Senator Lankford Urges the Administration to Keep Families Together While Pushing Congress to Fix Immigration System
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor to discuss the policy of separating families at the border, the need for real immigration reform, and securing the border. Earlier this year, Lankford introduced a common-sense proposal called the Secure and Succeed Act, which contained a provision that would have enabled families detained at the border to remain together if a parent was prosecuted for illegally entering the country.
(0:04-1:16) Earlier this year this Chamber was full of conversation about immigration. We had four bipartisan proposals that all came to this floor. All four of them had votes. All four of them had some engagements from different Members. All four of them failed. But we didn’t succeed in getting something passed or resolved on immigration, but I would note that over 70 Senators voted for at least one of the four options that included wall funding, increased border security, naturalization for those students that are in DACA or DACA-eligible. At least 70 Senators plus voted for those three options. Now they were written different ways in bills but they all had the same bases. I was one of those. Like many of my friends on both sides of the aisle during the debate, I don’t hold children accountable for the actions of their parents. It’s been a basic principle we’ve held for a long time. We believe in the protection of children and the unity of families.
(1:46-3:45) It’s right for us to be able to focus on families. But quite frankly it’s also right for us to be able to focus on immigration law and to believe that we are a nation of laws. And we have a great dilemma at this point happening at our border. Let me set some context for this that I think is important. I want to make sure people understand. We are a very open nation for immigration. We have been before and we are now. Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at a Naturalization Ceremony in Oklahoma City. Watching people from all over the world take the oath, set aside their old country and become citizens of the United States. I dare anyone to go to one of those events and try to keep a dry eye. They are incredibly moving to watch people have this event happen in their lives that they will never forget. They became an American. They didn’t just go to America. They’re Americans. They have the exact same rights as anyone else in this Chamber and live under the same law. 1.1 million people a year become naturalized citizens of the United States. Each day 500,000 people…legally cross the border from Mexico into the United States. But we still have debate for what happens for those other individuals that aren’t the 1.1 Million that are legally going through the process to become US citizens or the half-million people a day that cross into the United States. What do we do with those individuals that choose not to do it legally? …We’re a compassionate nation, but we are also a nation that believes in following the law.
(3:54-4:52) When a family is detained for illegally crossing the border, the Department of Homeland Security has a long-standing policy, and it’s not just for this administration…not to separate parents from their children unless there is one of three things that occur. DHS can establish the adult traveling with the child is actually the guardian of the child or the parent of the child. The second one, they believe the child is in danger, for instance, there is a belief that the child is being trafficked or abused. Or the third area is the individual who is traveling with the child, parent or guardian assumed, is being prosecuted for a crime. Those are the three ways you separate children from their families. Throughout this administration and the last one, those individuals are prosecuted. The difference is now they going to prosecute more individuals when they are crossing the border. The previous administrations would look the other way.
(11:01-11:57) It is my recommendation to this administration that they offer to families before they do prosecution the opportunity to do volunteer return. Currently, if you are from Mexico or Canada and you cross the border you have an opportunity to have what’s called voluntary return. That you don’t go through all the prosecution, you know you’re in the country illegally, you’re not quite at the point of charges filed against you. You have that opportunity, you can take that opportunity. I think they should offer that to every family that comes across the border before they file charges the opportunity to say keep your family together. Instead of going through this painful separation of any kind of prosecution regardless of how prosecution occurs. Give that family the opportunity to stay together. Make a decision on what they are going to do together.