Nomination of Sarah R. Saldana to Be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Securityby Senator Richard J. Durbin
Posted on 2014-12-16
DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Chair
report the Saldana nomination, Calendar No. 1084.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.
The legislative clerk read the nomination of Sarah R. Saldana, of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, my colleague from Texas has just stepped off the floor. He has spoken at some length about his position on this nomination. With the utmost respect for my colleague from Texas, I wish to address the same issue.
We disagree on many political issues, but we are truly friends, and we work together on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I respect him very much, even though we disagree on this issue. I just wanted to express my respect for the senior Senator from Texas before I speak about the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.
I am at a loss to explain the position of the Senator from Texas and the Republican Party of America when it comes to the issue of immigration. What are we to make of what they tell us when we talk about immigration? Without fail, they say to us: First and foremost, we must have enforcement at our borders. Once we have secured our borders from the inflow of illegal immigrants, then--and only then--can we discuss fixing our broken immigration system.
How often have we heard that? I have heard it every time the Republicans address the issue of immigration: First, fix the border, and then we will talk.
It was about 540 days ago--on the floor of the Senate--when we called up an immigration reform bill for consideration. That immigration reform bill was put together--a comprehensive bill--by Democrats and Republicans. I was one of eight who helped to put that bill together. We sat down for months and negotiated that bill.
The Republican side of the table had John McCain of Arizona, former Republican candidate for President; Jeff Flake of Arizona, a border State Senator with passionate feelings about this issue; Marco Rubio, one of the two Hispanic Members of the Republican Senate caucus; and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a man who is an attorney, works in the Air Force Reserve in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, and is a conservative by every measure. Those were our four on the Republican side. On the Democratic side we had Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee; Bob Menendez, of the Presiding Officer's State of New Jersey and a Hispanic leader; Michael Bennet of Colorado; and myself.
We negotiated not for weeks but for months. We laboriously went through every aspect of immigration in America, and, to the amazement of ourselves as well as the public, we reached an agreement, a compromise. I was not happy with parts of the bill. Some of it I didn't like at all, and I thought other parts were excellent. That is the nature of a compromise.
We brought this bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee and opened it up for amendment. We said to Republicans and Democrats alike: Improve it if you can. There were scores of amendments that were offered in that committee.
The bill was favorably reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee and came to the floor of the Senate, where once again it was amended. One amendment, offered by Senator Corker of Tennessee and Senator Hoeven of North Dakota, Republicans, dramatically increased border enforcement.
We currently spend more on immigration enforcement than on all other Federal law enforcement efforts combined. We have made a huge commitment, and the Hoeven-Corker amendment increased it with 700 miles of fences, more personnel than ever, to the point where they could literally have an agent every 1,000 feet along the southern border.
Are we serious about border enforcement in our comprehensive bill? Yes, we are. We adopted the Hoeven-Corker amendment. Although some said we were overdoing it, we adopted it in the spirit of compromise and offered it on the floor for passage. On the final vote, we had 68 Senators who voted in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. There were 14 Republicans who voted for it, along with the Democrats, which made a majority of 68, and we passed the comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Sadly, the senior Senator from Texas voted no. He voted no on comprehensive immigration reform. We did our job. We had a bill endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. This bill was endorsed by faith leaders all across the United States and had the support of the civil rights community as well as conservatives such as Grover Norquist. We passed it. It is what the Constitution said we had to do.
We sent it through the Rotunda and across the Capitol to the House of Representatives, where it fell into this dark and gloomy pit never to be seen again. We have waited about 540 days now for the House of Representatives to at least acknowledge it, maybe even debate it, perhaps change it or even offer it on the floor of the House of Representatives, but no, they chose to do nothing. In the view of the House of Representatives, we have a broken immigration system. Yet they decided to leave it untouched.
So the President said time and again to Speaker Boehner: When are you going to accept your responsibility when it comes to fixing this broken immigration system? The Speaker kept saying: Give me some time. Give me some time. Give me some time.
Eighteen months passed, and the President said: I am sorry. I have to do something. If you are going to do nothing in the House of Representatives when it comes to immigration, I must do something as President.
He went into an effort--I know because we spoke--of research to determine what previous Presidents had done when it came to immigration by Executive action. He started off somewhat skeptical, and he said as much publicly, as to the limits of what he could do.
He said: I need to carefully research this, and he did. He found that some 11 Presidents have engaged in Executive action on immigration, and so he set out to do the same, to carefully construct Executive action to deal with our broken immigration system, all the while knowing the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and many here in the Senate, were going to do nothing when it came to immigration.
He issued his Executive action a few weeks ago. What did it say? It said: If you have been in the United States at least 5 years and come forward and register with this government by giving us your name, your address, and vital information, we will then submit you to an extensive criminal background check to determine whether you have done anything while in the United States or before that makes you ineligible to stay. If you fail that initial criminal review, you are gone--no questions asked. But if you pass it and are prepared to register with this government and pay your fair share of taxes for working in the United States, you will be given a temporary work permit that must be renewed, as we review every several years whether you are still eligible to stay. That is the Executive action that has driven the Republicans to distraction.
The notion is that this President is going to try to fix a broken immigration system by at least guaranteeing that those who are here working legally have no criminal background problems and are paying their fair share of taxes. They are so distraught over this that they have come up with a strategy that is incredible.
The Republican Party, which has insisted time and time again that border enforcement is their highest priority, have--in protest to this Executive action by the President--decided to do two things. First, they passed a spending bill in the House of Representatives which funded all of the Federal Government with a budget for the next year except for one agency. Which agency would that have been? It turned out to be the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for border enforcement. The party that is dedicated [[Page S6873]] to border enforcement as the starting point for an immigration discussion starts off by tying the hands of the agency responsible for border enforcement when it comes to their budget.
Why would you do that? If you truly want the border enforced and you want people there doing their job, why would you limit their resources? Why would you make it more difficult for them to operate? But the Republicans--in protest of the President's decision--insisted on it. That was the first thing they did, and now we are seeing the second part of the Republican strategy, which is in protest to the President's Executive action.
They are prepared to stop the nomination of Sarah Saldana to become an Assistant Secretary leading U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That title describes what she would do, but for the record she would be responsible for making certain that the people who are protecting our border are doing their job right and spending their money well, and it turns out she is eminently qualified to do it.
I will read a quote from Sarah Saldana's confirmation hearing: Ms. Saldana [is] the first Latina United States Attorney in Texas history, and only the second woman to hold that position in the 135-year history of Texas' Northern District. . . . In her role as U.S. Attorney and prosecutor over the past decade, Ms. Saldana has served our state with honor-- fighting corrupt public officials, organized crime, sex traffickers, and other dangerous criminals. Throughout her career, Ms. Saldana has developed a reputation for her decisive and fair temperament and her commitment to excellence.
What is the source of this glowing tribute to Ms. Saldana? It turns out the source is the Senator who just left the floor, the senior Senator from Texas who announced today he is voting against her.
After making this statement, he is voting against her. Why? He said because she would aid and abet this President of the United States in implementing his Executive action.
Elections have consequences. I noted that President Obama was reelected by the people of the United States of America and given the responsibility to lead this great Nation. He has asked for a team to do that, and whether I agree or disagree with any given policy of this President, it is clear the American people said: Mr. Obama, lead this Nation.
He has asked for help to lead this Nation, and it is help long overdue. Do my colleagues know how long it has been since we filled this critical spot to protect our border from unlawful immigration? Over 2 years. July of 2012 was the last time this spot was filled. There have been objections to those people who have been suggested by the President over and over again, by the same political party that insists border enforcement is their highest priority. Yet they will not fund the agency responsible for it in a systematic, orderly way, and they refuse to fill the vacancy of the person responsible for administering this border enforcement.
I am at a loss to explain this. It appears to me their feelings about this President have reached a point where they are not thinking clearly. They cannot announce on one hand that first we must have border enforcement and then fail to fund the agency. They cannot announce that first we need to make sure we stop the flow of undocumented immigrants and then refuse to fill the position responsible for administering that responsibility. Yet that is exactly what they want to do today.
I hope good sense will prevail. I hope Ms. Saldana is given her chance to serve this Nation. I am certainly going to support her in that process. It is time we have a Senate-confirmed head of this agency, and it is overdue for us as a Senate and a House of Representatives to address comprehensive immigration reform.
The Republicans who are critical of the President's Executive action when it comes to immigration, in the words we learned in law school, do not have clean hands. They have failed to support immigration reform. They have failed to call on the House of Representatives. They have failed to fund the agency responsible for border enforcement, and they want to fail today in even filling the spot to administer it. Leadership requires that we step forward with the President and do what is necessary.
I see the minority leader and my colleague from Utah are on the floor. I will close by saying that President Obama, when he announced his Executive action, said to his critics on the other side of the aisle: There is a way to deal with this issue and to stop this Executive action. Pass a bill.
We have waited over 500 days for the House of Representatives. I hope we don't have to wait much longer.
I yield the floor.
Recognition of the Minority Leader The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican leader is recognized.
Honoring Our Armed Forces Staff Sergeant Daniel T. Lee Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today I rise to honor the life of a brave soldier in the U.S. Army Special Forces from Kentucky who gave his life to defend his country. SSG Daniel T. Lee of Fort Wright, KY, was killed on January 15, 2014, in Afghanistan from wounds received during combat action in the Parwan Province while searching for militants wanted for recent attacks on Bagram Air Base. He was 28 years old.