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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRASSLEY. As we have seen over the past 2 weeks, immigration is a very emotional issue. It is an issue that engenders strong feelings from both sides of the aisle and maybe out in the grass roots of America even stronger feelings than are expressed on the floor of the Senate.

Everyone wants reform in the Senate. I have not heard anybody say the present situation is A-OK, but everyone has their own ideas and different solutions.

Now, at the grass roots of America, there are people who say we ought to give citizenship yesterday. There are people on the other side who say 12 million people ought to be rounded up and shipped out of the country. Neither one of those are very realistic today, but those are even stronger voices than you hear on the floor of the Senate.

Now, we are trying to find some reasonable solution. I do not think the bill that is eventually going to pass is a reasonable solution. But I will not know whether this is a reasonable solution until we get through the entire legislative process, meaning the House of Representatives and the conference. But I think down the road we can do much better than is going to be done in the Senate.

Now, as I said, everybody has their own ideas and different solutions. Unfortunately, the process has not allowed us to fundamentally improve this bill on the floor of the Senate like we were able to have that chance--not too successfully--but at least we had that chance in committee with that
fair and open process. So out here on the floor of the Senate we have not been able to vote up or down on commonsense amendments or very many amendments at all. I think to this point about 9, 10, 11 amendments are all that we have considered out of 451 that have been offered.

Despite the fact that the American people want the border secured before we provide a path to legalization, this bill appears to be favored by a majority in the body who believe that legalization must come before border security. I ought to say that again. Despite the fact that the American people want border security before we provide a path to legalization, there appears to be a majority in this body who believe that legalization must come before border security.

The polls around America show just the opposite. Border security first, everything else after the border is secured. This approach of legalization first is concerning, not only because the border will not be secured for years down the road, but more importantly because it devalues the principle that is very basic to our country and our constitutional system of government, the rule of law. The rule of law means the government will follow the laws it writes, and we expect the people to do likewise. People need to be able to trust their government and trust that the government will be fair.

I empathize with people who come into this country to have a better life. Who is going to blame them for doing that? We would do anything to give our kids a better life. Some people see no other choice but to cross the border without papers to find work and sacrifice everything they have to do it and to take a chance that they are going to run up against the law and be deported. But they do it because they want a better life. That is very basic to the American way of life. It is a natural right of most people around the world, a natural right that most of them are not able to bring to fruition.

The American people happen to be very compassionate. I know they are just trying to find a better opportunity and live the American dream, those people who come here undocumented. We are the best country in the world. We should be proud of it. We are an exceptional nation. But we are a great country because we have always abided by the rule of law. The rule of law is what makes all opportunities we have possible.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a message to the Congress, the State of the Union Message. He talked about how man must be guaranteed his liberty and the right to work. But so long as a man does not infringe upon the rights

of others, he said this:

No man is above the law and no man is below it, nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it.

Meaning the law.

Obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not as a favor.

I am a believer, just like everybody in this body, in the rule of law, despite what some say, including the majority leader. That does not mean we want to deport 11 million people. I want a humane and fair process for them to live, work, and remain here. I have said many times, and I have said it many times particularly in the past few months, that we do not necessarily need more laws, but rather we need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

That is what I hear at my townhall meetings when people come to them and I start to explain about immigration. Somebody pops up: Right. We do not need more laws; we just need to enforce what we have on the books.

I agree. We need to enhance and expand legal avenues for people who want to enter, live, and work in this country. But we have laws that have gone ignored for 17 years. We have laws that are undermined and disregarded. The country will benefit if we have sensible immigration laws. One of the failings of the 1986 law was that it did not do enough to create avenues for people to work here. Advocates for reform claim they want a long-term solution, but what we have before us is nothing but a short-term bandaid. Really, what the bill does is clean the slate.

Those words ``clean the slate'' was a phrase that we used in 1986. That was the goal, to clean the slate, and we would start all over again. I referred many times--it is probably sickening to a lot of people in this body when I refer to the mistakes we made in 1986, not to repeat them. But here we are. We want to clean the slate again and start over. The problem is, if we just do the same thing we did in 1986, we will be back here in 25 years or less wanting to do the same thing.

So some Senators are going to say: In 2038, all we need to do is clean the slate. Well, we said that in 1986. We did clean the slate. We are back here in 2013 cleaning the slate again. We should have a long-term solution to these immigration issues. We should pass true and meaningful reform; and in doing so, we should not be ignoring the very principle on which our country was founded, on the rule of law.

We should not have to in any way be apologetic for taking this position either. One would get the opinion by hearing some speeches on the floor of the Senate that some people have more respect for people who violated our law than they have respect for the rule of law or people who have abided by the law. We have people from all over the world at our embassies, standing in line for long periods of time to come to this country legally. Those are the people whom we ought to be respecting.

I do not mean we disrespect people who come here to work. But there is one thing: They did violate our laws to come here. We do not have to apologize for not accepting the fact that it is OK to violate the laws. So we should not be apologetic for any position we take that is backed by the rule of law, the foundation of our society.

Why should we have to apologize for wanting to ensure people live by the laws that we set? We will not survive as a country if we allow people to ignore the law and be rewarded for it. We just cannot be a country of lawlessness. Why is wanting to secure the border anti-immigration? It is not. We are a sovereign nation. It is our duty to protect the people of this country. That is the first responsibility of the Federal Government, to guarantee our sovereignty because it is basic to our security. It is our right to create procedures whereby others can come to this country and make a living for themselves.

This does not mean we do not want other people from other countries. After all, except for Native Americans we are all a country of immigrants, some first generation and some, I suppose, fifth or sixth generation. We want to ensure that we protect our sovereignty. We want to protect the homeland.

So I ask my colleagues to think about how our country's immigration laws will survive the test of time. If this bill passes as is, will it be a temporary fix or something that we can be proud of for generations to come?

It is my understanding that, so far, 449 amendments have been filed to this underlying bill, including second-degree amendments. We started off the debate on the Senate floor with my amendment that would have required the border to be ``effectively controlled'' for 6 months before the Secretary could legalize people who are already present. We would call them, under this bill, registered provisional immigrants, and we referred to it as RPI status.

Clearly, the other side was afraid of the amendment I offered because it would have fundamentally changed the bill by requiring that the border be secured before granting 11 million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship--but not, contrary to what the polls of the people of this country are telling us--they want security first, legalization after security of the borders. They have already cooked the books on this bill and don't want to make fundamental changes, regardless of whether they are good changes, because they don't want to upset their deal. They have insisted on a 60-vote threshold for amendments to pass.

When my amendment was up, I refused that 60-vote requirement and so they tabled my amendment. This raises the question: What about the open and fair process that we were promised? We learned on day one of the immigration debate that all of this talk about ``making the bill better'' was just plain hogwash. It was all just a phony and empty promise.

The sponsors would take the floor and say they were ready to vote on amendments, but in reality they were afraid of any good change. They refused to let Members offer amendments of their own choosing. Instead, they wanted to pick what amendments Members would offer. They want to decide who, what, when, and how it would be disposed of. Of course, that is not right, that is not the open process that was promised.

In the last 2 weeks we have only debated nine amendments on this bill. Of those amendments, the majority leader tabled three amendments on a rollcall vote. Of the nine, we adopted three amendments by a rollcall vote. We rejected three amendments by a rollcall vote, and we adopted another three amendments by a voice vote.

I am sure everyone would agree that debating 9 amendments out of 450 is not a fair and open process. We have a lot more amendments that have been filed and not considered. These amendments would make this bill better. The sponsors of the bill are arguing that because we had a process in the Judiciary Committee that I have applauded as fair and open, that means we don't need such an open and fair process on the floor of the Senate.

What does that say about the other 82 Members of this body, that they shouldn't be allowed to offer amendments? The problem is while the committee process was open, many amendments were defeated, and no amendments were offered that substantially changed the bill in committee.

In order to address many issues with this bill, we would like to vote on more amendments before the end of the week. I wish to discuss some of the amendments we would like to see debated and considered before this immigration debate comes to an end, so people have a flavor of the kind of issues we believe have not been fully vetted on the floor of the Senate in this process that we were promised was going to be fair and open.

A number of amendments we would like considered would strengthen provisions of the bill dealing with border security, something that the current bill fails to do in a satisfactory manner. As everyone knows, this has been a serious deficiency in the immigration reform bill, regardless of the fact that the polls in this country say people want the border secured first and then legalization. This does it the opposite way: legalizes and then maybe the border will be secure.

For example, Lee amendment No. 1207 would prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from restricting or prohibiting activities of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on public lands and authorize Customs and Border Protection access to Federal lands to secure the border.

Coats amendment No. 1442 would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify that the Department of Homeland Security has effective control of high-risk border sections at the southern border for 6 months before the Department can process RPI status applications. The Coats amendment would also require the Secretary to maintain effective control of those high-risk sections for at least 6 months before the Secretary may adjust the status of the RPI applicants.

Coburn amendment No. 1361 would allow Customs and Border Protection to enforce immigration laws on Federal lands. What is wrong with that amendment, to enforce immigration laws on Federal lands?

Other amendments would beef up our interior enforcement, which we all know is absolutely critical with respect to the success of our immigration system. This is an area where the underlying bill doesn't do enough.

An excellent amendment we haven't had an opportunity to debate and vote on is Sessions amendment No. 1334. That amendment would give a number of tools to State and local governments to enforce the immigration laws, including giving States and localities the ability to enact their own immigration laws, withholding specific grants from sanctuary cities that defy Federal immigration enforcement efforts, facilitating and expediting the removal of criminal aliens, improving the visa issuance process, and, lastly, assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement officers in carrying out their jobs.

Another amendment is Wicker amendment No. 1462, which would require information sharing between Federal and non-Federal agencies regarding removal of aliens, which would allow for quick enforcement against individuals who violate immigration laws. The Wicker amendment would also withhold certain Federal funding from States and local governments that prohibit their law enforcement officers from assisting or cooperating with Federal immigration law enforcement.

Some of the amendments that we haven't considered would ensure that our criminal laws are not weakened by the bill. I have an amendment, No. 1299, that would address some of the provisions in the underlying bill that severely weaken our current criminal laws.

Isn't that funny. We want to have a better immigration bill, and we are going to weaken certain laws that are already on the books?

Specifically, my amendment No. 1299 would address language in the bill that creates a convoluted and ineffective process for determining whether a foreign national in a street gang should be deemed inadmissible or be deported. I offered a similar amendment in committee where even two Members of the Gang of 8 supported it. My amendment

would have closed a dangerous loophole created by the bill that will allow criminal gang members to gain a path to citizenship.

Specifically, in order to deny entry and remove a gang member, section 3701 of the bill requires that the Department of Homeland Security prove a foreign national, No. 1, has a prior Federal felony conviction for drug trafficking or a violent crime; No. 2, has knowledge that the gang is continuing to commit crimes; and, No. 3, has acted in furtherance of gang activity.

Even if all of these provisions could be proven, under the bill the Secretary can still issue a waiver. As such, the proposed process is limited only to criminal gang members with prior Federal drug trafficking and Federal violent crime convictions and does not include State convictions such as rape and murder.

The trick is while the bill wants you to believe that this is a strong provision, foreign nationals who have Federal felony drug trafficking or violent crime convictions are already subject to deportation if they are already here and denied entry as being inadmissible.

The gang provisions, as written in the bill, add nothing to current law and will not be used. It is, at best, a feel-good measure to say we are being tough on criminal gangs while really doing nothing to remove or deny entry to criminal gang members.

It is easier to prove that someone is a convicted drug trafficker than both a drug trafficker and a gang member. As currently written, why would this provision ever be used and, simply put, it wouldn't be used.

My amendment, No. 1299, would strike this do-nothing provision and issue a new, clear, simple standard to address the problem of gang members. It would strike this do-nothing provision and include a process to address criminal gang members where the Secretary of Homeland Security must prove, No. 1, criminal street gang membership; and, No. 2, that the person is a danger to the community.

Once the Secretary proves these two things, the burden shifts to foreign nationals to prove that either he is not dangerous, not in a street gang, or he did not know the group was a street gang. It is straightforward and it will help remove dangerous criminal gang members.

My amendment also eliminates the possibility of a waiver. Amendment No. 1299 should have a vote to make sure the bill doesn't weaken our current law.

There are a number of other amendments that we would like to see considered that would help ensure that individuals comply with the immigration law requirements and ensure that the RPI process does not allow individuals to game the system.

For example, Rubio amendment No. 1225 would require RPI immigrants 16 years old or older to read, write, and speak English.

Fischer amendment No. 1348 would also insert an English-language requirement as a prerequisite to RPI status.

Cruz amendment No. 1295 would require States to require proof of citizenship for registration to vote in Federal elections.

Hatch amendment No. 1536 would ensure that undocumented immigrants
actually pay their back taxes before gaining legalization.

Another amendment, Toomey amendment No. 1440, would increase the number of W nonimmigrant visas available during each fiscal year and would help improve the visa system.

Other amendments that we should debate and vote on would strengthen our immigration system by making sure that we don't allow criminal immigrants to stay in our country and be put on a path to American citizenship.

For example, Vitter amendment No. 1330 would make sure that undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes of domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect would be inadmissible.

Inhofe amendment No. 1203, entitled ``Keep Our Communities Safe Act,'' would allow the Department of Homeland Security or a subsidiary agency to keep dangerous individuals in detention until a final order of removal of that individual from the United States.

Cornyn amendment No. 1470 would make sure undocumented immigrants who have committed an offense of domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, or assault resulting in bodily injury, violated a protective order or committed a drunk-driving violation, would be ineligible for legalization.

Portman amendment No. 1389 would limit the discretion of immigration judges and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the removal, deportation, and inadmissibility of undocumented individuals who have committed crimes involving child abuse, child neglect, and other crimes of moral turpitude concerning children.

Finally, Portman amendment No. 1390 would ensure that undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes of domestic violence, stalking, and child abuse would be inadmissible.

I have gone through a whole bunch of amendments. These are all extremely important amendments that would ensure that the worst kinds of criminal immigrants do not gain a path to citizenship.

I urge the majority to allow us to consider these and other amendments that we would like to offer to improve the bill, instead of cutting us off and shutting off full and open debate of this very important issue--something that we were told from day one, that we would have an open and fair process.

What we are doing, voting this amendment to the House of Representatives on Thursday and Friday, ends up not being a fair and open process.

I yield the floor.


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