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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act-- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, as we look forward to a difficult and yet overdue debate about immigration, I wanted to share my thoughts on the legislation. I want to speak about the committee process as well as the substance of the bill before us. I also want to share my personal experience from the 1980s and how we can learn from history. Finally, I want to express my hope for what I think the bill should look like before it leaves the Senate.

I do not know of any Senator who says the status quo is the way it ought to be. In other words, this issue being on the floor of the Senate is very appropriate. But while we are here, we need to concentrate on getting immigration right for the long term. In 1986, the last time we had major legislation going to the President, I was there. I lived it. I voted for it.

I acknowledge that what we did in 1986, we got it wrong. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes of yesterday. From our national security to our economic security, too much is at stake. So do not repeat 1986. See that the borders are absolutely secure. No excuses from that point. No exceptions on that point.

Now, we are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is my solemn responsibility to respect the law and ensure that law is upheld. Do it the right way, not the easy way. Take what time is necessary to get it right. We know what works in Congress and what does not work. I think if we look back at health care reform as an example, we know that we did it in too hurried of a way and, consequently, questions about carrying out that legislation now are legitimate points of discussion.

Earlier in the year when a bipartisan group of eight Senators released their framework for reform, I was optimistic that the authors were going to produce legislation that lived up to the promises. In their framework they stated:

We will ensure that this is a successful permanent reform to our immigration system that will not need to be revisited.

Without a doubt this is a goal we should all strive for. We must find a long-term solution to fixing our broken system. So I was encouraged. The authors, in the framework released to the public before bill language was available, said the bill would ``provide a tough, fair, practical road map to address the status of unauthorized immigrations in the United States contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.''

Who can argue with that point? That is exactly what we all believe a piece of legislation should do. At the time this bill was put forward and the framework was put forward, I reserved judgment until I saw the details of their proposal. I thought the framework held hope, but I realized the assurances that the Group of 8 made did not really translate when the bill language emerged. It seems as though the rhetoric was spot on, but the details were dubious.

This is what was professed by the authors: that the borders would be secured and that the people would earn their legal status. That was not what the bill actually did. The bill, as drafted, is legalization first, border secured later, and tracking visa overstays later, if at all.

In 1981, when I was a freshman Senator, I joined the Judiciary Committee and was active in the subcommittee process. We sat down and wrote legislation. We had 150 hours of hearings, 300 witnesses before we marked up a bill in May 1982. Hundreds of more hours and dozens more hearings would take place before the 1986 passage.

This year we had 6 days of hearings. We spent 18 hours and 10 minutes listening to outside witnesses. We had a hearing on the ``needs of women and children,'' another hearing focused on ``building an immigration system worthy of American values.''

The Judiciary Committee received the bipartisan bill at 2:24 a.m on April 17. We held hearings on April 19, 22, and 23. We heard from 26 witnesses in 3 days. We heard from the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency union. We heard from economists and employers, law enforcement and lawyers, to professors and advocacy groups. We even heard from people who are undocumented, proving that only in America would we allow someone not right with the law to be heard by the American people.

One of the witnesses was Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. We attempted to learn about how the bill would affect the functions of the executive branch and whether she saw the same flaws many of us were finding. Unfortunately, we have not received responses from Secretary Napolitano to the questions that we raised at her hearing on April 23. We should have the benefit of hearing from the Secretary as to certain questions that were raised about this legislation, particularly when it comes from somebody in the executive branch who has to enforce what is laid before her.

After those hearings the committee was poised to consider the bill through a markup process. Our side of the aisle made it clear that we needed to have an open and transparent process, so we started work on May 9. We held five all-day sessions where Members were able to raise questions, voice concerns, and offer amendments. Hundreds of amendments were filed. I alone filed 77 amendments. Of those, I offered 37. Of those 37, 12 were accepted, 25 were rejected.

Those on the other side of the aisle will boast that many Republican amendments were adopted in committee. They are somewhat right. However, only 13 of 78 Republican amendments offered were agreed to; 7 of those were from members of the Group of 8. But get this: Of the 62 Democratic amendments proposed, only 1 of those 62 amendments was rejected, and even that one was just narrowly rejected.

Commonsense amendments offering real solutions were repeatedly rejected. Those that were accepted made some necessary improvements. But get this: The core provisions of the bill remain the same coming out of committee as they were introduced into the committee.

I respect the process we had in committee. Chairman Leahy deserves thanks from all of us on the committee because he promised an open, fair, and transparent process. Quite frankly, it was. It is a good format for what needs to take place on the floor of the Senate if the legislation that is finally voted upon is going to have credibility.

In that committee we had a good discussion and debate on how to improve the bill. It was a productive conversation focused on getting immigration reform right in the long term. Yet I was disappointed that alliances were made to ensure that nothing passed that would make substantial changes or improvements in the bill. Many of those people gave high praise to the amendments being offered but continued to vote against them.

I have often spoke about the 1986 legislation and how that law failed the American people. Now 99 other Senators are probably going to get sick of me reminding them of my presence there in 1986 and saying that we screwed up, because at that time promises were made and those promises were not kept. We said it was a one-time fix, just like the Group of 8 said they have a one-time fix. But that one-time fix did nothing to solve the problem.

In fact, it only made matters worse and encouraged illegality. People came forward for legal status, but many more illegally entered or overstayed their welcome to get the same benefits and chance at citizenship. The 1986 bill was supposed to be a three-legged stool: control undocumented immigration, a legalization program, and reform of legal immigration.

We authorized $422 million to carry out the requirements of the bill and even created a special fund for States to get reimbursed their costs. The 1986 bill included a legalization program for two categories of people: one for individuals who have been present in the United States since 1982, and the second for farm workers who have worked in agriculture for at least 90 days prior to enactment. A total of 2.7 million people were legalized. We also had enforcement in that 1986 legislation.

For the first time ever we made it illegal to knowingly hire or employ someone who was here undocumented. We set penalties to deter the hiring of people here undocumented. We wrote in the bill that ``one essential element of immigration control is an increase in the Border Patrol and other inspection enforcement activities of the Immigration and Nationalization Service in order to prevent and to deter the illegal entry of aliens into the United States and in violation of the terms of their entry.''

Unfortunately, the same principles from 1986 are being discussed today: legalize now, enforce later. But it is clear that philosophy does not work. Proof of that is it did not work in 1986. So proponents of legalization today argue we did not get it right in 1986. How true they are. I agree the enforcement mechanisms in 1986 could have been stronger. There was no commitment to enforcing the law or making sure we protected every mile of our border.

Knowing what I know now, an immigration bill must ensure that we secure the border first. Legalization should only happen when the American people have faith in the system. There needs to be a commitment to enforce the laws on the books, and, as important, there needs to be a legal avenue that allows people to enter and stay legally in the country.

Now, if you want to know how important securing the border is, just come to my townhall meetings in Iowa. So far I have been in 73 of our 99 counties. When immigration comes up and I talk about legislation, there are outbursts that we do not need more laws; why do we not just enforce the laws that are on the books--things such as ``bring the troops home.'' ``Put them down on the border.''

``Then we won't have a problem.'' Unfortunately, the bill before us repeats our past mistakes and does very little to deliver more than the same promises we made in 1986, which promises turned out to be empty. Instead of looking to the past for guidance on what to do in the future, the bill before us incorporates the mistakes of the past and, in some cases, even weakens the laws we currently have.

Those of us who are complaining, as I have just complained, have a responsibility to put a proposal before this body that will correct those things we think are a repeat of the mistakes of 1986, and we will do this.

To further explain this bill, the bill ensures that the executive branch, not the Congress or the American people through their Congress, has the sole power to control the situation. First, the bill provides hundreds of waivers and broad delegation of authority. Two, the Secretary may define terms as she sees fit. In many cases, the discretion is unreviewable, both by the American people and by other branches of government. Can you believe that? Unreviewable.

The bill undermines Congress's responsibility to legislate, and it weakens our ability to conduct oversight. We should learn a lot of lessons from past legislation. We should be doing more legislating and less delegating. Think of the recent things that have come out that the IRS has too much power.

In health care reform, there are 1,963 delegations of authority to the Secretary to write regulations. You might think you understand a 2,700-page piece of legislation that the President signed 4 years ago, but you aren't going to know what that legislation actually does until those 1,963 regulations are written. I think we are waking up to the fact that we delegated too much and legislated too little. We shouldn't be making that same mistake with this piece of legislation and, as it is written, we are making that mistake.

I wouldn't have such strong resentment about this issue if I knew I could have faith in this administration or any future administration. By the time this thing gets down the road, that is going to be a future administration to actually enforce the law.

Show me the evidence. The President and the administration have curtailed enforcement programs. It claims record deportations, but then what does the President say? He turns around and he says the statistics are--and this is his word--``deceptive.''

The Secretary says the border is more secure than ever before, but she denounced any notion of securing the border before people here who were undocumented were given legal status. The administration implemented the DREAM Act by executive fiat, saying Congress refused to pass a bill so it decided to do something on its accord. It did that 1 year after the President told a group of people he didn't have the authority to do it. They provided no legal justification for the actions and very few answers about how they were implementing the directive.

The refusal of any executive branch of government, whether it is Republican or Democratic, to refuse accountability raises a lot of questions. They refuse to be transparent and forthcoming with Congress on almost every matter.

When this bill was introduced, I had to question whether the promise for border security 10 years down the road would ever be fulfilled. No one disputes that this bill is what I have said already, a bill that legalizes first and enforces later. That is the core problem. That is a core problem from the standpoint of everybody who is going to tell us on this floor and during these weeks of debate that immigration reform is overwhelmingly popular. I am not going to dispute that.

Understand that there are very many things that are caveats in a poll. No. 1 is that we ought to have border security. The core problem is that enforcement comes after legalization, a core problem, and the main reason I could not support it out of the Judiciary Committee. It is the main reason. It is unacceptable to me, and it is unacceptable to the American people.
The sponsors of this bill disagree. If they would read their own legislation, they would realize this fact. Later in the week I will discuss an amendment I plan to offer to change this central flaw, but allow me to tell my colleagues who are not on the committee about this major objection I have.

We have millions of undocumented people in this country. Under this bill, Congress would give the Secretary of Homeland Security 6 months to produce two reports, one on border security strategy and the other on border fencing strategy. As soon as those two documents are sent to the Hill, just as soon as they come up here, the Secretary then has full authority to issue legal status, including work permits and travel documents, to millions of people who apply.

The result is the undocumented population receives what the bill calls registered provisional status after two plans are submitted. Registered provisional immigrant is RPI. RPI status is more than probation. RPI status is outright legalization.

After the Secretary notifies Congress that she believes her plan has been accomplished, newly legalized immigrants are given a path to obtain green cards and a special path to citizenship.

Without ensuring adequate border security or holding employers accountable, the cycle is destined to repeat itself. I used the committee process to attempt to strengthen border security. My amendment to fix the trigger so the Secretary would need to report to Congress on a fast-track system and show that the border was secured to get congressional approval before legalization would proceed was defeated. We used the committee process to try to track who was coming and going from our country. Amendments to require a biometric exit system at all ports of entry, which is current law, were defeated.

We tried to hold employers accountable and stop the magnet for illegal immigration. My amendment to speed up implementation of an employer verification system was defeated.

At the end of the day, the majority argued against securing the border for another decade. The triggers in the bill that kicked off legalization are ineffective and inefficient.

If we pass the bill as is, there will be no pressure on this administration, future administrations, or those in Congress to secure the border. There will be no push by the legalization advocates to get the job done.

This is what is so important about when does

legalization take place, before the border is secure or after the border is secure. Once the plans are presented, there will never be any pressure from advocates for legalization, or anybody else who is interested in solving this problem, to push to get the job done.

Moreover, the bill gives Congress the sole discretion over border security, fencing strategy, and implementation of these strategies without any input from Congress.

We have a lot of questions. Will the Secretary, who believes the border is stronger than ever before, be willing to make it even stronger? Will a Secretary who does not believe a biometric exit system is feasible ensure that a mandated system is put in place? Will a Secretary who does not believe anything should stand in the way of legalization ensure the triggers are achieved?

Proponents of the legislation claim it includes the single largest increase in immigration enforcement in American history. Proponents say mandatory electronic employment verification is a solution to future illegal immigration. It is concerning that the bill delays for years the implementation of a mandatory electronic employment verification through which 99.7 percent of all work-eligible employees are confirmed immediately today.

I will speak later in the days ahead about how this bill weakens current law, particularly laws on the books to deter criminal behavior. It concerns me greatly that the bill we are about to consider rolls back many criminal statutes, but also that there is nothing in the bill that enhances the cooperation between the Federal Government and State and local jurisdictions. In fact, it preempts State laws that are trying to enforce Federal laws currently in place.

We have a lot of work cut out for us. I know there are some who don't want to see a single change in this legislation.

For me, this bill falls short of what I want to see in strong immigration reform. The fact is we need real reform, not gimmicks that fail to fix the real problem and secure our border. We need to be fair to millions of people who came here the legal way, not bias the system in favor of those who sneaked in through the back door. We need a bill that truly balances our national security with our economic security.

This is what we can do to improve the bill: I remain optimistic that on the floor we can vote on commonsense amendments that better the bill. Serious consideration will be given to amendments that strengthen our ability to remove criminal gang members, hold perpetrators of fraud and abuse accountable, and prevent the weakening of criminal law. We must seriously consider how the bill works to the detriment of the American workers and find consensus around measures that require employers to regroup and hire from homegrown talent before looking abroad, but also improving the mechanism by which people can come here when they are needed. We must be willing to close loopholes in our asylum system, prevent criminals and evildoers from gaining immigration benefits, and ensure that we are improving our ability to protect the homeland.

I assure my colleagues I have an open mind on this legislation. I want immigration reform. I want to get it right this time, not make the same mistakes I did in 1986. I want a bill I can support. To do that, I need to see a stronger commitment to border security. I need to know future lawbreakers won't be rewarded, and that there will be a deterrent for people who wish to enter or remain illegally in the country.

Basically and simply, I want the words of this bill to match the rhetoric of those proposing the plan. The bill sponsors want a product that can garner around 70 votes in the Senate. Doing so, they seem to think, would send a message to the House that they should rubberstamp a bill that passed the Senate and send that bill to the President. I don't think that is going to happen. The House is prepared to move on its own legislation.

There will be a conference, which is a rare occurrence around here, by the way. A conference of the two Houses will ensure that the bill benefits from various checks and balances that we worship through our Constitution.

I am not trying to jump ahead to the next step of the process, I am simply telling my colleagues this bill has a long way to go through the legislative process. It needs to change before it is accepted by the American people or sent to the President. If they are serious about getting this done, more compromises will be made.

Allow me to end by echoing the words of President Reagan:

Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people. Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.

That was President Reagan.

The path we take in the days ahead will shape our country for years to come. It is my hope we can find a solution while learning from our mistakes and ensuring that future generations don't have to revisit this problem down the road.

I yield the floor.


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