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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PORTMAN. Madam President, I rise today to talk about a couple amendments that I hope will make it on the Landrieu list. I think they are entirely consistent with what she has talked about; that is, amendments where there should not be any controversy, where we can come together as Republicans and Democrats and support them, in order to improve this underlying piece of legislation on immigration reform.

I do think it is important for us to resolve this issue of an immigration system that is broken--a legal system that fails to actually uphold the laws within it.

As the Presiding Officer knows, and I talked about it yesterday, I still have concerns about the legislation in a number of areas.

One is the internal enforcement of the legislation, particularly with regard to the workplace. I think the magnet of work that encourages illegal immigration can be addressed through a stronger and more comprehensive E-Verify system, and we plan to offer an amendment to that effect, and will work with both sides of the aisle.

I also have concerns about Federal benefits going to noncitizens. I know that Senator Hatch has been working diligently on that issue as have Senator Rubio and others, and I am hopeful that we will be able to work something out to address that issue.

Border security, of course, is an issue which we have talked a lot about today. It is important, but the provisions concerning it are not sufficient, in my view.

Finally, I do have concerns about the eligibility for legal status of convicted criminals. That is what I want to talk about today.

Again, Senator Landrieu has talked about supporting a number of uncontested amendments that will improve the underlying bill. I think these two amendments that I am going to talk about today fit well into that category.

These amendments would apply a uniform and fair standard to anyone convicted of a felony. I think that is, at a minimum, what we have to be doing. If you are convicted of a felony crime, there ought to be a fair standard applied, and you ought not to be able to obtain a legal status. They would also ensure that dangerous criminals who prey on the most vulnerable among us are not given legal status under this legislation.

Yesterday I talked in general terms about what these amendments would accomplish. One problem I identified is that the underlying bill requires an applicant for legal status to have served at least 1 year in prison in order to make that person ineligible, regardless of the crime, even if the crime they committed was a felony.

I think it is also important to understand the kinds of criminal convictions that, under the current bill before us, would not prevent someone from beginning the process of becoming a citizen, so I am going to give a couple examples. These are the kinds of incidents that we see on the nightly news and that fill us with disgust and outrage. They are not hypothetical:

A man convicted of felony child abuse for beating his children ages 6 and 8 with a riding crop, shooting them with BB guns and bottle rockets, and choking and burning them with cigarettes; a woman convicted of aggravated child abuse for giving alcohol to an 8-pound, 7-week-old infant to the point that its blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit for an adult; a man convicted of felony domestic violence when he broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend, choked her, pulled out her hair, and beat her to keep her from getting help.

All of these criminals were convicted of felonies; none of them served the full year imprisonment required to be inadmissible under S. 744, the underlying bill. So if somebody were convicted of these horrible crimes, they could still be admissible to go into legal status because they didn't serve that 1 year minimum.

By the way, this can result from several different factors. One is the disposition of the sentencing judge. Another is the recommendation made by prosecutors, possibly for reasons that were valid such as to get more information out of these criminals. It could also be because of overcrowding in our State prisons, which, unfortunately, is endemic in this country.

So I think making decisions based on time served is not the right way to go. It means that if two individuals are convicted of the same crime of violence--in this case domestic violence--but one serves 1 year in prison, and the other is sentenced to 6 months; the first person is barred

from citizenship while the second would still be eligible. It is unfair, it is illogical, and it is not in keeping with the spirit of the legislation before us to treat all violent felons in the same manner.

My very simple amendment would ensure that those convicted of domestic violence, stalking, or child abuse, who could have been sentenced to not less than 1 year imprisonment for the crime at the time of conviction, are not eligible for citizenship.

My second amendment ensures that crimes against children involving moral turpitude--things like child abuse, child neglect, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor through sexual acts--are not subject to the discretionary authority of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the immigration judges with respect to removal, deportation, or admissibility of an individual. Crimes involving moral turpitude look past a conviction and the elements of a crime because these acts are conclusively against our values as a people.

This amendment would continue the standards we have always had enshrined in our immigration system. For that reason, just like the previous amendment, I believe, in a sense, that this is just a clarification that is necessary to make this underlying law work.

A quirk in the bill before us would change that. It weakens the laws designed to protect our kids. That is the kind of reform we don't need.

Discretionary authority has its place, I acknowledge that, but there is no excuse for committing acts of violence against children, and those who would do so are not worthy of citizenship. But under the legislation as currently written, someone who commits a felony assault--for example, a man who gets in a bar fight with another man--would be deported, but a father who goes home from that same bar and beats his children or hits his wife would not necessarily face the same consequences.

I can't believe that this was the intention of this legislation or that anybody in this Chamber would find that acceptable.

We want to make sure that this immigration bill only benefits those who are worthy of it. This bill is for the men and women who have come to this country to build a better life for themselves and their families, not those who would abuse them. It is for those who are willing to work hard, not for those who have served hard time. It seeks to open the door to American citizenship for those who share our values of respecting and protecting human life, not those who would commit crimes against the most vulnerable among us.

The debate on immigration reform has been long and at some points it has been difficult. I saw that on the Senate floor earlier today. And many of the amendments that have been offered have been highly contentious.

Again, I will be offering some amendments on ensuring that there is proper enforcement of the legislation later in this process. But I would say that these amendments we have offered, which are before the Senate, amendments Nos. 1389 and 1390, are amendments that shouldn't be contentious. They are intended only to protect our children and
to ensure that the creation of a path to citizenship does not leave the victims of domestic violence as second-class citizens.

There will be hard votes in the days to come. This is not one of them. I urge my colleagues to support both of these amendments.

I yield the floor.


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