Lee Delivers Remarks, Calls Gang of 8 Bill a “Disappointment”

June 27, 2013

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) delivered remarks on the Senate floor, expressing his opposition to the Gang of 8 immigration bill.

I rise today in support of immigration reform.  

I support strengthening our borders and ensuring they are secure before beginning a pathway to citizenship because it is the only way we will avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

I support robust interior enforcement and a biometric visa tracking system because without them we will not solve the problem of illegal immigration.

I support modernizing and streamlining our visa system because we need an efficient process of legal immigration that meets the needs of our economy.  

And I support immigration reform that is both tough on those who have chosen to break our laws and fair for those who have obeyed them.  

Today, there is reason for disappointment but also cause for encouragement.  

The bill we have before us today is an enormous disappointment.  The American people deserve better.

As a matter of public policy, this bill fails to meet many of the goals we set out to meet.  

It is full of promises to beef up border security, but makes no assurances.  This legislation cuts out the American people by cutting out any congressional oversight.  It remains grossly unfair to those who have languished in our current legal immigration system, unable to get answers for decades in some cases.   It transfers enormous authority and discretion to the Executive Branch, exacerbating an already widespread problem in our federal government.

And it fails perhaps the most important test of all: according to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill will reduce illegal immigration by just 25 percent in the next ten years.  This should be reason alone to scrap this entire bill.  

As a matter of process, members of this body should be embarrassed about how this bill moved through the Senate.  

From Day One, the country was misled about what was in the bill. The talking points never matched the reality of what was in the bill.  

We were told that if we didn’t like what was in it, we could fix it.  But that wasn’t true either.  During the committee “mark up,” Democrats and the Gang of Eight Republicans voted as a bloc to defeat virtually all substantive amendments proposed to improve the bill.

They said there would be regular order on the floor.  But that turned out to be a false promise as well.  For a 1200-page bill, the Senate, including the members not on the Judiciary Committee, was allowed exactly 9 roll call votes before the process was shut down.  

During the 2007 debate on immigration reform, the Senate voted 32 times to amend the bill.  Some would argue even that was too small.  But certainly nine votes on a 1200-page bill doesn’t suggest that the proponents of the bill are interested in regular order.

And for the grand finale, at nearly the end of this process, the proponents substituted what is effectively a brand new bill in place of the one we had been debating for over two months.  They gave us very little time to read it before we had to vote on it, and, once we were on to the new bill, they did not allow a single vote on any amendments.  

Mr./Madame President, this is an embarrassment to this institution and an assault on the principles of democracy.  

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, from this low point in the Senate springs an encouraging path forward for those, like me, who truly want immigration reform.  

First, this exercise has laid out in front of the American people all the problems inherent in passing massive pieces of legislation that presume to fix all of our problems at once.   The so-called comprehensive approach has been utterly discredited.  

From denying votes to buying votes, our experience over the past two months only reaffirms why the vast majority of Americans don’t trust Washington.  The special interests had a huge hand in writing the bill while the American people had none.  Almost all of the discussions and negotiations took place in secret back-room deals.  And rather than debate policy differences, the debate was a daily “fact check” on misleading and outright false claims made by the bill’s proponents.  

The good news is that the House appears to have learned this lesson and wants no part of it.  Already, the Speaker has said the Senate bill is dead on arrival – so today’s vote is largely symbolic.  

The House Judiciary Committee has recently passed two significant pieces of immigration reform – one on interior enforcement and another dealing with agricultural workers – proving that reform can be passed in a step-by-step approach.  

Indeed, the only reason immigration reform is controversial is because the Senate refuses to pass it one piece at a time.  There is simply no legitimate reason why we have to pass a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it bill.  

Though it is likely this bill will pass today, I strongly encourage my colleagues to consider where we started, where we are now, and what lies ahead.  

They said it would secure the border. It doesn’t.  Congress has been fooled by false promises before.  We shouldn’t go down that path again.

They said illegal immigration would be a thing of the past.  It won’t. The Congressional Budget Office confirmed that under this bill there would still be 6 to 8 million illegals in the country in ten years.  

They said it would be good for the economy.  It isn’t. CBO also confirmed it would lower wages and increase unemployment.  

They said it would be tough but fair.  It’s neither.  It is not tough on those who have broken the law and it is not fair for the people who have been trying to come here legally.  

And if this bill passes today, it will be all but relegated to the ash heap of history, as the House appears willing to tackle immigration reform the right way.

The sponsors of this bill had the best of intentions, but in my opinion, intentions aren’t enough.  

As I said at the outset, Mr./Madame President, I stand here today in support of immigration reform.  But this bill is not immigration reform.  It is big government dysfunction, and it is why I cannot support it.