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Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. President. Through the Chair, I wish to thank Senator Durbin for his courtesy in light of another engagement I have.

I rise to join my colleague from Alabama and to join many others to express real concern on this topic of illegal immigration and the desperate need to fix this problem, to solve this problem.

I believe we all want to cherish and hold up and continue the proud tradition of this country which is founded on immigration. One of the many things that make America unique is that we are a nation of--all of us--immigrants. None of us somehow has some blood oath or blood tie to this land that goes back from time immemorial. We all came here relatively recently in the grand scheme of things from other lands, all of our families. We are a nation of immigrants and immigration, and we cherish and celebrate that.

But, of course, historically, that has been a system of legal immigration. It is so worrisome to me and so many others that over the last 30 years in particular, it has really evolved into a wide open, relatively little enforcement system of illegal immigration that flourishes and abounds and grows as our traditional legal immigration system gets less and less workable for the folks trying to follow the rules. That is my concern as I look at many of these immigration reform proposals, particularly proposals for so-called comprehensive reform such as the one outlined today.

I think the test is pretty simple: How do we uphold our tradition of immigration and fix the problem, solve the problem, and not allow it to continue or, worse yet, grow and mushroom? To me, that is the bottom line. Will any proposal we make be debated--will the proposal outlined by some of my colleagues today fix the problem or will it perpetuate the problem or, God forbid, even grow the problem dramatically?

What heightens my concern is that we have history as a guide, and history suggests that brand of so-called comprehensive immigration reform--this promise of enforcement as long as we have an amnesty--all of those things put together are a recipe for failure. Of course, the most notable case of this was in 1986 under President Reagan. There was a so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposal passed into law. The promise, the model was very simple: We are going to get serious about enforcement--we really, really are--and we are going to have a one-time leniency or amnesty. It will fix the problem once and for all. We will never have to look back, and that will be done.

As we know from bitter experience since then, it didn't quite turn out that way. The promised enforcement never fully materialized. In fact, in my opinion, it never materialized to any significant extent. However, the leniency, the amnesty happened immediately. It happened the second that bill was signed into law.

So did it fix the problem estimated at about 3 million illegal aliens then? No. It not only perpetuated the problem, it grew the problem to 12 million-plus--some people think as high as 15 million to 20 million illegal aliens now. So it grew the problem enormously because we had promised enforcement which never adequately materialized but an amnesty which happened immediately. That is the fundamental concern. That is the deadly scenario I am concerned about with regard to virtually all of these so-called ``comprehensive'' solutions.

There is one thing--at least one thing--that has changed since 1986. It is this: Compared to 1986, we have a President and an administration in power which has proved time and time again that they have no will, no focus on real enforcement. Why do I say that?

Well, this is the administration that sued States attempting to enforce immigration laws and get control of the border. It did mot support those States, did not try to find a Federal fix. It did one thing: sued States such as Arizona trying to deal with a flow across the border and all of the violence and crime that is an aspect of that.

This is the administration that ended the 32 287(g) local law enforcement programs that were fairly effective, at least in focused limited ways, with regard to enforcement. They scuttled that program, completely threw it out the window. This is the administration, of course, that propagated the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal and still has not answered questions about that adequately, in my opinion.

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Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. President.

This is the administration that unconstitutionally put into effect the DREAM Act by administrative fiat. Congress would not pass that. A Democratic House and a Democratic Senate failed to pass it. President Obama at the time said he did not have adequate powers to put it into law administratively, and yet when it came time to run for election, he did it by administrative fiat, in my opinion--in many people's opinion--well beyond his legal authority.

So that is the main thing that is different from 1986. We have a President and an administration that has proved to be completely opposed to aggressive and real enforcement. So I hope, as we continue this debate with my distinguished colleague from Illinois and many others, we focus on that central question: Will this solve the problem?

In my opinion, we have seen this movie before. We have tried this so-called comprehensive approach before--this marriage of promises of enforcement with leniency or amnesty. History suggests that does not work. The enforcement never adequately shows up. The amnesty immediately does. In this proposal, although it might not be immediate citizenship, it is immediate legal protection and many benefits that flow from that.

Mr. President, I look forward to continuing this discussion.

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