06.12.13

Immigration Reform Must Be Comprehensive To Be Effective

Leahy: “We must do more than build a bigger, longer, higher fence”

WASHINGTON –Significant border security provisions in the sweeping immigration bill before the Senate should clear the way for broader reform this year, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a floor statement Wednesday.

Leahy, who successfully added two border-related amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act during Committee consideration last month, noted the legislation appropriates money for fence building and boosts the number of Customs and Border Protection officers.  To continue to make progress, Leahy said the nation’s laws must “address the root causes of illegal immigration.”

“People come here looking for jobs, and American businesses hire them because they will do the jobs no one else will.  And, yes, some come here to join their families, because the current backlogs for family-sponsored green cards would otherwise force them to wait years,” he said.  “If we are serious about stopping illegal immigration, we must do more than build a bigger, longer, higher fence. We must create legal ways for people to enter the country who want to come here for work or to join family members.”

Leahy and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) distributed a Dear Colleague letter Tuesday highlighting the significant and innovative border enforcement provisions in the legislation that will help deter individuals from attempting to enter the country illegally and make it more difficult for employers to hire illegal immigrants.  In his floor statement Wednesday, Leahy reiterated that “our goal must be to secure the border, not seal it.”

“I will oppose efforts that impose unrealistic, excessively costly, overly rigid, inhumane or ineffective border security measures,” Leahy said on the floor, highlighting a recent Wall Street Journal editorial that also called on Congress to address immigration reform beyond just border enforcement.  “Let’s not forget that bringing 11 million people out of the shadows is not only the moral thing to do. It also helps keep this country safe, so we know who is here and we can focus our resources on those who pose a threat.”

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Border Security, Economic Opportunity
and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744

June 12, 2013

For the last several months – even before a bill was drafted – we have heard some people argue that we cannot proceed with immigration reform until we do more to secure our borders.  Now that we have a bill, a bill that takes extraordinary steps to further secure an already strong border, we continue to hear that we must wait.

These arguments ignore the facts.  We have been pouring billions of dollars into border security for years.  Since the Senate last considered immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, we have made enormous strides on border security.  And this bill takes even more steps to prevent and deter illegal immigration.  The facts speak for themselves:

  • The Border Patrol has doubled in the past ten years and now has more than 21,000 agents, more than at any point in its history.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deployed additional technology, aircraft, and hundreds of miles of fencing along the Southern border.
  • Illegal border crossings are near 40-year lows because fewer people are trying to cross.  In 2005, Border Patrol apprehended more than 1.1 million individuals who unlawfully crossed the border.  In 2012, that number was down to roughly 365,000.
  • At the same time, deportations are at record high levels. 
  • And we spend more money on enforcing our immigration and customs laws than we do on all other federal law enforcement agencies put together.

So we have done “enforcement first.” 

But this legislation goes even further to build on this successful record, as Chairman Carper of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and I relayed in a letter to our colleagues yesterday.  I ask unanimous consent that our letter be placed in the record.

The bill appropriates up to another $6.5 billion to secure the border.  It authorizes another 3,500 Customs and Border Protection officers.  It expands border security infrastructure and the use of technology at the border.  It increases the already strict criminal penalties against those unlawfully crossing the border and provides additional resources for their criminal prosecutions.  And it sets clear statutory goals:  the prevention of 90 percent of illegal entries and persistent surveillance of the entire border.  If DHS doesn’t meet these goals within five years, the bill establishes a bipartisan commission to develop further concrete plans, and provides an additional $2 billion to carry out these plans. 

The bill also sets tough border security triggers.  Before DHS can register any undocumented individuals for provisional status, it must provide Congress with two detailed plans laying out exactly how it will meet the statutory goals:  a comprehensive strategy and another specific to fencing. The Department of Homeland Security cannot issue green cards to these individuals for ten years, and even then only after four triggers are satisfied:  (1) the comprehensive border security strategy is substantially deployed; (2) the fencing strategy is substantially completed; (3) a mandatory electronic employment verification system is established for all employers; and (4) an electronic exit system based on machine-readable travel documents is in place at airports and seaports.

And during the committee process, we added further border security measures.  We adopted an amendment offered by Senator Grassley that expanded the bill’s 90 percent effectiveness rate to the entire Southern border, and not just high-risk sectors.  I was pleased that the committee also adopted two border-related amendments that I offered with Senator Cornyn – one that prohibits land border crossing fees, and another that provides DHS with additional flexibility in how it can spend the bill’s fencing fund.  And I am working on another amendment for Senate consideration regarding the use of vehicle checkpoints in the 100-mile border zone.

Given all of this, I simply do not understand how some can argue that this bill does not do enough to secure the border.  It massively increases the money, the agents, and the technology that are directed at the border – and this is all in addition to the billions – yes, billions – of dollars we already spend each year. Short of putting up a steel wall, it is hard to imagine what more we can do to physically stop people from crossing.

And yet, we know that people will still come. And that is because a fence does not address the root causes of illegal immigration.  People come here looking for jobs, and American businesses hire them because they will do the jobs no one else will.  And, yes, some come here to join their families, because the current backlogs for family-sponsored green cards would otherwise force them to wait years.  If we are serious about stopping illegal immigration, we must do more than build a bigger, longer, higher fence. We must create legal ways for people to enter the country who want to come here for work or to join family members.  And then we must make it harder for people to find work if they do not use those legal avenues, by requiring a nationwide employment verification system – E-Verify, which some have called a “virtual fence” – and by increasing penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers.  This bill does exactly that.

This legislation provides workable, flexible, affordable, humane solutions.  It is tough, but it is fair and practical. 

I welcome additional ideas for how to enhance border security and public safety.  But our goal must be to secure the border, not seal it. I will oppose efforts that impose unrealistic, excessively costly, overly rigid, inhumane or ineffective border security measures.  And I will oppose efforts to modify the triggers in ways that could unduly delay or prevent the earned legalization path.  That includes the amendment offered yesterday by Senator Grassley, which would significantly delay even the initial registration process for the 11 million undocumented individuals in this country. The pathway to citizenship must be earned, but it also must be attainable.  And let’s not forget that bringing 11 million people out of the shadows is not only the moral thing to do. It also helps keep this country safe, so we know who is here and we can focus our resources on those who pose a threat.


Let me quote the Wall Street Journal editorial board, something I don’t often do:  “[Those] who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn't border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”

We need immigration reform.  It is a moral issue, but it is also a national security issue, and a public safety issue.  Attempts to undermine immigration reform may come in the guise of promoting border security.  But let us not be fooled.  As 76 former state attorneys general recently wrote, “Put simply, practical, comprehensive reform to our federal immigration laws will make us all safer.”  We must fix our broken immigration system once and for all.

I ask unanimous consent that my full statement be placed in the record.

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