UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--S. 4047 -- (Senate - December 08, 2006)
Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I would like to speak a moment on the bill, if I may.
The Maritime Transportation Security Act requires the Transportation Security Agency to develop a biometric security card for port workers that would be used to limit access to sensitive areas within a seaport. To satisfy this law, TSA is developing a transportation worker identification credential--we call it TWIC--card. The law requires that the Secretary issue this card to an individual requesting it, unless he determines that the individual poses a terrorism security risk or if they have been convicted of treason, terrorism, sedition, or espionage.
To fulfill this requirement of the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the Department of Homeland Security has drafted regulations that bar certain criminals from receiving these transportation worker identification credentials. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security proposed regulations that would permanently bar from our ports criminals convicted of espionage, sedition, treason, terrorism, crimes involving transportation security, improper transport of hazardous material, unlawful use of an explosive device, murder, violations of the RICO Act where one of the above crimes is a predicate act, and conspiracy to commit any of these crimes.
It would also bar recent felons, those convicted within the last 7 years, or incarcerated in the last 5 years, from working in secure areas of U.S. ports, if they have been convicted of any of these felonies: assault with intent to murder, kidnaping or hostage taking, rape or aggravated sexual abuse, unlawful use of a firearm, extortion, fraud, bribery, smuggling, immigration violations, racketeering, robbery, drug dealing, arson, or conspiracy to commit any of these crimes.
These proposed regulations were developed in consultation and coordination with the Departments of Justice and Transportation to identify individuals who have a propensity to engage in unlawful activity, activity that places our ports at risk. Further, these regulations are nearly identical to the regulations that govern those who have access to our airports and who are involved with transporting hazardous material in the United States. These prohibitions are crucial because individuals who engage in the type of unlawful activity described in the proposed regulations have a greater likelihood to engage in activity that puts American ports at risk.
Our law enforcement officials understand this risk. They understand the threat our ports face with traditional crimes, particularly organized crimes, when they work with terrorists. For example, just recently the FBI apprehended a member of the Russian mafia attempting to sell missiles to an FBI agent he thought was acting as a middleman for terrorists. Joseph Billy, Jr., the FBI's top counterterrorism official, recently commented that the FBI ``is continuing to look at a nexus'' between organized crime and terrorists, and that they ``are looking at this very aggressively.''
The threat is not only criminals working directly with terrorists, it is criminals looking the other way when a suspect container comes through the port. Joseph King, a former Customs Service agent and now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, outlined the concern very
It's an invitation to smuggling of all kinds. Instead of bringing in 50 kilograms of heroin, what would stop them from bringing in five kilograms of plutonium?
A criminal in one of our ports may think he is just helping his buddies smuggle in drugs, but inadvertently he may be helping to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into the United States.
Earlier this year I offered an amendment to address this threat and ensure that serious felons are kept out of our ports. My amendment would have codified in statute the proposed regulations. The amendment passed unanimously and was included in the Senate-passed version of the Safe Port Act. Unfortunately, behind closed doors in the conference committee this amendment was almost completely gutted. The bill went from having language which prohibited 20 serious felonies that put our ports at risk to a list of just four--felonies so rare as to make the conference report language meaningless. I was extremely dismayed to see this language was stripped. I cannot understand who would oppose language that would ban serious felons from secure areas in American ports.
The ranking member of the Commerce Committee, the Senator from Hawaii, has stated in the Congressional Record that he supported the original DeMint language. I understand the chairman of the Commerce Committee, the Senator from Alaska, also supported the DeMint language. I am at a bit of a loss to conclude who in the Senate opposed this strong homeland security provision. Today the Senator from North Dakota said several of his colleagues did, but we don't know who they are.
While there does not seem to be a Senator who is willing to admit to opposing the provision, the longshoremen's labor union is more than happy to take credit for gutting the provision. Last month the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, in their newsletter, claimed credit for killing the provision. They stated:
Congress will return after the election in a ``lame duck'' session and work through part of November and December. We have heard rumors that Senator DeMint is particularly angry with the [union's] successful lobbying effort to strip his anti-labor provision. He may attempt to amend another piece of legislation, so the union will stay on guard to protect its members' interests.
Apparently they have, as we have seen today by the objection to this very commonsense measure. The unions are not stopping at just fighting legislation that I am proposing here to keep serious felons out of our port workforce. They are gearing up to mount a legal battle against the proposed regulations as well.
In response to a Wall Street Journal editorial on the subject, the union stated that the proposed regulations were ``double jeopardy'' and ``unconstitutional.'' This is a clear indication that they have a legal challenge in mind. It seems clear now that once the regulations become final, they are going to take the Department of Homeland Security to court and that the proposed regulations are going to be bogged down in lengthy legal battles likely for years.
The consequence will be that as we continue to fight this global war on terror, America's ports will be staffed by serious felons. Some may be tempted to come to the defense of the longshoremen with various so-called concerns: These individuals have paid their debt to society; barring these individuals is going to gut our port workforce; or that the crimes listed are somehow not related to homeland security.
These concerns are plain wrong. I don't disagree that convicted felons should be given a second chance. I hope they get back on their feet and become productive members of their communities. What I don't agree with is that we should give them a pass, literally and figuratively, to access the most secure areas of America's port infrastructure. When they are fresh out of prison, we should not trust them with the most vulnerable areas of our ports.
Second, I have heard that barring these individuals will empty the ranks of the port workforce. The facts don't bear this out. When the Department of Homeland Security issued nearly 350,000 ID cards for HAZMAT truckdrivers and subjected them to the same background check as I propose putting in the law, only 3,100 were disapproved, less than 1 percent. The workforce in the United States is elastic enough that we can pick up the few thousand longshoremen jobs opening up because the criminals in the port workforce had to be fired.
Finally, some are maintaining these are not serious crimes. I want someone to come down here and tell me which individuals he wants working at his local port--murderers, extortionists, drug dealers, arsonists, document forgers? I want to hear the rationale for stopping this important bill.
The list that the Transportation Security Agency came up with is a list of serious felons who represent a serious threat. It is going to keep these dangerous criminals out of our ports.
The bottom line is this: This bill applies nearly the same protections to seaports that already applies to our airports. It is a regime that has been successful. It will make our ports safer by keeping individuals who have shown a willingness to break the law out of our ports. This is very important. We can spend all the money in our treasury trying to screen cargo, and we have appropriated or approved a whole lot of money to secure our ports. But if we don't screen the people who work at our ports, we cannot expect to have effective port security. It is very unfortunate today that my Democratic colleague has taken this commonsense provision and objected to its consideration.