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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. VITTER. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor to strongly urge consideration and passage of the first of several amendments I will be presenting on this so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill.

It is amendment No. 1228 and is about the US-Visit system, the entry-exit system that is supposed to be in place. It has been mandated by Congress many times to guard against visa overstays, which is a serious national security problem.

Why is this important? There is one simple way to underscore it to answer that question, and that is to remind us that the 9/11 terrorists, every single one of them, were visa overstays. They were dangerous people who came into our country on valid visas, overstayed their visas, plotted against us, and ultimately caused horrendous death and destruction on 9/11.

What do we do about that situation? We need a system of tracking visas of the people who come into the country, tracking when they should be leaving the country, and looking to see if they have exited the country. We need a system which has biometric data associated with it which can track those entrances and those exits.

This sort of system is technologically possible. It is definitely possible to fund and put in place. It is primarily a question of political will.

Unfortunately, even after Congress mandated this multiple times to no effect, even after 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, we haven't mustered the political will to demand to put this is in place.

If 9/11 wasn't enough, the 9/11 Commission--which we appointed, we put into law and asked them to look at the horrible attack of 9/11 and give us recommendations--made this one of their top recommendations. Their specific recommendation was that ``the Department of Homeland Security, properly supported by Congress, should complete as quickly as possible a biometric entry-exit screening system.''

Again, Congress had talked about this years before, starting in 1996. Congress passed that mandate, and Congress repeated that mandate many different times over 17 years, with six additional votes. The 9/11 Commission said the tragedy of 9/11 was, in part, due to our not having that system and, Congress, the administration, you need to get this done. Still that important piece of border security is not in place.

This Vitter amendment No. 1228 is very simple. It will prohibit the implementation of any program granting temporary legal status in this bill or adjusting the legal status of anyone who is presently in our country unlawfully until this US-VISIT system has been fully implemented--full implementation. So no change in anybody's legal status happens until we finally, after decades, implement this US-VISIT system; until we finally, after years, heed the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission; until we finally, decades after 9/11, say this will never happen again.

Also, under my amendment, both Houses of Congress must pass a joint resolution of approval stating, yes, this is fully in place. Because, quite frankly, there isn't sufficient trust of just the administration saying so, some certification from any administration--not just this one but any administration. It has to happen and Congress has to say, yes, that is in place, and then that change in legal status can go forward.

We talk a lot about border security, and, of course, usually we focus on the southern border, for obvious reasons. That is where the numbers are. That is where the greatest flow is. But when it comes to national security, this is a vital component of enforcement. This is a vital component of border security, and so we need to get this right. We need to remember 9/11. We need to heed the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It has been since 1996 when Congress mandated this, and we need to make it stick. The only way to make it stick, in the context of this bill, is to demand it is done, it is completed, verified, including by Congress, before any change in legal status happens.

In closing, I also wish to express strong concern and opposition to Leahy amendment No. 1183, which is currently on the floor and up for consideration. That amendment would grant exceptional priority and exceptional favor to particular O and P visa applications, which are generally for renowned professors, researchers, doctors, Oscar winners, entertainers, and performers. It would specifically waive a fee associated with this visa.

I think that is problematic because we depend on all of these fees to fund this system and this enforcement system which we are trying to improve. I find it ironic we would waive this fee for that class of individuals, who are absolutely the most well-heeled and the most capable of paying it. We would give that class of individuals special status and a waiver of a relatively modest fee and, in the process, hurt the funding for the entire enforcement system.

I think that is misguided when we are trying to build up enforcement, when we are trying to get this done and pay for all that enforcement. I think it is misguided to waive this fee for exactly the sort of visa applicants who are most in a position to pay it.

With that, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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