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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. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, we are debating the immigration bill again today, and as the Presiding Officer knows, I am one of those Members of the Senate who believe our immigration system is broken, both the legal system and the way in which we want to deal with those who come here illegally.

I have concerns with the underlying legislation. I have spoken about that on the floor. I have concerns about the workplace magnet. I think the E-Verify proposals in the underlying bill are an improvement to the current system but still not as strong as they need to be to be an effective deterrent to those who are unauthorized to work. I don't think the system will work, frankly, unless we strengthen those provisions at the workplace. Most people want to come here for economic reasons, and if we don't deal with the workplace we will not be able to affect much at the border if people really want to come here with their families to get a job.

Second, we have learned now that 40 percent of those who are here illegally have actually overstayed their visas, meaning they came here legally but then overstayed their visas and are here illegally now.

We also learned that under E-Verify, unfortunately, about 54 percent of those who are unauthorized to work are getting through the system now with the pilot programs that are available. So that needs to be strengthened, and I will have proposals to do that.

I am working with the eight Members of our body here who have put together this legislation and other Senators on both sides of the aisle to try to strengthen those provisions because I don't think the bill is going to hold together without real enforcement.

Secondly, the border enforcement needs to be strengthened and the triggers need to be strengthened. I am working with Senator John Cornyn and others on that. I hope Senators on both sides of the aisle can agree that along with having workplace verification that really does determine who is eligible to work and whether documentation is fraudulent, we also need to have a secure border moving forward.

Third, I have concerns about some of the benefits that will be offered to people who are in this interim status, so-called RPI status, who would be in a legal status but still not able to obtain a green card. So the question is, What benefit should they get? We want to be sure people are not enticed to come here for benefits but, rather, come here legally to work.

Finally, I have concerns about some of the criteria for this status, which would be a legal status, as it relates to crimes they have committed. As a result, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support two amendments I have filed to the underlying bill. I believe these amendments would serve to clarify what kinds of criminal acts would render violent offenders inadmissible under the immigration reform bill we are debating.

The first amendment addresses convictions for domestic violence, stalking, or child abuse. Under the current language, those convicted of these crimes would only be ineligible for admission in the event they served at least 1 year in prison. My amendment would change this language to declare inadmissible anybody convicted of such crimes who could have been sentenced to no less than 1 year of imprisonment for the crime at the time of conviction. I think this is really a clarification amendment and a simple amendment that should be accepted by both sides because it is in keeping with the original purpose of the language, which is to allow a more consistent and fair application of the law.

If my amendment is accepted, two individuals convicted of the same crime under the same circumstances would be treated in the same way under our Nation's immigration laws. That is not the case as the bill is currently written. The current language puts emphasis on the time served rather than the offense committed. As we all know, the amount of time a person convicted of a crime might serve in prison is related to a whole lot of factors unrelated to the purpose of this legislation--from the disposition of the sentencing judge, to the recommendations made by the prosecutors, to the overcrowding in many of our State prisons. So this amendment would take those extraneous considerations out of the picture, applying the same standard to all applicants for citizenship while ensuring that the spirit of the original language remains--preventing violent criminals from reaping the benefits of this legislation.

The second amendment serves a similar purpose. It would exclude crimes against children involving moral turpitude--things such as child abuse, child neglect, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor through sexual acts. It would remove those from the discretionary authority of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and immigration judges with regard to removal, deportation, or inadmissibility of an individual. This amendment would strengthen our efforts to prevent and punish child abuse and would ensure that anyone who endangers our children is not eligible to become a citizen of this country.

Nothing is more precious than American citizenship. We see that everyday with people coming to this country, some legal and some illegal. We have to ensure that this legislation does not extend that privilege to those who would commit crimes against the most vulnerable among us.

These very simple, commonsense amendments would help to achieve that goal. So along with E-Verify and ensuring that our border will be secure,
ensuring that the appropriate benefits are provided to those who are not citizens but here in an interim status, I urge my colleagues to adopt these two amendments to ensure that those who would like to become citizens of the United States are those who deserve it and are not individuals who have engaged in the kinds of criminal acts that would make them inappropriate to become citizens of the United States.

I thank the Chair, and I yield back the time. I don't see any colleagues stepping forward, so I note the absence of a quorum.

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