Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Welcome, Madam Secretary. I appreciate your being here today to discuss the immigration bill that this committee will be taking up in just 16 days.
The bill before us is a starting point. Most, if not all, members of the Group of Eight have acknowledged the bill isn’t perfect. It will go through an amendment process. I’m encouraged to see that one cosponsor of the bill is taking suggestions on his website on how to improve the legislation. We hope to have the opportunity to do just that. There are 92 other Senators who must get their chance to amend and improve the bill.
As I said yesterday, we have a duty to protect the borders and the sovereignty of this country. But, I’m concerned that the bill we’re discussing repeats the mistakes of the past and won’t secure the border or stop the flow of illegal migration.
Yesterday, I brought up the border security language contained in the bill. Not one person disputed the fact that legalization begins upon submission of both a southern border security and fencing strategy. Thus, the undocumented become legal after the plans are submitted – despite the potential that the plans could be flawed and inadequate. Once the Secretary certifies that the security and fencing plans are “substantially” deployed, operational and completed, green cards are allocated to those here illegally. There’s not much of a definition of “substantially” in the bill. Agricultural workers and Dream Act youth, however, are put on a different and expedited path.
If enacted today, the bill would provide no pressure on this Secretary – or even a future Secretary -- to secure the borders. Madam Secretary, you have stated that the border is stronger than ever before. You’ve even indicated that Congress should not hold up legalization by adding border security measures and requiring them to be a trigger for the program.
Every senator I’ve heard on this subject has said that borders must be secure. Short of that, this bill makes the same mistake we made in 1986. Surely we don’t want to screw up like we did 25 years ago.
I’m interested in hearing from the Secretary about what problems the bill fixes in our current immigration system. Aside from legalizing those who are here illegally (and potentially for their family members who have yet to arrive) and the clearing of backlogs, what does this bill do to fix the system?
I’m concerned that the bill provides unfettered and unchecked authority to you and your department and your successors. On almost every other page, there is language that allows the Secretary to waive certain provisions of law. The Secretary may define terms as she sees fit. The Secretary has $6.5 billion immediately at her disposal with no accountability to Congress. She can excuse certain behavior, determine what documentation or evidence is acceptable, and exempt various criminal actions as grounds of inadmissibility. It reminds me of the 1,693 delegations of authority in the health care reform bill that makes it almost impossible for the average citizen to understand or predict how the law will be applied.
It doesn’t apply just to this bill. We’ve got a situation where Congress has to legislate more and delegate less.
There’s a lot of talk about immigration reform in light of recent terrorism cases. I have not advocated that we quit talking about immigration reform. Rather, I am advocating that we carefully review the immigration law and the administrative policies in place to ensure that we’re addressing critical national security matters. The tragic events that occurred in Boston – and the potential terrorist attack on the U.S.-Canadian railroad --- are reminders that our immigration system is directly related to our sovereignty and national security matters.
For example, we know that the 9/11 hijackers abused our immigration system by overstaying their student visas. We also know that people enter legally and stay below the radar. It has been reported that the older Boston bomber traveled to Russia, but his name was misspelled on his airline ticket. How could authorities not realize he had departed the United States? The bill before us weakens the entry/exit system by not requiring biometric identifiers or not deploying the system to land ports. If this bill were to pass as is, we’ll continue to rely on airline personnel to properly type a name into a computer and not on biometric identifiers. Moreover, if the background checks on the 12 million who are here illegally are riddled with problems that appear to be in this case, it raises questions about the department’s ability to properly investigate such individuals.
Yesterday, we heard testimony that the immigration bill would weaken asylum law. Asylum fraud is a serious problem. Courts are clogged with asylum cases. And, it’s no secret that terrorists are trying to exploit the system. The bill would do away with the one year bar that makes aliens come forward in a reasonable time frame if they are seeking asylum. It also allows any individual whose case was ever denied based on the one year bar to get their case reopened. Those who file frivolous asylum applications can still apply for the legalization program despite the current provision that bars any relief under the immigration law.
One witness also testified that the bill provides exemptions for certain criminals, making some eligible for legalization under this bill. Those who have been convicted of serious offenses may still have the ability to apply for the Registered Provisional Immigrant status.
We also heard testimony from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent about the inability of agents in the field to do their jobs. The group that devised this bill refused to hear from enforcement agents. It seems unthinkable that law enforcement would be left out of the room when the bill was put together.
Finally, nothing in the bill deals with student visas or improving the way we oversee schools who accept foreign nationals.
These are important national security matters and are worthy of our discussion as we work on a comprehensive immigration bill. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary and again appreciate her being here today.