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Grassley Statement at Comprehensive Immigration Reform Hearing

Location: Washington, DC

"Immigration reform is a perilous minefield of emotionally charged issues. One cannot but consider any such discussion as being about one's own ancestors and in some cases, about oneself. Further, it brings into question one's image of America's past, an assessment of America's present and, most difficult of all, the direction of America's future. There is a general consensus that reform is required, some clear restatement of where we stand. It is imperative that the debate concerning such needed reform be conducted in an atmosphere of calm, compassionate, and careful deliberations recognizing the difficulty of the question and the earnestness of those who will speak to it."

Those were the words of Chairman Alan K. Simpson on May 5, 1981, just as the Congress was about to undertake an overhaul of our immigration system and put a legalization program in place. His words are valuable and relevant today. While there may be differences of opinion on how to enact real change and improve the system, my hope is that we can have a real discussion on the merits and a civil discourse that will bring about true reform. At the end of the day, we must do what is right for our country and for American citizens, and we must provide a compassionate, fair and legal process for people who want to become a part of this great country.

Since I was elected to the Senate in 1980, I have served on this committee. I have seen my share of immigration debates. I worked very hard from 1981 until 1986 to help form a consensus, and I voted for the 1986 amnesty because I was led to believe it was a one-time solution to our problem. I was wrong, and today we are forced to deal with the same problem and the same arguments and the same ideas on how to improve the situation.

I applaud the movement by some members, including several on this committee, to work towards an agreement. I've read the bipartisan framework for immigration reform that this group has written. The one line that struck me is the last sentence in the preamble. It states, "We will ensure that this is a successful permanent reform to our immigration system that will not need to be revisited." That sentence is the most important part of that document, and we must not lose sight of that goal.

We need to learn from our previous mistakes so that we truly don't have to revisit the problem. I hope this body is successful. To be successful, though, first and foremost, we need enforcement of the laws on the books.

We need an administration that won't turn a blind eye to sanctuary cities, and will take stronger action against countries that refuse or delay in taking back their aliens. We need an administration that will perform the constitutional duty of faithfully executing the laws.

We need a more secure border. We need an administration that will not fail to implement a biometric entry and exit system to track foreign nationals, which was originally required by Congress in 1996. We can't reward people who do not abide by the terms of their visas or overstay their welcome. We need double layer fencing and other technology along both the northern and southern borders, and we need to provide stiff penalties on those who attempt to do harm to our agents who are on the front lines.

We need E-Verify to be used by every business in America to ensure they have a legal workforce. We need to enhance this tool for employers. At the same time, we need to increase penalties on employers who refuse to use it or continue to hire people here illegally. We need to weaken the job magnet that draws people across the border.

We need legal immigration reform where we give high skilled and low skilled workers an avenue to enter and remain here. We need to enhance the avenues already in place, and we need to create new avenues where there's a gap. We need to give employers the tools to have a legal workforce, and incentivize them to hire documented and willing workers through legal channels. We need to root out and prevent fraud and abuse in these visa programs so they are being used as intended and not to the detriment of American workers.

We need to find common ground on how to deal with 12 million people here illegally. I do not think an easy path to citizenship is acceptable to the American people. Nor do I think it will solve the problem so the issue doesn't have to be revisited. An overnight legalization program for millions of lawbreakers is a short term band-aid, not a long term solution. I learned that from our 1986 amnesty.

The Chairman and I discussed this issue and we both agree that any immigration bill must go through regular order. A bill has a better chance of passage after going through a thoughtful debate and amendment process -- in this committee and on the floor. I appreciate that the Chairman is holding the first hearing today, and I look forward to future hearings to dive more into the details of the issue.

I also welcome Secretary Napolitano today, and hope we'll get a better understanding of the President's ideas. The President campaigned on immigration reform leading up to the 2008 election, but refused to lead on the issue. While it appears to be a priority in his second term, the President's plan, announced on January 29, falls short of the reforms needed and does very little to ensure that enforcement will be taken seriously. The President's plan is silent on future guest workers when it's clear we need a program that works and fills the temporary need of employers who cannot find Americans able to do the jobs.

I plan on asking Secretary Napolitano about this administration's promise to be the most transparent in history. I take my responsibility to do oversight seriously. So, it's extremely frustrating that the questions I have asked of this administration and this Secretary have gone unanswered. It's a slap in the face of the American people who also want -- and deserve -- answers.

I plan to ask the Secretary about why agents in New Jersey were directed not to arrest a sexual predator whom they knew had overstayed his visa and had sexually abused a minor on several occasions. According to internal memos provided to the committee, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark planned to arrest Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta on October 25, but delayed the arrest after learning it was likely to be a high profile case that would garner significant media and congressional interest. Zavaleta had pled guilty as a juvenile in family court in New Jersey to sexual assault of an eight-year old boy, and police reports indicate that similar abuse had occurred on a total of eight occasions. All Republicans on the Judiciary Committee sent Secretary Napolitano a letter on December 19, 2012 and a follow-up letter on January 7, 2013.

On February 4, 2013, two officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement briefed Committee staff but the Department has refused to make available before this hearing the official with firsthand knowledge, raising questions about what the Department is trying to hide. Staff is also still waiting for the department to provide requested documents and a full response to our letters.

But, here's what we know. Immigration and Customs Enforcement missed an opportunity to arrest Sanchez Zavaleta in 2010. Then his arrest was again delayed in 2012, from October 25 until December 6. Sanchez Zavaleta had a pending application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the President's initiative to delay the deportations of up to 1.8 million people in the United States. This application was later denied on December 4. According to the ICE agents who briefed committee staff, Sanchez Zavaleta would have been eligible for DACA and his juvenile delinquent adjudication would not be a bar to eligibility. That is a shocking assertion: that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service would have the discretion to grant a child rapist's application to stay in the country. It is not clear why his DACA application was denied, although there's no doubt that it should have been. The Department has refused to provide a copy of that application or any documents related to it since we began asking questions nearly two months ago.

Today, Sanchez Zavaleta is free in the United States. After having served a few days in detention, he was released on bond and is being monitored by an ankle bracelet. It is unknown if Sanchez Zavaleta continues to work with youth as he did prior to being apprehended.

The Secretary must answer for the delay in arresting this sexual predator, and for allowing him to be on the streets today.

I also plan to ask Secretary Napolitano about her lack of cooperation and transparency with regard to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Secretary, at the President's request, laid out a plan to provide en masse deferred action to certain people in the United States. Following that announcement, I sent several letters to the administration about how the program would be implemented. Our first letter to the President went unanswered.

Then Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith, and I posed several questions, including: What steps would be taken to ensure that fraudulent documents are not submitted in support of deferred action applications? In what circumstances will an individual who is denied deferred action be placed in removal proceedings? What sort of confidentiality protections will the administration give to applicants? What type of fraud detection mechanisms will be used? How will background checks be conducted and which specific databases will be used in this process? What information is provided to the intelligence community about applicants? Are in-person interviews going to be required, as they are done for other visa applicants? How will denials be processed, and why should adjudicators seek the permission of headquarters only when they deny?

We asked the Secretary for a complete set of data, including: how many people apply, are approved and denied; how many applications have fraud indicators or are denied on the basis of fraud; how many applications are approved or denied in spite of or because of one's criminal history; how many DACA recipients who applied and received advanced parole; how many DACA applicants requested, received or denied prosecutorial discretion; how many applications have been received for individuals in removal proceedings; and how many persons who were denied DACA have been put in removal proceedings.

At least five of our letters on DACA alone were ignored by the Secretary.

The Secretary has also failed to respond to me and the former Chairman of the House Judiciary about countries that refuse or delay in taking back their aliens. In a letter dated June 1, Chairman Smith and I asked the Secretary about aliens who are released in the United States due to the Zadvydas v. Davis decision that prohibits the government from detaining a foreign national with removal orders for longer than 180 days. We asked if she would support a legislative fix to authorize the Department to detain aliens beyond six months. We asked if the Secretary has or would confer with the Secretary of State about using existing authority to discontinue granting visas to nationals of countries that deny or delay in accepting their aliens. Our letter on this very serious issue went ignored.

Finally, we have yet to receive responses posed by members of this committee after our last hearing with Secretary Napolitano. She appeared before us on April 25, 2012. As customary, the Secretary is asked to respond to questions we pose in writing. She has ignored them.

We are on the cusp of undertaking a massive reform of our immigration system. Yet, getting answers to the most basic questions is impossible. This administration has refused to be held accountable. I fear what will become of the President's promise of transparency if and when we do pass a bill. Enacting a bill is one part of the process; implementing a law we pass is another. If we don't have faith in this administration now, how can we trust in the future?

I look forward to hearing from the Secretary and our other esteemed witnesses.

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