future?
I am also concerned that the administration has not taken accountability for this action. Secretary Napolitano distanced herself from the press by saying, ``Detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field.'' Well, that may be the case, but that is not an appropriate response.
Is anyone in this current government willing to take responsibility and say, the buck stops here? I am assigned to this position and therefore I take responsibility for what happens underneath my position? This constantly, ``well, we didn't know about that,'' or ``that is somebody else's obligation,'' or ``really, do you expect us to be on top of that''--yes. That is why you are CEO for a company. That is why you get paid more than anybody else. That is why you were selected as Secretary of a department or the head of an agency, to take responsibility for what happens underneath you.
I was also struck by the Secretary's comments at an event hosted by Politico yesterday where she talked about the challenges DHS faces because there is not the opportunity to shift money around.
I agree with that. Republicans agree with that.
On this floor, just last Thursday, Republicans put forward a proposal to allow agencies to do just that after weeks and months of moaning and groaning by this administration and by its various agency heads about how this sequestration has made the situation much worse. It is stupid. It is a terrible way to do things. I agree, by the way.
However, we need to be able to have the flexibility to move the money from less efficient--or not needed at this time--to the essentials. We wouldn't need to put out statements such as: Arrive at the airport 4 hours early because we need to cut the TSA agents at the same level as the least function of this particular government.
We put that proposal before us. The President, who has been begging for this, simply said: No, we are not going to do it. It was a quick change of mind. I think it destroyed his political narrative. This proposal was before this Senate body last week to give those agencies the flexibility to take from one pot that wasn't needed as much--or take from areas that are efficient--and put it toward traffic controllers, transportation security officials, FDA, Department of Agriculture meat inspectors, wherever the priorities lie. To complain about not having flexibility when your own President rejected the proposal given by Republicans to allow that to happen, it just boggles my mind.
As I have said many times before over the past 2 years when the various department heads come before the Appropriations Committee: Do you have an alternative plan? Do you have a plan in the event the money doesn't continue to flow in from the taxpayer at a rate which allows you every year to increase, increase, increase, your spending? We are running out of money. Wouldn't it be wise to look at how you could run your department more effectively and efficiently as States have had to do, cities had to do, businesses had to do, families had to do? They need to make those decisions about separating the essential from the ``would like to do but can't afford to do it right now.'' We need to eliminate the items and programs that never should have been funded in the first place or the programs that used to work, but are not a high priority any longer. Manage your department in a way that you can become more effective, do more with less.
To date, all the answers that have come back are, no, this is what the administration wants. This is what we are going to do. We are going to ask for an increase next year, and we are going to tell the American people we need to raise their taxes in order to pay for it or we are going to continue to borrow and go deeper and deeper into debt. It is a terrible way to run any organization, whether it is a Little League organization, a business or even the Federal Government of the United States. No agency can assert with any credibility that it cannot perform its stated mission if it is asked to join the rest of Americans in reducing its budget and making modest cuts. The irony is that the more Congress and the President delay action on a bold long-term fiscal plan with credible spending reforms, the more all other programs, agencies, and departments will need to cut back and do more with less.
We are simply pushing the problem down the road for another day. Each time we push it down the road with short-term fixes or no fixes at all and don't address the real problems, we are making it ever harder and will be forced to do it in a more Draconian way.
If the Cabinet Secretaries want more flexibility with their budgets, I urge them to encourage the President to lead and reform the main problem and to address the main drivers of our spending, which is the runaway mandatory spending that is eating everybody's lunch. Whether you are for paving more roads, fixing more bridges, funding more medical research or whether you want more money to go into education or any other function of government, if you can't address the big donkey or elephant in the room, which is the mandatory runaway spending, there is not going to be enough funds for any other priorities. We have all known that year after year after year.
Without leadership from the top this cannot happen. It has been tried many times, sometimes with bipartisan efforts, all shot down because we don't have leadership from the White House and from the President of the United States. He is the chief CEO of this country and he needs to manage resources in a more effective way.
Only when we do that will we be able to avoid these constant budget showdowns and short-term stopgap measures which don't solve the problem.
I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.