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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I come to the floor to discuss a very important topic and one that itself is coming to the Senate floor soon. That is the problem of illegal immigration and proposals for so-called comprehensive immigration reform. Specifically, of course, the Gang of 8 bill, as it has been dubbed, is being reported out of the Judiciary Committee. We will be debating that bill, and hopefully a lot of important amendments to it soon, in June, on the floor.

Let me say at the outset, I think there are at least a couple of things we can all agree on. No. 1, I think we can all agree that the United States is an immigrant nation with a proud history of immigration--legal immigration. It is absolutely one of the core features of our Nation that makes us unique and that makes us strong. So I wish to say that upfront, very proudly, very strongly. I support that tradition, that history of being an immigrant nation. All of us are the children of immigrants--not a question of if, it is just a question of when, because that is the nature of America. That goes to the core of our strength.

No. 2, the other thing I think we can all agree with is our present immigration system is broken. In fact, it is badly broken, and we need to fix the system.

As I said a minute ago, we have a proud history of immigration, legal immigration. That is the tradition, the history we need to get back to. Unfortunately, right now we have a system of wide open illegal immigration, almost open borders in some cases and some areas, and that desperately needs to be fixed.

Having said that, I have real and fundamental concerns with the so-called Gang of 8 bill, and they fall into five or six big categories. I want to talk about each of those important categories in turn.

First and foremost, my biggest and my most fundamental concern, I think the so-called Gang of 8 bill repeats mistakes of the past because, at its core, it is amnesty now, enforcement later, and maybe never. We have tried that model before. We have tried it several times before, and it has never worked.

The most clear example is the 1986 immigration overhaul. That bill, at its core, was the same model, amnesty now and enforcement later, and maybe never. In fact, much of that enforcement was never. That is why it didn't work. The amnesty kicked in immediately, the millisecond the bill was signed into law. That was a powerful message to invite more and more illegal crossings across the border, more and more illegal immigrants into the country. That part of the bill, that part of the message, was heard loudly and clearly. The promises of enforcement never fully materialized. Many of them never materialized at all.

What happened when you had that combination of immediate amnesty with promises of enforcement that never materialized? Again, you attracted more illegal crossings, and you had no capability or will to do anything about them.

The promise then was we are going to have to do this once; the system will be fixed; we will never have to look back. We will never have to look in the rearview mirror. The problem will be solved.

What happened? Well, we all know the problem wasn't solved. In fact, the problem simply wasn't continued, the problem was quadrupled. What were 3 million illegal immigrants then were mostly made legal. But that number 3 million quadrupled, and now today we have 11, 12 million illegal immigrants, some think more.

That, at its core, is the Gang of 8 bill, and immediate amnesty, promises of enforcement. That is not good enough, particularly when we have decades--decades--the Federal Government, Republicans and Democrats, who have promised us before and have never ever delivered. The American people say we will trust but we want to verify. Trust but verify. We need to see this enforcement in action before we move on to anything else.

In fact, in some ways this Gang of 8 bill is worse in terms of that basic model than previous versions such as 1986. If you look at page 70 of the bill, it actually has a period of an enforcement holiday, so 2 1/2 years of a pure enforcement holiday. Not only is this amnesty now and enforcement later, it may never apply to folks who are in the country illegally now. They can keep coming. The message will be sent out, and they can come the day after the bill passes, the week after the bill passes, the year after the bill passes, 2 years after the bill passes, and it is part of the same amnesty. They would get the benefits of that amnesty as well. That enforcement holiday, 2 1/2 years, makes that combination of a big amnesty now, with promises of an enforcement later, even more potentially disastrous.

The second big problem I have with the bill as it is currently put together is it doesn't enforce the law, and it doesn't enforce the border, particularly the troublesome southern border with Mexico. It doesn't enforce other enforcement provisions. It doesn't actually guarantee that those are put into place and executed in an effective way.

The proponents of the bill talk about so-called triggers in the bill before the amnesty, before the new legal status is granted. When you look hard at what the triggers are, they are triggers on a toy plastic gun, not real triggers in any meaningful sense of the term. The triggers basically narrow down to two things. First of all, the Secretary has to submit two reports, two plans. The Secretary of Homeland Security has to submit plans or reports, a so-called comprehensive ``southern border security strategy,'' so she has to submit a strategy. Great. This was promised for three decades but now she has to submit a strategy, a piece of paper and a southern border fencing strategy, so that is one trigger.

The other triggers are certification that the border strategy is ``substantially deployed'' and ``substantially operational.''

What is the problem with that? Two things. Who the heck knows what ``substantially deployed'' means and, No. 2, even more troublesome, do you know who has to certify that? The Secretary of Homeland Security, who has not been effective at enforcement to date in any way, shape, or form. Those so-called triggers are absolutely meaningless.

The bill doesn't require a fence, as is actually required under present law, so we are weakening that. We are walking away from that. It weakens current law regarding border security. Operational control is the standard now, and that is being weakened, changed to effective control. It doesn't require a biometric data system for entry and exit screening. That has been pushed by Congress since 1996. Congress started mandating this in 1996, and it was one of the prime recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, full deployment of the US-VISIT system. The 9/11 Commission said that needs to be a high priority. That is exactly how the 9/11 terrorists got into our country and overstayed their visas. It doesn't do any of that. Again, there is an enforcement holiday for 2 1/2 years and no border security now before the amnesty kicks in.

No. 3, I am very concerned that we will continue the present status quo, which is significant benefits being available to these immigrants, which act as a magnet to incent other illegal immigrants to come into the country. The so-called Gang of 8 made all sorts of promises about certain promises not kicking in until full citizenship is granted down the road. Many benefits would kick in immediately, certainly participation in the Social Security system, certainly all those Social Security benefits, and their loopholes about these benefits. I think many illegal immigrants will clearly gain access to public benefits far sooner than any 13 years as advertised. That is another serious weakness of the bill.

Fourth, I am very concerned about the cost of this bill. Authors of this bill have been very clever. They saw that cost issue coming, and they devised the bill so the big costs of the bill are outside the 10-year budget window. Why is that important? Well, not to get into the weeds, but it is very important because CBO scores legislation primarily on its impact on taxes and spending in the first 10 years. The authors of the bill were very careful, very clever in devising a bill that would look OK in the first 10 years with regard to cost. After that first 10-year window, the costs explode and none of that will be reflected by this CBO score.

We have seen this movie before, because this is exactly the same approach to CBO scoring and costs of legislation, exactly the same approach the proponents of ObamaCare put forward. They were very clever to push many of the costs in the outyears beyond the first initial scoring window, and that is why they were able to wave CBO scores around to somehow suggest this would help lessen the deficit. It is perfectly clear now, ObamaCare is not going to make our fiscal situation better, it is going to make it far worse and far more onerous.

I believe exactly the same thing is true with this bill in terms of the costs, and I believe the proponents of the bill, quite frankly, have gamed the system in the same way to hide those costs, given the way CBO scores legislation.

In contrast to that, there is an objective study of the full costs of the bill, and that is a study by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. He went into extreme detail tracking the full costs and fiscal benefits of the bill. His conclusion was that the full costs of the bill are $6.3 trillion over the full life and the full impact of the bill, $6.3 trillion, with a T. He concluded that the bill, because of all the folks it would legalize, would kick in $9.4 trillion in benefits. There are more government benefits we are going to have to pay out, $9.4 trillion.

These folks being legalized would pay some taxes into the system, which they do not pay now, and that would be $3.1 trillion. When you subtract 3.1 from 9.4, that obviously doesn't net out to zero. That is a net increase in the deficit, increased cost to the government, to society, to the taxpayer, of $6.3 trillion net. That is a serious impact on these budget and fiscal issues we are already very concerned about.

The Robert Rector study is very credible, it is very detailed. I have seen no comparable study in terms of the detail of the analysis. I would challenge anyone who cares about this issue, wherever they are coming from, to put up any other study that can compete with the Rector study in terms of detail and analysis. I think currently that is the last and final word on costs of the bill.

Two final points. A fifth big concern I have about the bill is I believe this bill is very unfair to legal immigrants and folks who are waiting in line in the legal immigration system now. It puts some people--not everybody who would be made legal, but some people--ahead of them in line and dishonors the fact that these would-be legal immigrants are following the rules now and following the law now.

Sixth and finally--and this is no trivial matter--I am very concerned that this would depress wages in the United States for many hard-working Americans, legal immigrants, others who have followed the law who are working hard in a very tough economy now. I think it would depress the general wage situation and make that more difficult for them to deal with.

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