Senator Lankford Delivers Floor Speech on Immigration Reform

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor to advocate for the Secure and Succeed Act, a bill that will strengthen border security, provide a permanent solution for DACA, reform family sponsorship policy, and reallocate the Diversity Visa lottery. Senator Lankford today joined Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Joni Ernst (R-IA), David Perdue (R-GA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to introduce the Secure and Succeed Act.
Mr. Lankford: Madam President, we go back the past 20 years, it’s hard to find an immigration debate that has really occurred that ended with making law. Immigration issues have been contentious over the years, unnecessarily so. They have been emotional over the years, unnecessarily so. It’s connected to families and people and real lives and real stories. I get that. Now we’re at a point again where we’re debating on this floor all of this week about immigration. The Dream Act is something that was proposed 15 years ago. Three different times, it’s come up before the House or the Senate or both. All three times in 15 years, it’s failed. Just dealing alone with those dreamers. Then a very, very large package was tried in 2013 that included not just the dreamers, their parents, every other person illegally present in the United States. Wholesale reform of every part of the immigration system. That was tried in 2013. It also failed. Now it’s time to be able to find that middle ground. Where can we find the basic issues here?
In September, the President of the United States challenged the House and the Senate to get a legislative solution for the recipients of DACA and those that are DACA eligible. At the time the president was decried as throwing people out of the country, but he was very clear at that point. He did not feel like President Obama had the authority to be able to make a wholesale executive answer for those individuals on what they call deferred action for childhood arrivals. But President Trump said I want a legislative solution. I want certainty. I don’t want these individuals to sign up every two years and be at the whim of a future executive. Let’s get a permanent answer to all of this issue. But with that, we have to pick up the issues surrounding it at the same time. The president actually gave the nation a great gift at that time, a deadline.
Immigration for two decades has been well known to be a problem, but there has been no deadline. The president set the deadline of March 5th. To have this resolved. We’re nearing that now. It’s time to move from just debating this in the hallways and in our offices to debating it on the floor of this chamber and trying to get this resolved. And here’s what I propose, along with Chairman Grassley, John Cornyn, David Perdue, Thom Tillis, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and myself. To be able to lay out a commonsense solution, to be able to say let’s stick to four items, four items that the White House has also identified, those things that are all connected together. Those four items beginning, obviously, with DACA and those that are DACA eligible. About 1.8 million individuals currently living in the country that grew up literally speaking English, pledging allegiance to our flag, going to our schools, engaging in our commerce, in every way, they have lived and functioned in Americans, except they are not. They were brought into the country illegally. So now what do we do about that? President Obama set a time period. He set a 2007 time period. You had to be in the country by 2007, be under a certain age, and then you’re eligible. We actually advance that since it’s been so long now and said from the time that President Obama announced that which was June, 2012, if you were in the country at that time or before and you’re under that time period and that certain age, you are eligible for it, apply, go through the process. We think that’s not only entirely fair, that’s also entirely compassionate. But it also sets a warning out to those that are going to rush at our border and say the easiest way to illegally cross into the United States is to bring a child with you. We do not want that to occur. That is a dangerous crossing in many places, and many children have died, individuals have had horrible things happen to them on the way. We want to discourage that.
So we set the June 2012, date. That’s when President Obama first announced the program and said that is a reasonable time period. But with that, we said it would take ten years for those individuals to be able to cross into naturalization. That is in line with other individuals around the world that are currently getting in the line right now. It’s no one jumping ahead of anyone else, but holding those individuals harmless that are already here and saying let’s start you through the process, ten years from now, you will get naturalization. At the same time that we put them in line, we also put into a process of border security. The reason we have 11 million-plus individuals in the country currently with no legal status is because our border security process has been so bad. That’s no great shock to anyone. What we are doing is taking those individuals that are in DACA and say let’s take ten years to be able to move to naturalization. During that ten-year time period, we also want to set up the basics of border security. That gives us time to get security first and naturalization second for those individuals, but both with great certainty.
It’s not just a wall, although there should be sections of wall. An area where it’s highly populated on both sides of the border, we need a wall as a demarcation, but in most areas of the border, it’s not highly populated on both sides. It’s open desert or mountains. We need cameras, we need technology. We need interaction with our National Guard who can bring resources to the battle as we’re trying to interdict with drugs. We need an increased ability in our laws dealing with terrorism, drug smuggling, human smuggling. We need consistency of how we handle immigration. Right now there is one policy if you come from Cuba, another policy if you come from Honduras, another policy if you come from Mexico. Why don’t we be consistent with our immigration policy? And to say it’s not specialized from one or the other.
We need additional Customs and Border Patrol. We need additional ICE agents. Some of my colleagues immediately recoil from that and say that’s Interior and enforcement. Well, actually that’s not. If you have additional Customs agents, they go to and pick up someone at the border, they are immediately detained as they go through the process. But you can’t just detain people. You also have to have judges and attorneys. You have to have advocates for those individuals. So we need to increase the number of judges and attorneys and advocates to be able to help. We need to increase the number of translators to make sure those individuals that are coming, we get good response to them and understand what is going on.
Right now, there are 600,000 people in a backlog waiting for their day in court for due process. 600,000. That is absurd. One of the reasons that we have such an open, porous border is that individuals know if they get across the border, they will only be detained a couple of weeks and then they will be released into the United States with what’s called a notice to appear. Some people appear at their court date, sometimes two, three, four years later. Some people do not. But they have been released into the United States in the meantime. We need to accelerate that process. We have individuals that are coming across the border and they claim asylum, but they don’t get an asylum hearing for a couple of years. We should have that as a rapid process. They should get due process and they should have the ability to be able to make that claim. But as we have said over and over again, justice delayed is justice denied.
We have some interesting things that we put out in this. Dealing with some cost to the taxpayers. We put a cap on the amount that we can spend per person, per day, in housing individuals, and we set the cap at $500 per day, per person, to actually do detaining. We think it’s a reasonable amount, and it’s honestly one of the things that I think should be universally accepted, both by the taxpayers and by this body. We put in additional penalties for those that are doing human smuggling and human trafficking and trafficking drugs across our border. Many people in this body and across the United States may be surprised to know that in countries like Cuba if there is an individual that is picked up for armed robbery in the United States, that’s illegally present in the United States, though they committed a violent offense, typically for other countries they would have to suffer the consequences of being in prison here for their offense and then deported back to their country but Cuba does not accept them. Though they are illegally present in the United States, though they commit a violent offense, they do their time period here and they are released back into the United States. Why would we do that? We established processes to resolve this.
Now, that’s basic with border security and also dealing with naturalization for DACA, but we’ve had individuals that said where is the Diversity Lottery and the issue of family reunification come into this? Let me tell you how it connection and they actually do connect. Right now we have four million people waiting through the process legally to come to the United States. That is a 20-year backlog. 20 years. That’s irrational. What we’d like to be able to do is fix the process. Before we add another two million people into this and take a 20-year process and maybe a 25 or 30-year process once we get back to the backlog time period, let’s fix what is obvious. This is not a new issue.
In 1995, Democratic House member Barbara Jordan led a study about what to do on immigration and made a major proposal on what to do on what they called at that time in 1995 in this democratic-led group called chain migration, saying that adult siblings and adult children should come in under their own merit and not under their family and we should target skills for individuals coming in, not just my brother-in-law so he gets a chance to come as well. This would allow us to empty out the backlog, the 20-year backlog to be able to come into the United States in a faster pace.
The Diversity Lottery is not a challenge with diversity—far from it. We have people from all over the world that come into the United States and we continue to welcome people from all over the world. I’m fascinated the Olympics, as people march in from their country, everyone looks the same under their flag until you get to the United States. And when the United States marches in you can’t pick out which one looks American. We are American. But in many countries around the world, they all look the same because you’re not welcome if you don’t look like them. Not so with us. We welcome people freely from around the world. But we also want to be able to come and bring a set of skills. We believe that we can use those same numbers to be able to encourage people from around the world to be able to bring their skills into the United States, to repurpose the Diversity Lottery and say, yes, come from everywhere around the world but come bringing your skills because we need them as a nation and you’re always welcome to come. Far from making the Statue of Liberty cry, or polishing up her torch and saying we’re open to the world. Come. Bring your talents and abilities. We’ll need it in the days ahead.
If you want to prevent a 20-year backlog from getting worse, we have to fix the family migration issue. If we want to deal with border security and the very real threats that we face, as well as just individuals that want to come to work, we’ve got to deal with the basics of border security. And we should address the issue of DACA recipients. We can do this. We’ll walk through this journey together. An over the course of this week, I hope we can keep this civil and open and fact-based rather than charged with emotion and accusations. We all want to help the country. Let’s work on helping the country together this week. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.