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Mr. LEE. Mr. President, amendment No. 1208 would require fast-track congressional approval at the introduction of the Department of Homeland Security border security strategies before the award of registered provisional immigrant, or RPI, status--before the eligibility of that status begins, as well as at the certification of the strategy's completion, before those receiving RPI status may become eligible to become lawful permanent residents and eligible to receive green cards. This would be a fast-track vote, one that would have to occur within 30 days after the triggering event within the executive branch. It would also be subject to a 51-vote threshold and would not be subject to a filibuster. It is a basic function of Congress to oversee the executive branch and to ensure that the executive branch is enforcing the law as enacted by Congress.
In the area of border security, the executive branch, in both Republican and in Democratic administrations, has failed to fully enforce the laws passed by Congress. To give a few examples, the Secure Fence Act, which was enacted in 2006, still has not been fully implemented, and the fencing requirement--the fence segments required by that act--still have not been fulfilled. The US-VISIT entry-exit system, which was put into place by legislation enacted in 1996, still is not fully implemented. It is worth noting that 40 percent of our current illegal immigrants are people who have overstayed their visas. It is very reasonable to assume there is a significant connection between our failure to implement this entry-exit system called for by existing law and the fact that a sizable chunk--several millions of our current illegal aliens--are people who have overstayed their visas.
Polls overwhelmingly show Americans do not believe the border is secure. They also believe we should secure our borders first before moving on to certain areas of immigration reform. These are failures of the Federal Government. The American people cannot hold unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch--people such as the Secretary of Homeland Security--accountable for those failures. The most direct line of accountability is from the American people to their Members of Congress. In order to ensure the voice of the American people is heard, Congress must be able to vote on the border security strategy and on the certification of that strategy as a condition precedent to allowing these RPI provisions to kick in and to allowing people to enter into the pathway to citizenship and advance toward citizenship in the coming years.
To cut out Congress cuts out the American people, and that is exactly what this bill, without an amendment such as this one, would do. So it is important to remember that to cut out Congress cuts out the American people, and that is what we are trying to protect against.
Opponents of my amendment have argued they would be unwilling to rely on a majority of Congress to approve a border security plan as a condition for allowing the RPI period to open and to proceed. Has it ever occurred to them that it might be precisely because a majority of Americans would not approve the border security plan or at least they might not approve of it or, perhaps, it is not a good idea to move forward on sweeping new policies that will affect generations to come without the support of the American people? It is, after all, the American people who have to deal with the consequences of a dangerous and unsecured border. They will have to deal with cross-border violence. They will have to deal with the heartbreaking stories of human trafficking. They will have to deal with the drugs imported into their communities. They will have to deal with the economic effects and the added costs of public services associated with an ongoing unsecure border. Therefore, it is the American people who should be the ones who get to say whether the border is secure and not the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who have a long track record of failing to implement the objectives established by Congress and embodied in law.
My amendment would restore the voice of the American people to this process because, again, cutting out Congress means cutting out the American people. I strongly urge my colleagues to defend the rights of the American people, to weigh in on this important issue, and to support my amendment.
Finally, I wish to commend the House Judiciary Committee for passing the SAFE Act out of committee last night. The SAFE Act is an important step forward in improving interior enforcement, securing the border, and strengthening our national security. It also demonstrates that we can effectively pursue significant immigration reforms in a step-by-step approach with individual reform measures.
The SAFE Act is by no means a small piece of legislation but, importantly, it focuses reform on particular areas that should receive bipartisan support in both Chambers of Congress.
First, let's secure the border. Let's set up a workable entry-exit system and create reliable employment verification systems that will protect immigrant citizens and businesses from bureaucratic mistakes. Let's also fix our legal immigration system to make sure we are letting in the immigrants our economy needs in numbers that make sense for our country.
Once these and other tasks, which are plenty big in and of themselves, are completed or at least in progress to the American people's satisfaction, then and only then can we address the needs of current undocumented workers with justice, compassion, and sensitivity.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 40 immigration-related bills have been introduced in the House and in the Senate. By a rough count, I can support more than half of them, eight of which have Republican and Democratic cosponsors. We should not risk forward progress on these and other bipartisan reforms simply because we are unable to iron out each of the more contentious issues.
So, again, with respect to this amendment No. 1208, I strongly urge my colleagues to support this amendment because we were elected not to delegate the power to make laws to other people, we were elected to make law. Identifying the precise moment at which the border is sufficiently secure--that it is a good time to open the pathway to legalization, the pathway to citizenship, whatever we end up calling it--it makes a lot of sense to put that decision in the hands of the elected people precisely because that decision is one that is difficult to identify. It is difficult for us to identify exactly what standards will satisfy the American people. We can make a rough approximation, but we should require a vote by both Houses of Congress and an act of Congress submitted to the President for signature or veto before the RPI period is open. We were elected to make decisions such as these, and we should not be outsourcing those decisions to others who are not elected.
Those who are not elected who, under the text of Senate bill 744, would be empowered to make these decisions, are--make no mistake--well-educated people and well-intentioned people, and I am not saying they categorically cannot be trusted. What I am saying is that those people who are well educated and well intentioned do not stand for reelection at regular intervals as we do. They are not elected by the people. They don't stand for election at regular intervals. For the most part they are insulated and isolated from the electoral process which keeps all of us accountable to the people in whom the ultimate sovereign authority lies.
For those reasons I urge my colleagues to support amendment No. 1208.
Thank you. I yield the floor and I note the absence of a quorum.
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Mr. LEE. Mr. President, this amendment, if enacted, would require fast-track congressional approval at the introduction of the Department of Homeland Security strategies before the award of registered provisional immigrant--or RPI--status begins and at the certification of the strategy's completion before those receiving RPI status become eligible for green cards.
The basic point of this amendment is that we have a trigger that needs to signal that it is OK to open the RPI process, the process by which illegal aliens will be legalized first and then eventually made citizens. Somebody needs to signal that it is OK to pull that trigger, that it is OK to proceed. I think that decision needs to be made right here in the U.S. Congress.
This would occur pursuant to a fast-track plan of no more than 30 days. It would not be subject to a filibuster; it would be subject only to a 51-vote threshold. We should pass this amendment and we should move forward.
For these reasons, I strongly urge my colleagues to support this amendment, to preserve the right of the people to be heard. If we cut out Congress, we are cutting out the right of the American people to be heard on this issue and the right of the American people to decide when and under what circumstances it is OK to continue the pathway to citizenship.
For this reason, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment, and I ask for the yeas and nays.
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