The North Bend Eagle


 

Imigration reform still missing the point

Senator Deb Fischer
Released 6/27/13

For two weeks, the United States Senate engaged in a vigorous debate on immigration reform legislation. Like most Nebraskans, I believe the status quo is not sustainable. Despite a number of existing laws requiring a stronger border, it remains porous and 11 million undocumented immigrants currently enjoy de facto amnesty.

Although I thought it was important to debate this significant, national issue, I am extremely disappointed in the limited opportunity for senators to amend the legislation. The bill was largely crafted by a small group of senators and considered by just one Senate committee with 18 members.

The only opportunity for the 82 other senators to change the bill was through the amendment process on the floor. Unfortunately, the Senate only voted on less than a dozen amendments, despite two weeks of work and hundreds of amendments filed. In comparison, there were 46 votes on amendments when the Senate debated immigration reform in 2007. Clearly, we can do better.

Since 9/11, at least 36 individuals who overstayed their visas have been convicted of terrorism related charges.

One amendment that did receive a vote was the Schumer-Corker-Hoeven amendment – the so-called border surge. I had a number of concerns with this measure, which was adopted by the Senate without my support and included in the final legislation.

To secure the border, we need tools to measure results. Metrics and proper oversight allow Congress to ensure the effectiveness of the policy as it is implemented, and it provides accountability to taxpayers. The metrics in the Schumer-Corker-Hoeven amendment are vague and undefined. Rather than providing a strategy, or ensuring accountability to Congress and the American people, the amendment simply throws money at a complicated problem.

I spoke on the Senate floor against this amendment and provided specific examples of how this border security measure was weaker than previous plans offered in 2006 and 2007 – and weaker than the border security amendment I filed, but which did not receive a vote.

For example, the amendment did not include a biometric check system at all points of entry or exit. Instead, it includes a simpler electronic entry-exit system at air and seaports – not land entry-points. Not only is this weaker than previous proposals in 2006 and 2007, it rolls back a congressional mandate dating back nearly 20 years – and found in six different statutes – requiring implementation of a biometric exit system at all land, air, and sea ports.

Such a system is critical because 40 percent of illegal immigrants are the result of visa overstays; a biometric system would make it much easier to track these individuals breaking our nation’s laws.

The bipartisan 9/11 Commission noted in 2004 that, “The Department of Homeland Security […] should complete, as quickly as possible, a biometric entry-exit system.” A National Security Preparedness Group report added: “As important as it is to know when foreign nationals arrive, it is also important to know when they leave. Full deployment of the biometric exit component of US-VISIT should be a high priority. Such a capability would have assisted law enforcement and intelligence officials in August and September 2001 in conducting a search for two of the 9/11 hijackers that were in the U.S. on expired visas.”

Since 9/11, at least 36 individuals who overstayed their visas have been convicted of terrorism-related charges. As I’ve always said, border security is a matter of national security.

The final legislation also fails to adequately define “operational control” of the border and makes it easier for convicted criminals to gain legal status. It provides legal status to undocumented immigrants long before border security is achieved, putting them on a path to citizenship with its many privileges. This provisional legal status comes with almost certain access to taxpayer-funded benefits.

For these, and many other reasons, I was not able to support this flawed legislation, which passed the Senate by a vote of 68-32. I am grateful for the thousands of Nebraskans who contacted my Washington and Nebraska offices to share their views, and I thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

 

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