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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act-- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I rise to talk about four claims this bill makes, these four claims that are on the chart, to disprove those claims under certain circumstances.

Before I do that, everybody who has spoken so far has said we have to pass a bill. I don't disagree with that but not just any bill. A bill that secures the border is very necessary. The status quo is not justifiable. We have to realize the reality of the fact that we can't gather 11 or 12 million people to deport, and if we did that, we would hurt the economy. That is the reality.

To get around that, we have to get a bill that gets through the Senate, the House of Representatives, and that the President approves.

My main goal throughout these next 2 or 3 weeks is to develop a bill that accomplishes that but to stress that a lot of things that have been said by the authors of this legislation are not accurate. I will take a few minutes to discuss how the authors have tried to sell the immigration bill and what I see as false advertising.

Legislators are in the business of selling ideas. With this bill, the American people are being sold a product. They are being asked to accept legalization and, in exchange, they would be assured through this legislation that the laws are going to be enforced.

Normally consumers are able to read the labels of things they are about to purchase. They would have to read about 1,175 pages of this bill to know what it truly says. Even a quick read of the bill would leave many shaking their heads in confusion.

You have heard the phrase, ``The devil is in the details.'' At first the proposal that the bipartisan group put forward sounded very reasonable, but we need to examine the fine print and take a closer look at what the bill does.

As I noted yesterday, I thought the framework; that is, when they started working on it, held hope. I realized the assurances the Gang of 8 made didn't translate when the bill language emerged.

They professed that the border would be secured and that people would earn their legal status. However, the bill, as drafted, is legalization first, enforcement later, if at all.

I would like to dive into the details and give a little reality check to those who expect this bill to do exactly as the authors promise. What do the proponents of this bill say the legislation will do?

The first thing on my chart is, ``People will have to pay a penalty'' to obtain legal status.

The bill lays out the application procedure. On page 972, a penalty is imposed on those who apply for registered provisional immigration status. It says that those who apply must pay $1,000 to the Department of Homeland Security. It waives the penalty for anyone under 21 years. Yet on the next page it allows the applicant to pay the penalty in installments. The bill says:

The Secretary shall establish a process for collecting payments ..... that permit the penalty to be paid in periodic installments that shall be completed before the alien may be granted an extension of status.

In effect, this says the applicant has 6 years to pay the $1,000. That is how long it takes to get RPI status. In addition to the penalty, applicants would pay a processing fee, a level set by the Secretary.

The bill says the Secretary has the discretion to waive the processing fee for any classes of individuals that she chooses and may limit the maximum fee paid by a family.

The fact is, the bill doesn't actually require everyone to pay a penalty. In view of the waiver, it doesn't require anyone to pay it when they apply for legal status. In fact, they may never have to pay a penalty.

Let's go to No. 2 on the chart. ``People will have to pay back taxes'' to receive legal status. In reality, members of the Gang of 8 stated over and over that their bill would require undocumented individuals to pay

back taxes prior to being granted legal status. However, the bill before us fails to make good on the promise. Proponents of the bill point to a provision in the bill that prohibits people from filing for legal status ``unless the applicant has satisfied any applicable Federal tax liability.''

It sounds good, right? As always, the devil is in the details. There are two important weaknesses with how the bill defines ``applicable Federal tax liability.''

First, the bill limits the definition to exclude employer taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes. Think of that exclusion.

Second, the bill does not require the payment of all back taxes legally owed. What it requires is a payment of taxes assessed by the Internal Revenue Service. Think of the IRS assessing. In order to assess a tax, the IRS first must have information on which to base this assessment. Our tax system is largely a voluntary system on self-reporting. It also relies on certain third-party reporting, such as wages reported by the employer; that is, the W-2 form.

If someone has been working unlawfully in the country and working off the books, it is likely that neither an individual return or third-party return will exist. Thus, no assessment will exist and no taxes will be paid.

Similarly, it is very unlikely that an assessment will exist for those who have worked under false Social Security numbers and never paid a tax. A legal obligation exists to pay taxes on all income from whatever sources derived. Nothing in this bill provides a requirement or a mechanism to accomplish this prior to granting legal status.

One of the gang members in January said this:

Shouldn't citizens pay back taxes? We can trace their employment back. It doesn't take a genius.

While it may seem common sense, the other side of the aisle is going to argue that establishing the requirement to pay back taxes owed, rather than assessed, is unworkable and costly. They will also claim that imposing additional tax barriers on this population could prevent undocumented workers and their families from coming forward.

The sales pitch has been clear. To get legal status, one has to pay back taxes. Let me provide a reality check. The bill doesn't make good on the promises made.

Third, they say people will have to learn English. In reality, the bill as drafted is supposed to ensure that new Americans speak a common language. Learning English is a way new residents assimilate. This is an issue that is very important. Immigrants before us made a concerted effort to learn English. The proponents are claiming the bill fulfills this wish.

However, the bill does not require people here unlawfully to learn English before receiving legal status or even a green card. Under section 2101, a person with RPI status who applies for a green card only has to pursue a course of study to achieve an understanding of English and knowledge and understanding of civics.

If the people who gain legal access ever apply for citizenship--and some doubt this will happen to a majority of the undocumented population--they would have to pass an English proficiency exam as required under current law. Yes, after 13 years one would have to pass an exam, but the bill does very little to ensure that those who come out of the shadows will cherish or use an English language. The reality is that English isn't as much of a priority for the proponents of the bill as much as they claim it is.

Fourth and last, they say, ``People won't get public benefits'' when they choose to apply for legal status. The reality is Americans are very compassionate and generous. Many people can understand providing some legal status to people here illegally. One major sticking point, for those who question a legalization program, is the fact that lawbreakers could become eligible for public benefits and taxpayer subsidies.

The authors of the bill understood this, thank God. In an attempt to show that those who receive RPI status would not receive taxpayers' benefits, they included a provision that prohibited the population from receiving certain benefits. There are two major problems with the bill on this point.

First, those who receive RPI status will be immediately eligible for State and local welfare benefits. For instance, many States offer cash, medical, and food assistance through State-only programs to lawfully present citizens.

Second, the bill contains a welfare waiver loophole that could allow those with RPI status to receive Federal welfare dollars. The Obama administration has pushed the envelope by waiving welfare laws. If this loophole isn't closed, they could waive existing laws and allow funds provided under the welfare block grant, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, to be provided to noncitizens.

Senator Hatch had an amendment during committee markup that would prohibit U.S. Department of HHS from waiving certain requirements of the TANF Program. His amendment would also prohibit any Federal agency from waiving restriction on eligibility of immigrants for public benefits.

The reality check for the American people is that there are loopholes and the potential for public benefits to go to those who are legalized under the bill.

Again, the devil is in the details. I hope this reality check will encourage proponents of the bill to fix these problems before the bill is passed in the Senate.

The American people deserve truth in advertising. We can't maintain the status quo on immigration. A bill should pass, but the bill that passes should actually do what the authors say it will do. I have tried to point out some of the promises that may not be kept.

Authorized waivers in this bill--and I have used that word a few times--delegate to the Secretary to actually take action contrary to what is claimed by the authors and, hence, can undercut the intentions of the authors. We should legislate then and not delegate.

I yield the floor.


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