WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Lee delivered the following opening remarks at today’s Senate Judiciary executive business meeting and filing deadline for amendments S.744, the “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal. His remarks as prepared for delivery are available below.
We all agree that our immigration system is broken and must be fixed. I support fundamental immigration reform and am encouraged that both houses of Congress are considering such reform this year. I believe we have an opportunity to make progress where there is broad consensus on a number of necessary reforms.
But overhauling our entire immigration system isn’t going to be simple and it won’t happen overnight. This is because we don’t face just one big immigration challenge. Our immigration system is a complex puzzle with dozens of interconnected pieces, and some reforms must be completed before others can even really begin.
Indeed, certain preliminary measures are necessary prerequisites for other, subsequent reforms. For example, we simply won’t understand how best to address the problem of our constantly shifting illegal population until our borders are actually secure and we know who has overstayed their visas. That’s why it’s futile to make decisions about later stages before the essential foundations are even in place.
Trying to solve every problem all at once is the surest way to avoid fixing any of them well. Good policy doesn’t flow from massive bills that seek to resolve every conceivable issue in a single, sweeping piece of legislation.
We need look no further than Obamacare—another massive, comprehensive bill that just a few years after enactment was described by one of its principal authors as a “huge train wreck.” Such wide-ranging legislation inevitably produces unforeseen effects and unintended consequences.
And we’re in the immigration mess we are today because a single, comprehensive bill in 1986 didn’t come close to fixing all our problems 27 years ago. Despite good intentions, in many ways that bill made things worse. The American people deserve better.
Serious efforts at lasting immigration reform will have to be considered and implemented in stages and over the course of many years. That’s why I favor a sensible, incremental approach.
Republicans and Democrats share much common ground on the most immediate issues. We are largely in agreement on essential elements like border security, employment verification, visa reform, guest worker programs, and high-skilled immigration—and we could enact significant reforms in each of these critical areas immediately.
Such concrete, incremental progress shouldn’t be sacrificed to demands that we try to address every challenge at once, or that we seek to resolve the most intractable problems first. We ought not hijack meaningful progress on commonsense, preliminary measures by linking them to subsequent, contentious ones.
Instead, Congress should move quickly on a host of measures where Republicans and Democrats agree, and which will provide a necessary foundation and understanding for subsequent reforms.
I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues who have worked hard to develop the comprehensive proposal we begin to mark up today. But I believe success in actually achieving the goals identified in this legislation must come through a series of incremental reforms that first ensure the foundational pieces — like border security and an effective entry/exit system — are implemented properly.
The long-standing disconnect between immigration policy and enforcement has created deep distrust that the federal government will, or even can, keep its promises. For decades, Congress has legislated border and legal immigration enforcement policies, only to have administrations of both parties fail to implement them.
Many conservatives like myself are eager to enact fundamental immigration reforms so long as those reforms begin with a secure border and a renewed commitment to enforce our immigration laws. But this bill does little to establish that foundation.
Instead, it gives broad discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security to make unreviewable determinations about easily manipulated security goals. According to one tally, the bill includes 400 different waivers, exceptions, and exemptions the administration can use to relax enforcement measures without any oversight or input from Congress.
As written, the bill’s border security triggers are illusory. Yet the legislation provides for legalization and a path to citizenship prior to any actual, demonstrable success in securing our border.
This is precisely why such comprehensive immigration reform is so controversial: it rejects step-by-step reforms and refuses to allow the American people an opportunity to assess and approve the initial fixes before further reforms proceed.
I look forward to today’s discussion and hope that together we can move toward meaningful, incremental immigration reforms that will secure our border, uphold the rule of law, promote economic growth, and allow our nation to deal sensibly and compassionately with those who remain here illegally.