Gang of 8 Bill: Bigger Problems Than Just Border Security

June 12, 2013

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) spoke in opposition of the “Gang of 8” immigration bill on the Senate floor. The full remarks are available below:

This week we continue a very important discussion about how to fix our broken immigration system.  

One of the most important concerns we have is that the border is not secure.  Despite the fact that this assertion is almost universally held on both the right and the left, the bill we are debating today does very little, if anything, to make the border more secure.  

Instead, the bill offers more of what the American people are used to from Washington: plans, promises, commissions, studies and spending lots of money – but requires almost no action on border security.

Many on my side of the aisle have placed heavy emphasis on strengthening the border-security provisions to ensure that certain goals are met before granting permanent legal status to illegal immigrants.  

The reason for this is not academic; it’s common sense. Failing to secure the border is the quickest way to repeat the mistakes of the past.  It means we will be back here in another 20 years dealing with a much larger and less manageable problem.  That’s what we’re trying to prevent today and why we need to make sure this bill secures the border.

But the problem with this bill isn’t just the weak border-security measures.  

Even if we can come to some satisfactory conclusion on the security issues, this bill still fails to reform many of the challenges we face and makes most of them worse.  If all we do is fix the border-security portion, this bill is still considerably weak in four major areas, and would still be unworthy of support without major changes.

First, there is no congressional oversight of how the executive branch implements these reforms.  By passing this bill, Congress would turn over almost all authority to the executive branch to secure or not secure the border, verify or not verify workplace enforcement, certify or not certify visa reforms.

And, of course, the administration will begin the legalization of 11 million illegal immigrants, with no input from Congress, as soon as possible regardless of how much progress has been made on the border and other priorities.

Congress is the branch of government most accountable to the American people.  And if the people don’t believe the border is secure, or that the visa system works, or that the country’s economic needs are being met, it is Congress that should be held accountable.   

Therefore, Congress must play a predominant role in approving, overseeing, and verifying these reforms, as well as ensuring the reforms are being implemented correctly and achieving the desired results.

This bill, however, leaves Congress and the American people out of the loop.

Second, this bill surrenders control of immigration law to the Secretary of Homeland Security and other unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.  This is a problem that permeates the federal government in general.

For example, last year, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, 1,519 pages of legislation.  However, the federal government published 82,349 pages of new and updated rules and regulations to the federal register.   That’s more than 82,000 pages of rules that never came before Congress, never had a chance to be amended, and never received a vote.  

This bill will make that problem worse by granting similarly broad discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security to create the rules and regulations that will determine how the bill is implemented, as well as authorize the Secretary, in hundreds of instances, to simply ignore immigration law.  

While I can certainly see why members of Congress would not want to take responsibility for the consequences of this mess of a bill, that is not how our republic should function.  

Third, this bill is inherently unfair to the countless thousands who have tried to navigate our current broken immigration system.  For example, I received a letter just a few months ago from a constituent in Utah, from a person who emigrated to this country lawfully, from a person who was teaching school in Utah, here on a nonimmigrant visa. As she explained, she spent years of her life and thousands of dollars making sure that she came to the country legally. But she understands that her visa will expire in just a few years, in 2017. She anticipates that she'll be unable to get a renewal on that same visa and that she will effectively be deported at that point, voluntarily, but her visa term will expire and she anticipates she'll have to go back to her home country.

She explained to me that it's very difficult for her to accept the fact that she's been here a year teaching lawfully, developing friendships, developing her career. When she did it legally, she'll have to go home.

Meanwhile, those who have broken the law by their illegal presence in the United States will not only be allowed to stay where they are, not only allowed to live where they now live, not only be allowed to work where they now work, but they'll be put on a path toward eventual citizenship at the same time that she and many others like her will have to go back to their home country. It seems to be rewarding those who have broken our laws, while, in relative terms, punishing those who have attempted to abide by our laws in good faith.

So this bill must be fair to those who have tried to come to this country the right way.  As my colleague Senator Grassley explained in painstaking detail yesterday, the claims of those who say there will be stiff penalties for those who have broken the law have proven almost entirely false.  There is no requirement to learn English or to pay all back taxes.  And it is quite possible that many non-citizens will be eligible for our country’s generous benefits.  

Which brings me to the final concern that must be addressed before anyone should support this bill: the cost.  One study by the Heritage Foundation, says the Gang of Eight bill could cost taxpayers more than $6 trillion.  

Some on the right and the left have criticized that study, and I welcome that debate.  But the proponents of this bill have so far refused to do their own cost analysis.  If they believe the Heritage Foundation is wrong, that’s fine.  But they should tell us how much they think it is going to cost taxpayers.  So far, we have heard nothing.  

There are reports that Democrats have asked the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate the bill, but the report won’t be published until next week.  That’s unfortunate. If they are really concerned about the cost, and want it to be part of the debate, this should have been done long ago.

These are major portions of the bill that need to be addressed.  Even if we are able to come to a deal that makes the security portions incrementally better, as long as it still lacks congressional oversight, grants excessive authority to the executive branch, unfairly penalizes those who are trying to follow the law, and costs taxpayers trillions of dollars, we should still reject this reform unless major changes have been made.

Some have suggested that by pointing out the flaws of the bill, we are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  That vastly understates the problems in this bill. Far from “good,” this bill repeats the mistakes of the past, makes our immigration system worse than the one we have today, and will only lead to bigger and less manageable problems in the future.

I strongly urge my colleagues to oppose it.

Mr./Madame President, there is one more point I’d like to make as we continue this debate.  

I realize this issue is very personal to some. Moments ago, I recounted a story from a constituent who takes this issue to heart.  It has affected her family, her employment, and almost every aspect of her life.  I understand that sometimes when Congress is taking on tough challenges, people’s emotions can get heated.  

But let’s not forget that we are all on the side of immigration reform. As I said last week, and have said on countless occasions in interviews, op-eds, newsletters, and online, I stand here today in support of real comprehensive immigration reform.  I stand here as someone who supports legal immigration into our country.  And I understand, as all of my colleagues do, that immigration is necessary for our nation’s success.  

There are those who will unfairly suggest that I and my fellow senators who oppose this bill are somehow [QUOTE] “anti-immigrant” or “anti-immigration.” Unfortunately, those are the voices that are diminishing the prospects of getting real immigration reform done this year.  

I am well aware that if this bill does not pass the Senate, we will still have an immigration problem the very next day.  That’s why I have been encouraging Members of Congress to support a step-by-step approach to immigration reform.  Let’s not hold hostage the things we can get done today because we are unable to iron out every contentious issue.  

There are more than 40 individual pieces of immigration-related legislation that have been introduced in this congress alone – half of which I have sponsored, cosponsored or could support.  Indeed, the only reason immigration reform is controversial is because the Senate refuses to take it step by step.  

First, let’s secure the border. Let’s set up a workable entry-exit system and create a reliable employment verification system that protects immigrants, citizens, and businesses.  Then let’s fix our legal immigration system to make sure we’re letting in the immigrants our economy needs in numbers that make sense for our country.

We don’t need another thousand-page bill full of unintended consequences.  We need, and the American people deserve, real reform.