Department of Homeland Security Fundingby Senator Tim Kaine
Posted on 2015-02-02
KAINE. Mr. President, I rise today because I wish to speak about
the importance of this DHS funding bill that is going to be before the
body in the coming days. In particular, I wish to emphasize what I
think is the important imperative that we pass what we are calling a
clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the
remainder of fiscal year 2015 through the end of September. That clean
bill would be a bill that would fund homeland security without
attaching additional items to it concerning immigration.
The support of this legislation was an initiative we were together on. We negotiated in December as part of a budget process by leaders of both parties in both Chambers, and the funding for DHS would have been an increase to help protect our borders and help protect our security by about $1.2 billion above the enacted level for fiscal year 2014. But at the end of the year the decision was made by the House to not fund that piece and leave it separately and that is why we are now talking about whether we will fund the Nation's homeland security efforts and under what circumstances.
All 45 Members on the Democratic side, save only Senator Reid, have written a letter saying let's make sure we fund DHS at the level we have already agreed to between the Houses. Then, let's not play politics over immigration issues; let's take up immigration separately. But the House bill that has been sent to us includes measures to begin to block or unwind actions taken by the President on immigration, and those complicate what all should agree is a national imperative, which is the need to fund homeland security. If we don't pass such a bill, that funding will expire on February 28.
I don't need to explain too much why homeland security funding is important, but let me make a few points. This Department was created after the attacks of 9/11, and its stated mission--while it employs an awful lot of people and does many complicated things, the mission is quite simple--let's keep our country safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards. We see every day the kinds of terrorism hazards we are dealing with. The horrible shooting in Paris a few weeks ago and the shooting in Quebec a few months ago remind us of the dangers of terrorism, and now that we are in a war against ISIL--a jihadist terrorist enemy that has promised to carry out attacks on the United States--we should be very concerned about the mission the DHS performs and the need to provide funding.
The men and women who work for the DHS are quite a wide swath of our Federal employees. They are the TSA personnel who protect our transportation system, the Border Patrol agents who serve on our Nation's front lines, Customs officials who oversee the entrance of nearly 1 million visitors per day who come to the United States, and we need Customs agents to help process those visitors. Our DHS folks include disaster specialists--people who respond to hurricanes and other emergencies. Our Coast Guard, our Secret Service, and many of our cyber security professionals all work for the DHS and they work hard every day to carry out that mission of keeping our Nation safe.
Funding DHS is not just critical to the Nation's security, it is also critical to the economy because DHS is the third largest agency in the Federal Government by the number of employees. The impact of any shutdown or cessation of funding would reverberate through the country, from our Southwest border to our Nation's ports to every international airport that brings in either foreign commerce or foreign visitors who want to come and be tourists in our country.
Many DHS employees, as the Presiding Officer knows, call Virginia home, and a shutdown would impact their lives and would make it difficult for them to plan not only for their immediate needs but for an unknown period of time.
So as we are facing threats--and I think we all would agree--while we sometimes have differences of opinion about how to deal with threats, I think everybody in this body would acknowledge that the threats we are dealing with as a nation are not shrinking, they are growing. The challenges we are facing are not getting fewer in number, they are getting greater in number. To respond to threats, the DHS not only needs a good funding bill at an appropriate level, which we have already agreed to, but they need financial certainty and the flexibility to direct its resources as they can.
Let me give one interesting recent example of how DHS employees have [[Page S688]] been very important in Virginia, and how those serving in Virginia have performed a critical role for the Nation.
We saw a crisis spring up in 2014 that many of us hadn't paid too much attention to before, and that is the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. That epidemic that began in 2014 is the largest in history for this kind of virus and it had a significant impact on many West African countries. There were more than 22,000 cases as of January 30, 2015.
One of the great things is whenever there is a challenge such as this, the nations of the world turn to the United States and they ask for our help. Many parts of our government responded. We deployed military and health professionals to Africa to try to battle the disease there, but we have also deployed our DHS personnel right here at home to keep us safe. As part of this strategy to stop the spread of Ebola, DHS announced in October that five U.S. airports would begin an advanced screening process for Ebola, and one of those airports is in Virginia, and that is Dulles airport. Shortly after, DHS announced that all travelers from Ebola-affected countries would have to enter the United States from one of these five airports.
So using existing resources--using existing resources because we didn't have an Ebola line item in the 2014 budget; this is an emergency that came up--but with existing resources, the DHS employees at Dulles were charged with supervising the entire Ebola screening process, including administering questionnaires, taking travelers' temperatures, and referring potentially infected people to the Centers for Disease Control, while also doing all of their regular duties. These officers in Virginia have gone above and beyond their mission for the sake of keeping every American safe.
Since this advanced screening began in October, CBP officers at Dulles have interviewed more than 2,000 visitors to the United States from African countries and they have referred more than 140 people to the CDC. As a result of their work and the work of their colleagues and their ability to react to this emerging threat, the United States has only seen two diagnosed cases of Ebola since advanced screening began at our airports, and both patients recovered.
This should be viewed as a huge success. Remember how worried we all were--how worried I was--when this was happening in September and October. Our DHS employees have gone the extra mile to keep us safe.
This is the kind of mission that we call upon our DHS employees to carry out for our security. It has nothing to do with congressional debates about immigration policy, but it has everything to do with doing the stated mission of keeping us safe. To limit DHS's access to resources by shutting down the agency or passing another continuing resolution that would keep them running on auto pilot--sort of driving by looking in the rearview mirror rather than looking through the windshield of the challenges to come--would damage the ability of DHS to deal with growing threats.
I understand the message from the House. We have agreed on the right funding level for DHS. They are saying, however, that we will only fund DHS, we will only fund the guys who are protecting us from ISIL, or protecting us from Ebola, or protecting our ports from nuclear material being shipped--we will only fund it if we can get an agreement to change policies enacted by the President with immigration. They are threatening to stop funding DHS actions unless we reverse the President's actions on immigration--actions that, in my view, are already helping the economy by bringing families out of the shadows to become productive, taxpaying members of our communities.
While I strongly support the President's immigration actions--and most of them I voted for as part of the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill that we passed in June of 2013--I can understand there might be Members of the House who may not like those actions. They may want to do something different. And the great thing is they have an ability to do something different. The House, with a significant Republican majority, can pass their own immigration reform bill. They can retract the President's actions. They can express what they want to do about immigration reform. They can pass that bill just as they passed the DHS funding bill, and send it over to the Senate, and we can have a debate about immigration reform. But we can have that debate without holding hostage the funding of the third largest agency in government, without holding hostage the work that agency does every day to keep us safe.
I think the good news in all of this is in both the House and Senate there are people who think the immigration system is broken, the immigration system needs to be fixed, and we ought to have a dialogue to do it. Certainly, when the Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June of 2013--nearly 2 years ago--and we sent it to the House, we knew the House was not going to adopt what the Senate passed without changing anything. We were trying to start a dialogue where the House could pass their own bill and then we could sit down in conference and work out a solution to an immigration system that we all think is broken. That is what we should be doing as responsible legislators-- fixing an immigration system, and even those of us who have different views, getting those views on the table and finding a compromise. It is the wrong thing to do to try to hold up funding for the third largest agency in government--this agency that is keeping us safe in so many ways all over this country every day--to try to reverse actions the President took that are well within his legal authority.
So I am going to continue to support the President's Executive actions. I am going to continue to encourage the House and others, if they have different ideas about immigration reform, to pass a bill, put their ideas on the table and we will talk about them. But it is wrong to try to hold up protecting our Nation's security as a punishment to the President for using Executive action that was within his legal power to make. Since we have the complete ability to have a discussion about immigration, let's do it.
I will conclude and say this, although I wish I didn't have to--and particularly looking at these young pages who are sitting in front of me--it is a dangerous world out there. For the sake of these youngsters and my own kids, I wish it was getting less dangerous. I have a son in the military. I wish it was getting less dangerous, but it is not. It is getting more dangerous. The kinds of threats we have to face abroad and at home are tough, challenging, difficult threats. We have professionals on the front line every day, many of whom are risking their lives for us, to try to stop these threats. Let's not starve their work. Let's not hamper their work. Let's not make them face the threat of a shutdown or losing their salary or losing their livelihood while we wait for Congress to have a meaningful debate about immigration.
I appreciate the opportunity to offer those thoughts and to urge funding for a clean DHS bill.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Lankford). The Senator from Utah.