U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) spoke today at a Senate Judiciary hearing on immigration reform:
"I fully expect there will be a healthy, and I hope, respectful debate about how we should address the 11 to 12 million people here in the United States who came into the country illegally
"That's a conversation we cannot avoid and we must not avoid, because it impacts our national security, public safety, and the health of our national local economies."
A full transcript is below.
"Mr. Chairman, I know Senator Cruz, who joined me there, appreciates the comments about peoples' concerns, condolences, grieving with people who lost their life in that terrible incident last week.
"I want to use the time you have given me, Mr. Chairman, the 10 minutes. I'll actually probably reserve some of that time for the second and fourth panels, with all due respect to the current panel, but I do have a brief opening statement.
"The bill introduced last week by the bipartisan group touches on nearly every aspect of our nation's immigration system. It's truly comprehensive, in the sense that it covers a wide range of complex and often controversial aspects of our immigration law.
"The bill contains major changes to refugees and asylum law, guest worker programs, detention policy, worksite enforcement, and overall permanent immigration, both in terms of family and employment-based immigration.
"I fully expect there will be a healthy, and I hope, respectful debate about how we should address the 11 to 12 million people here in the United States who came into the country illegally or overstayed their visa in violation of the law, which comprises about 40% of illegal immigration, the visa overstays.
"That's a conversation we cannot avoid and we must not avoid, because it impacts our national security, public safety, and the health of our national local economies.
"While engaging in that conversation, we must not give short shrift to the scores of other critical immigration reforms contained in the bill, including the areas I just mentioned.
"Those who've read the bill know that the legalization program for 11 to 12 million people takes up less than 100 pages of the 844 page bill. What's in the other 750 pages? Well that's important, because it turns out, quite a lot. And much of it is at least as important to our national interest as any solution for the 11 to 12 million here.
"Mr. Chairman, we've had this bill less than a week, of course, as we all know, and we're still analyzing the scores of the major reforms it contains. But I want to say this to my friends who are part of the Gang of Eight - this legislation makes a number of positive improvements to our immigration system.
"There are things to commend, both in terms of major upgrades to employment-based legal immigration and worksite enforcement. There are reforms in this bill that have the potential to boost innovation and job growth within the United States. And there are reforms that will bolster foreign tourism spending and incentivize foreign investors and entrepreneurs to invest in U.S. companies and workers.
"I appreciate the attention given in the bill to expanding resources for improving assimilation and the integration of immigrants in our society, especially in terms of promoting English language and civics education.
"But there are a number of areas that this bill needs a substantial improvement in. For example, while well-intentioned, I regret that the border security elements falls well short of the sponsors' aspiration to protect the borders and maintain U.S. sovereignty. In fact, without major changes, the bill could do more harm than good.
"The bill sets what would superficially appear to be a worthy target of a 90% apprehension rate along the southwestern border. But based on our preliminary review, this 90% goal only applies to three of the nine southern border sectors and only two out of the five sectors in Texas.
"And so as I read it, the border security provisions in this bill would necessarily mean that the border patrol will shift resources away, in a preannounced fashion, from most of the border sectors in order to reach the goals for only a few. We can only imagine what the transnational criminal organizations that move drugs, people, and contraband across our border will do in response.
"Border security matters in Texas, and along the southwestern border, and the bill does not adequately provide for it. I hope my colleagues will work with me to help get it right. I think we can do it.
"As I said, the bill is comprehensive, but it is not exhaustive. In other words, some important reforms were omitted that I think need to be included.
"For example, the bill fails to address the critical needs for improvements at our land-based ports of entry, especially along the southwestern border. The vitality of these land ports of entry is critical both in terms of security, but also for the economic prosperity that legitimate trade and travel bring to our border communities and 6 million jobs in the United States. We must use this opportunity to provide meaningful infrastructure investment to the ports of entry in order to reduce wait times for legitimate trade and travel.
"I am also concerned that the bill does not do enough to deal with the biometric exit requirement in current law. This is perhaps one of the most concerning areas of the bill, because since 1996, there has been a requirement mandated by Congress for an entry-exit system. Unfortunately, while the entry system works well, the exit system is non-functional.
"I want to learn more about the rationale of why the Department of Homeland Security has been unable to comply with this longstanding mandate of the Congress, and why the Department continues to drag its feet in implementing the law already on the books, which requires a biometric exit. If we want to get serious about preventing another wave of visa overstays, we have to get this exit system right.
"I remain concerned about the message that this sends by allowing individuals with multiple serious criminal convictions to be eligible for legalization. It should not be a controversial proposition to oppose legalization for someone who, on top of their illegal entry or overstay, was convicted of two misdemeanor drunk-driving offenses, or two misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, or two misdemeanor child abuse offenses.
"It is an affront to the rule of law, I believe, to give the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to waive the bar and to allow an illegal immigrant who has committed 3 or more types of these offenses to a pathway to citizenship. So, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix that.
"I also worry that the bill's implementation will be frustrated by thousands of lawsuits unless we tighten up the administrative and judicial review portions of the bill.
"Finally, the bill falls well short of providing certain employers, particularly in the construction industry, with access to the labor force they need to run and grow their businesses.
"So, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to a spirited and respectful discussion of these issues. The challenge before us is to make sure we get all of this right."