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Robert M.
Democrat NJ

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Robert Menendez

    Posted on 2015-01-28

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    MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, as we approach the near end--I think--of the votes and legislation on the Keystone Pipeline--I know we are having a series of votes later today--I know what is likely to be next up is the question of Department of Homeland Security funding. I hope we can come collectively together to fund the Department of Homeland Security, the Department that keeps us safe in an unsafe world, the Department we created after September 11 to bring together disparate government agencies, all charged with keeping our cities, our ports, our airports, our railways, highways, bridges, and neighborhoods safe from the threat of global terrorism. I particularly understand that as a Member of this body who represents, according to the FBI, the most dangerous 2 miles in America, the chemical coastway, airports, seaports along the Hudson waterfront. This is the Department that funds emergency management in our communities. It protects the President. It is engaged in all domestic counterterrorism efforts.

    But what are we doing instead? We are being asked, as one of the new Republican majority's first acts of this Congress, to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because some of our friends on the other side are willing to take a gamble and put politics ahead of national security, a thinly veiled political stunt in response to the lawful actions of the President of the United States to do something to fix our broken immigration system. Their message is pretty simple: repeal the President's lawful Executive actions on immigration or shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Make no mistake, that is the textbook definition of pure politics: not caring what its impact might be, not caring whom it might hurt, not caring about the families whom it will tear apart, and the fact that it will put our Nation's security at risk.

    I have been in this Chamber and in the other Chamber for over 20 years, and I don't think I have ever seen such a cavalier political recklessness played with our national security. Why? To prevent the President from taking lawful action to help DREAMers and immigrant families to come out of the shadows after they pass a criminal background check, register with the government, and get right with the law in exchange for being allowed to temporarily stay in the country and obtain a work permit.

    The bottom line is clear: Republicans are doing all of this just to prevent a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill from being sent to the President, a critical funding bill that the President has rightfully promised to veto should it include their anti-immigration amendments, a veto which Congress will not override. It is a fool's political errand that is neither good policy nor particularly humane.

    Our friends on the other side have accepted these anti-immigrant poison pill amendments, knowing full well they will sink the Department of Homeland Security funding bill because they have allowed extremists, such as Steve King, to dictate the party's strategy on immigration.

    Let's not continuously go down this dark path of partisanship instead of funding national security programs to keep our families and our communities safe. In my view it is shamefully and woefully irresponsible for Republicans to hold up funding for operations that protect every American against terrorism in the wake of what happened in France and against cyber attacks at a time when North Korea just carried out a dramatic attack against a major American corporation.

    This is not a time to hold up funding to help the Department of Homeland Security investigate cyber crime that could cripple America's electronic infrastructure or when the world is a tinderbox of jihadists and would-be homegrown terrorists willing to die for a perceived version of Islam.

    If Republican colleagues want to seriously consider this ill- conceived approach, they will be forcing a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security--a shutdown of our national security infrastructure to pursue their agenda of mass deportations that will tear families apart, an agenda that embraces a system that doesn't distinguish between deporting a working mother with U.S. citizen children and a convicted felon.

    Instead, I urge my friends on the other side to join us and pass a balanced and comprehensive bill. Let's talk. Let's sit down again and find common ground, as we did in the last Congress where this Senate came together on a bipartisan basis with over 67 votes to send a bill to the House of Representatives that dealt with our broken immigration system, provided for our national security, promoted our national economy, and at the same time made sure our legacy and history as a nation of immigrants was preserved. The answer is not holding up national security funding at a critical time, not turning our backs on the [[Page S555]] hard-working men and women at the Department of Homeland Security in law enforcement who are protecting our borders, our airports, and our coastlines. It is not about trying to score political points by conflating national security and immigration reform, which will only make it harder to address security issues at home and almost impossible to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

    Let's look at what my Republican colleagues are so opposed to. They are opposed to new DHS directives that include a rigorous application process that will ironically help eliminate national security threats. They seem to be opposed to the fact that applicants will have to come forward and register with the government. They will have to pass criminal background checks before they can receive a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit. No violent criminals, gang members, or terrorists will be able to take advantage of the program. They seem to be opposed to allowing immigrants who are not a public safety or national security threat to come forward and request deferred action, meaning there will be fewer people living in the shadows, beyond the reach of law enforcement.

    These directives identify moms and dads who have a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident son or daughter and take them out of the deportation queue. They also take DREAMers out of the deportation queue.

    The House amendment to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill would effectively end the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability Program and the expanded DACA Program for DREAMers. They would also defund every other aspect of the President's November 20 Executive action that would promote border security, public safety, military service, legal immigration, citizenship, immigration integration, entrepreneurship, civil immigration enforcement priorities, including the prioritization of individuals with convicted felonies and gang activity and terrorist ties for deportation.

    I will repeat that. It includes a prioritization. I would think the Senate would want to support a prioritization of individuals who are here illegally and are convicted felons and part of gang activities or who have terrorist ties for deportation and any future similar Executive actions.

    The only directive our Republican colleagues found acceptable, which is interesting--in my mind, you say: Well, none of it can happen by Executive action. But it seems that the only thing that did happen by Executive action that our colleagues found acceptable pertains to pay increases for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, which I believe they certainly deserve.

    These amendments would break apart more families and destroy communities by ensuring that we continue to deport the parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children. One of the most mean- spirited amendments would prohibit the use of Federal funds or resources to consider or adjudicate any new, renewed, or previously denied application for deferred action for childhood arrivals.

    Let's call this amendment what it is: It is an amendment to deport DREAMers and targets all of those young people who came forward and signed up in good faith. I will give an example of whom these amendments attack.

    I wish to remind my colleagues of who the DREAMers are. DREAMers are young people who came to this country through no choice of their own. The only flag they have ever pledged allegiance to is that of the United States of America. The only national anthem they know is the ``Star-Spangled Banner.'' Their country is this country.

    I was fortunate to speak with people like the Morales-Cano family 2 weeks ago in New Jersey. They are a family of six, including 13-year- old, U.S.-born Rebecca Morales. Their lives have drastically improved thanks to the program Republicans are hoping to dismantle. If the Republicans are successful, Rebecca would be left alone in the United States without her parents or sisters--an American citizen left alone, perhaps in foster care, because Republicans don't care about prioritizing the deportation of convicted criminals over her mom, dad, and sisters.

    The story of the Morales-Cano family is a clear example of thousands of deep-rooted families who have waited too long in the shadows for immigration reform.

    Three years ago, after attending a deferred action for childhood arrivals workshop that my office organized in New Jersey, all three of Rebecca's older sisters--Ingrid, Evelyn, and Lesly--were given an opportunity to begin a new chapter of their lives after qualifying for the President's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, joining thousands of others who had been granted relief.

    Today, look at what this family is doing Ingrid cares for New Jerseyans' health at her job at the Ocean Medical Center. Evelyn moved to Illinois to attend the West Coast Bible College and Seminary. Lesly was able to enroll in Brookdale Community College to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. Ingrid, Evelyn, and Lesly represent the hundreds of thousands of young individuals who, because of the deferred action for childhood arrivals, can actively contribute to our economy without fear of losing everything they have worked to gain.

    Romeo Morales and Mrs. Magda Cano de Morales did not qualify for deportation deferrals under DACA and have continued to live with the constant fear of having their family abruptly separated. But thanks to the deferred action for parents program, recently announced by President Obama, both parents will likely qualify to come out of the shadows, register with the government, pass a background check, and join their daughters in their pursuit of the American dream--unless, of course, the Republicans get their way.

    We cannot let that happen, and I will do everything to ensure that we will not let that happen. These are the real faces of our broken immigration system. There are many families like the Morales-Cano family who have been and remain an economic resource we cannot afford to waste. They are hard-working families who simply want to be full participants in American life, full contributors to the American family, and they want to remain united as a family. We should want them to remain united.

    I have listened to so many speeches here about family values. Well, the core of a family value is a family being able to stay together, integrated and helping each other and driving each other to success and supporting each other. Ripping families apart is not a family value.

    We must see through the smoke and mirrors and do what is right for America. Let's stop playing political games. Let's defeat these poison- pill amendments and pass a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill. Let's not play politics with national security. Let's remember the people behind the policies. Let's remember the Morales- Cano family and the fate of Rebecca if we allow these amendments to pass.

    With that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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