A picture of Senator Robert Menendez
Robert M.
Democrat NJ

About Sen. Robert
  • Nomination of Sarah R. Saldana to Be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security

    by Senator Robert Menendez

    Posted on 2014-12-16

    submit to reddit

    Read More about Nomination of Sarah R. Saldana to Be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security

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 President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.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

    Cyprus Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak on two separate and distinct topics. The first is about Cyprus.

    This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Turkish invasion. We hoped it would have brought a fair settlement to the Cyprus question; that would have brought an end to a 40-year-long occupation and division of the island by Turkey.

    There is always cause for optimism and room for faith that the realization of a reunified Cyprus is in the near future. Global and regional dynamics [[Page S6875]] have made the reunification of Cyprus a priority, driven in part by Cyprus's newly found energy resources. This is particularly true in light of Russia's Machiavellian-like power plays in Central Europe that have placed Cyprus and Israel at the forefront of the discussion of European energy security.

    The natural resources that have been discovered this year in the eastern Mediterranean offer both Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike a powerful incentive to reach an agreement. Cyprus can play a pivotal role in regional energy security. But the dynamics have again changed, which is why I rise today to express my grave concern over the Republic of Turkey's incursion into Cyprus's exclusive economic zone.

    On October 20, Turkey sent a Russian vessel--the Barbaros--into Cyprus's exclusive economic zone to stop the Government of Cyprus from exercising its lawful and sovereign right to explore the natural gas within the exclusive economic zone. In the days following, Turkey dispatched warships to support the Barbaros in its illegal activities, where they remain to this day.

    The incident is merely the latest in a long series of violations on the part of Turkey against Cyprus's sovereign right to explore and exploit its natural resources within its own exclusive economic zone. Turkey, of course, also illegally occupies, with 40,000 Turkish troops, the northern portion of the island and has for 40 years prevented any meaningful reconciliation efforts.

    This map, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the positions of the Turkish ships in red. They are sitting between the island of Cyprus and its own ships in its own exclusive economic zone.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Turkey's actions have endangered peace talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that began in February with a joint communique issued by the two communities. That communique committed to finding a durable solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality. But because of Turkey's bullying practices, peace talks are now on hold. For peace talks to resume, Turkey must immediately withdraw its ships operating in and around Cyprus.

    The international community has been abundantly clear in supporting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in recognizing Cyprus's right to explore the resources within its economic zone and in condemning Turkey for this blatant violation.

    On November 13, the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly condemning Turkey's ``illegal and provocative actions'' in Cyprus, stressing that ``the Republic of Cyprus has the full and sovereign right to explore the natural resources within its exclusive economic zone.'' Turkey's recent actions in Cyprus are only one instance of its belligerent and bellicose rhetoric and backsliding on peace and democracy. In recent weeks, President Erdogan and his Cabinet have used unusually belligerent and anti-Western rhetoric to attack the West. He actually said--and I am amazed at the rhetoric: Americans look like friends but they want us dead--they like seeing our children die.

    He said: They like seeing our children die. This is the President of Turkey. He also said: Women are not equal to men. Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood.

    Erdogan said this at a summit in Istanbul on justice for women.

    He went on to say: Some people can understand this, while others can't. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don't accept the concept of motherhood.

    He then went on so far as to say that Muslims discovered America, not Columbus.

    He has vowed to make lessons in the Arabic alphabet Ottoman language compulsory in high schools--a highly symbolic move which enraged secularists who proclaim he is assuming an increasingly extremist agenda.

    These statements, along with Turkey's illegal actions in Cyprus's exclusive economic zone, are a dramatic escalation of Turkey shifting away from democracy and its partners in the West, and in my view requires an immediate and forceful response.

    The Cypriot people need a strong voice on this issue. They need us to demand President Erdogan to immediately withdraw from Cyprus's exclusive economic zone so reunification talks can resume.

    Cyprus's leaders deserve credit for trying to change the dynamics and return to talks. They also deserve credit for being an ally and advocate of America's interests.

    Cyprus's active role in supporting counterterrorism efforts, terror financing, and the removal of chemical weapons from Syria have not gone unnoticed to this Senator. Cyprus is clearly positioning itself as part of the Western security architecture and is a resource, advocate, and an ally for our interests.

    These developments have led the White House to play an active role on behalf of Cyprus, and I was very pleased to see our former colleague and now Vice President--Vice President Biden--visit in May and to hear of his commitment to resolving the Cyprus question. I share his support for the confidence-building measures in Famagusta that would benefit both sides and accelerate progress toward a final settlement where Cypriots control their destiny and their territory, and where at the end of the day any settlement is from the people of Cyprus, by the people of Cyprus, and for the people of Cyprus, and Cyprus alone.

    To that end, I recently sent a letter to President Obama urging his continued engagement on the issue of reunification of the island and the restoration of human rights for all its citizens. I also wrote to Ambassador Power urging her active involvement in the extension of the island's U.N. peacekeeping operation, and I was pleased when the extension was formalized at the end of July.

    I hope President Erdogan, now that his election is behind him, will use this opportunity to play a renewed role in finding a fair settlement. We all appreciate that any progress will depend on a true commitment by the Turks to the peace process.

    As the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I believe the United States is committed to supporting Cyprus as a friend and ally. So as we mark the 40th year of a divided Cyprus, let us hope and pray that a fair and mutually beneficial settlement will be reached very soon and that, once again, the island will be reunited. Above all, let the warship and let the other ships that do not belong in Cyprus's waters be removed and removed now.

    Mr. President, at this time, I would like to switch the topic to the nomination of Sarah Saldana, and I want to reiterate my strong support for Sarah Saldana, a woman eminently qualified to serve our country and to lead ICE as our next Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.

    The junior Senator from Texas began this long legislative weekend engaged in his own political battle, wholly dependent on a strategy of obstructionism, delay, and some quixotic fixation on preventing the Senate from exercising its constitutional responsibility to legislate and ensure that critical leadership positions for our Nation are filed in a timely manner.

    Unfortunately, some of my friends on the other side have joined in the politics of obstructionism. Now they want to prevent a duly elected President from filling a position they themselves feel is of paramount importance. They have railed about the need for strong Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and now, given the chance finally to confirm a Director of ICE to give them the strong enforcement they have demanded, they refuse, they obstruct, they delay, and they reverse their positions from when they voted for her to be a U.S. attorney. They now use her nomination to score political points with their base because they disagree with the President's politics--not with the qualifications of the nominee, but with the President's policies.

    Sarah Saldana is qualified, and Senators Cruz, Cornyn, Sessions, and everyone on the other side of the aisle know it. I think they have said so themselves. She currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. She is the first Latina U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas and would be the first Latina to head ICE.

    In 2011, she won bipartisan approval to serve as the U.S. Attorney in the Dallas-based Northern District of Texas. Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison at that time of Texas [[Page S6876]] backed her for that post. She has been endorsed by the law enforcement community, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association president and the Philadelphia Police Department Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

    She is an effective, qualified, competent, outstanding U.S. attorney. In fact, the senior Senator from Texas, my friend Senator Cornyn, has praised her as being ``tough, smart and fiercely independent.'' Now she is being denied confirmation for that same toughness, intelligence, and independence. Why? Because--surprise of all surprises--she happens to agree with the policies of the President who nominated her; just as Attorney General Herbert Brownell agreed with President Eisenhower in 1956 when he paroled foreign-born orphans into the United States for adoption; just as Attorney General Edward Levi agreed with President Gerald Ford in 1976 when he granted extended voluntary departure to Lebanese citizens; just as Ed Meese agreed with Ronald Reagan in July of 1987 when he shielded Nicaraguan refugees from deportation, and later when he shielded Polish nationals from deportation; and in October 1987 when President Reagan protected from deportation the minor children of parents legalized in the 1986 immigration law; just as Attorney General Richard Thornburgh agreed with George Herbert Walker Bush in November of 1989 when he protected Chinese nationals from deportation after Tiananmen Square, and in February of 1990 when President Bush extended President Reagan's family fairness policy to spouses and unmarried children, all undocumented at the time; and just as John Ashcroft agreed with President George W. Bush when he expedited nationalization for green-card holders who enlisted in the military in 2002.

    So this isn't a fundamental Republican policy issue backed by history or by the facts, it is a modern-day extreme conservative issue driven by politics, despite the facts contrary to their own history. The fact is they do not agree with the President on just about anything-- certainly not on immigration, as proven by the statements we have heard on this floor.

    I want to be very clear. We cannot judge the qualifications of Sarah Saldana to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement based solely on the fact she agrees with the policy decisions of the President who nominated her. That is an absurd and completely illogical standard. We judge nominees based on their qualifications, their integrity, their record, and their willingness to serve the Nation.

    The fact is we don't deny confirmation to score political points. We may disagree on the issues, but we cannot raise the political bar so high in this Chamber that we no longer are able to carry out our constitutional mandate of advice and consent. I don't believe that is what my colleagues will suggest, but that appears to be how they are judging this nominee and why they have chosen to hold up confirmation of so many nominees. They have raised the political bar so high as to deny any ability for this President to fill key positions in government and in our embassies abroad--all to score political points and diminish the ability of this President and this institution of government.

    Sarah Saldana is more than qualified to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She is more than qualified to oversee the agency my Republican colleagues fully support, which is responsible for enforcement of immigration laws, national security, drug smuggling, human trafficking, cyber security, and child exploitation.

    She will direct the agency that tracks down people without documentation--that is what my Republican friends want. Yet they have set the political bar so high that they have made it impossible for them to get what they claim to want most when it comes to immigration policy--that is immigration enforcement. The illogic of their position is just mind boggling.

    The Senator from Texas comes to this floor for one purpose, and one purpose only, in my view--to rail against the President, to castigate him for doing what his own party's iconic Ronald Reagan did when he was President, George H.W. Bush did when he was President, and what every President has done to defer deportations when keeping people's lives and families together were in the balance.

    My friend from Texas wants to join his House colleagues and score political points with the most extreme elements of his party. So be it. But I wish to remind everyone that this isn't a game. I would say to the junior Senator from Texas that instead of floor theatrics and playing politics, it is time to step up and govern. It is time to confirm Sarah Saldana and put her in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Let's do the work we were sent here to do.

    I say to my friend from Texas what I have said before on this floor. There is a simple antidote to Executive action. It is to have our friends in the House of Representatives pass immigration reform. Pass it. Call it up for a vote. That is the end of it--not disinformation and misleading speeches about what the President's action does and does not do or blocking this nominee.

    Let's be clear. The President's Executive action will not grant anyone legal status or citizenship. It is not a free pass. But it will clear the way for many to come forth out of the shadows, register with the government, pass a criminal background check, get a work permit, pay taxes, and no longer live in fear of having their families ripped apart.

    As a result of the President's actions--which is replicated actions by 11 Presidents for the last 60 years on 39 different times--more Border Patrol will be sent to the southern border, more felons will be deported, more people will pay taxes like the rest of us, and more families will stay together. Those are all goals and values I think we would want to espouse.

    The fact is, the Senate is being prevented from conducting the people's business. For some Members that is the goal. For them it is all or nothing. For them it is an ideological war that can only be won or lost. For them it is not about governing; it is about winning.

    So I would say to my colleagues, there is a very important difference, and that difference is the basis of millions of Americans who expect us to work for them. They don't care if we win or lose political battles. They want us to help them with their battles in their lives for their families. That is what they want. It is what they deserve. I ask my friends to help us do the people's business.

    Our agencies have waited long enough. They need positions filled by qualified appointees, and Sarah Saldana is more than qualified. So I urge my colleagues to confirm this nominee and fill the position that is responsible for law enforcement activities that keep our country safe.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Virginia.

    Authorization For Use Of Military Force Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I wish to discuss the work that Congress still must do regarding America's ongoing war against ISIL, and I am glad to follow my colleague, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has played such a critical role in initiating the first major step that Congress has taken. I want to talk about that step and the steps in which we would continue to engage.

  • submit to reddit
  • Register your constituent account to respond

    Constituent Register