Immigrationby Senator Jeff Sessions
Posted on 2013-02-25
SESSIONS. Mr. President, last week, about the time Congress
recessed, the President's immigration plan was leaked to the press and
was commented on generally. A group of Senators here have been trying
to work on a comprehensive plan and expressed dismay at what it
contained and said it was not acceptable.
A brief review of the enforcement section of the President's immigration plan confirms, I think, what my concern has been all along. It is a smoking gun, in truth, that demonstrates this President is not serious about enforcement. That is where we are. Any immigration plan this Nation implements has to be founded on the simple legal principle that people can come to our country in generous numbers, as they always have done, but they should wait their turn. There should be a lawful system. You can't have a lawful system if you are not prepared, not willing, and not committed to ensuring that the laws are enforced.
What we have seen for the last several years is very dramatic. In point after point, I, formerly a Federal prosecutor for almost 15 years, can tell you it effectively neutralized the ability of our current laws to be enforced.
This bill is confirmation the President hasn't had a change of heart. He hasn't had a change of heart. They are continuing to talk as if they expect and plan to establish a lawful system of immigration. When you get down to it and read the language of the legislation, it is not there.
Here are some examples of what the President thinks amounts to enforcement. This is so sad. I will say, with absolute confidence, if the President of the United States had done what he sort of said he was going to do in 2008 when he was running for office, he would make this legal system work. If he had invested time, effort, leadership, moral authority, and maybe a little more money--but it won't take a whole lot of money--and begin to show the kind of progress we need to have, show a commitment he would work to enforce the law in the future, he would be in a much better position to ask for a large reform of law.
Let's look at what his plan reveals. It explicitly, openly, and directly prohibits State and local governments from enforcing immigration laws and from even asking someone for their immigration status.
We have former Governors here in the Senate, former State police superintendents--and I have dealt with this issue for a very long time--that is a stunning development. There are only about maybe 20,000 Federal agents dealing with immigration. There are 600,000 State and local law enforcement officers, in every county, city, hamlet, and town in America who are the ones who come in contact every single day with people in their areas for drunkenness, fighting, burglaries, and drugs. When they find somebody in the course of doing their duties, they discover people who are here illegally.
We want to have a relationship with them and to utilize their capabilities. The Federal Government can then respond, identify the person, and see [[Page S799]] what the truth is about their background. This eliminates that and steps backward from some of the progress we have slowly made, some at my insistence, over the last several years.
The proposal the President put forth eliminates the congressional requirement that the Department of Homeland Security put in place a biometric exit system for those who enter the country legally but overstay their visas. People come into the country on a visa and don't ever leave. Experts are telling us as many as 40 percent of the people who are here illegally today overstayed their visas. They need to clock in when they come in, but there is no clocking out. We have no real idea who came and overstayed their visas.
The President's plan eliminates a legal requirement that has been in place for approximately 17-plus years, which required a biometric exit system to clock out people when they come in. It is not hard to require them to pay a few dollars to purchase a card, and when you exit, it will be read like your credit card. You exit and you are clocked out. We have some control over that.
The proposal from the President restricts the ability of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to obtain information regarding whether a person is illegally present in the United States. Think about this. It would prohibit Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies that need to know something about a person they may have come in contact with in the course of their public safety duties, to know whether they are legally in the country.
This means if a law enforcement agency is holding an illegal immigrant for a criminal offense not deemed serious enough--a criminal offense, but somebody in Washington and Homeland Security said is not serious enough--the law enforcement agency cannot contact Federal authorities.
This also means States with laws that require a determination of immigration status will no longer be able to use Federal databases to determine if a person is eligible for a driver's license, for example. You need to be able to turn somebody down for a driver's license if you can't check to see if they are lawfully in the country.
This is something I have worked hard on over the years, for a decade. It puts the final nail in the coffin of the 287(g) Program. That program states that State and local law enforcement officers are no longer allowed to function as immigration officers.
We had a program the Federal Government did not want, really, the politicians did not want to see happen. The law enforcement officers wanted it, and this was a program which would allow Federal immigration officials to train State and local law officers--some of them at the prisons, some of them in State offices, some of them in regional offices--how to deal with people who are in the country illegally.
The average 19-year-old police officer in Middleburg, VA, or in Monroeville, AL, may arrest a mayor for fraud or assault, but needs to take 2 weeks of training before he can be certified to arrest somebody illegally in the country, not even a citizen. This is the way it is working in the real world. It had some beneficial aspects. It is something I supported and thought we should expand nationwide.
There are highly trained people within State law enforcement, officers who are trying to cooperate with the Federal agents to try to create a system that will actually work. The President's plan would apparently eliminate that.
The President's plan would allow private individuals to hire border patrol agents to protect them and their property, when it is the federal government should be fulfilling its duty to protect them itself.
Is this a capitulation? You have a situation in which you are being basically invaded, the sovereign territory of the United States. It is not just a private individual's farm, ranch, property, it is U.S. territory. It should be protected from those unlawfully able to go there. They shouldn't have to hire their own police officers.
It includes a feel-good measure such as giving illegal immigrants free legal representation and creating border community liaison officers, in part to receive complaints about Border Patrol agents.
It allows the Attorney General to cancel deportation of criminal aliens convicted of aggravated felonies if they do not serve a sentence of 5 or more years. The law says if you are convicted of offenses and you are apprehended here illegally, you should be deported. It states this is only for serious offenses and you received time in jail, Federal felony offenses.
The President's plan goes even farther than that. It says to the Attorney General, if they served less than 5 years, he may waive that and not follow the law and deport people who violated the law. It gives the Attorney General authority to waive other legal requirements as well.
The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is directed to provide appropriate training to agents enforcing laws and goes into a great deal of training of civil rights and that sort of thing that is required.
There is no mention of interior enforcement. There are no measures to secure our borders.
As I have stated, I have just begun to review this plan. What I have read causes me great concern and confirms the suspicions I have had all along, which means when this legislation goes from some sort of outline that sounds good in theory, the actual legislation is not going to be what it is promised to be. Why did I say that? Because it happened in 2006 and 2007.
The bill did not fulfill the promises their sponsors made of it when it was carefully examined. When we saw that, the American people spoke out, and it went away.
If you don't have a lawful system that effectively requires enforcement of the law, you are not serious about protecting people in this country from illegal workers who would take their jobs and have the net effect of pulling down their wages.
We already have the problem that the President is suing States that want to help the Federal Government enforce their laws. He has had his own United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents sue him, the Director of ICE, and the Secretary of Homeland Security for blocking them from being able to do their legal duty to enforce the law. That is going forward. They voted unanimously no confidence in Mr. Morton, the head of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. And there are a lot of other problems.
I want to say, in sum, we have just begun to review the President's leaked plan and there are massive holes in it. It reveals a continued agenda to simply not allow a lawful system of immigration to be established in America and, therefore, it is unacceptable. I believe and am afraid that same mentality will impact the negotiations. We will end up, no matter how hard people try, with an inability to reach an agreement on a kind of plan that will actually work.
What needs to happen is we need to continue our generous, historic affirmation of immigration where we welcome people to our country in numbers that are very large, but we believe people should come lawfully. People who aren't entitled to come should not be allowed to enter. The people who come here should serve the national interest, not some group's special interests. If we do that, we could be proud of that system. I am so deeply disappointed that the President fails to meet those qualifications.
I thank the Chair and I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oklahoma.