2/13/2018 — 

Mr. President, last September, President Trump took it upon himself to create an economic, humanitarian, and political crisis by rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, without proposing a serious solution for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who now face deportation. These people and their families have had to endure fits and starts of uncertainty as Democrats and some Republicans have worked tirelessly to advance the Dream Act and other fair and reasonable compromises authored chiefly by my colleagues, Senators DURBIN and GRAHAM, also supported by the Presiding Officer, only to have President Trump and the Republican majority find every way to say no, or to stall the process. This week, however, the Senate has an opportunity to address the panic and stress the President caused, not just for those on DACA and their families, but also for our Nation’s businesses and our broader economy. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for this chance for an open debate on a solution for Dreamers. In particular, I again thank Senator DURBIN, Senator GRAHAM, and Senator FLAKE for their advocacy and efforts to find a bipartisan compromise. I thank Leader SCHUMER for his leadership in pushing for a resolution, and Leader MCCONNELL for keeping his commitment to have this debate. I thank them all.

The basic facts of this debate are clear. The American people overwhelmingly support finding a solution for Dreamers that protects them from deportation and provides a pathway to citizenship for those who work hard and play by the rules. I believe that a bipartisan majority of my colleagues want the same thing. The question before us is whether the partisanship and raw feelings surrounding this debate will prevent a solution to this crisis from becoming law. So I urge my colleagues: Let us forge the bipartisan agreement that the American people want and the Dreamers deserve. Let us end this crisis. Then, after this bipartisan show of good faith, let us again take up the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that many of us in this body have already voted to pass so we can fix our broken immigration system once and for all. I do not believe, however, that solving the DACA crisis, which President Trump in a sense created, should come at the cost of radically restructuring legal immigration. According to the conservative Cato Institute, President Trump’s immigration proposals in exchange for resolving the DACA crisis would result in an approximate 44-percent reduction in legal immigration. This would be the largest cut to immigration in nearly a century. In addition to the profound effects such a cut would have on American families, culture, and opportunities, it would also level a massive blow to the American labor force and economic growth.

According to the Cato Institute and the independent research firm Macroeconomic Advisers, slashing legal immigration by about half could initially cut our projected economic growth rate by 12.5 percent in the next year or two. That would be a significant blow to our economy, and it could lead to further reduced economic growth projections down the line due to the reduction in the size of the American workforce. And, just as our Nation faces a skyrocketing deficit due to the impact of policies like the Republican tax plan, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that immigrants, on average, contribute over $92,000 more than they receive in government benefits over the course of their lives, and losing these American workers would only further shrink revenue that could help balance the budget. If Congress decides to take on immigration reform of this magnitude, it must be in the context of bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform, and not in the context of resolving this crisis that has been prompted by President Trump. Nor should this discussion suggest that a desire to do the right thing by Dreamers somehow indicates a lack of appreciation for the importance of securing our borders. I believe my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree that border security is of critical importance to our Nation. I have voted to increase the vetting of visa applicants, to heighten security on international travel, and to increase support for homeland security and border control by billions of dollars. In Fiscal Year 2000, there were 8,619 Border Patrol agents on the southwest border. Today, there are currently just shy of 20,000. The Obama administration alone added more than 3,000 Border Patrol agents on our southern Border, doubled the amount of fencing, and added technological systems, including aerial and ground surveillance systems. Unlawful immigration began lessening under President Obama, and today, fewer people are entering the country illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border than in the past 50 years. I believe in a strong border that continues to adapt the best technologies and tactics to keep our Nation safe. What I do not believe in, however, is symbolic action, like the construction of a wall that would drain taxpayer dollars without making Americans any safer.

There is a reason that Americans on both sides of the political divide have spoken out against deporting Dreamers. A great many of these young people are outstanding and accomplished, and our communities would feel the loss of all that they contribute. It is true that they were brought here as children outside the appropriate processes, but this was through no fault of their own. As they have grown up here, they have pursued higher education, started American families, worked hard and paid taxes, and stayed out of trouble with the law. They have passed background checks, been fingerprinted, paid hundreds of dollars in fees, and submitted detailed records to immigration enforcement officials whose job it is to prevent fraud and spot any criminals in the system. Indeed, DACA status is not blanket amnesty or an entitlement, but is something that must be earned and kept up. Hundreds of DACA recipients served in the U.S. Armed Forces, like Zion Dirgantara, whose mother brought him and his brother from Indonesia to Philadelphia when they were young, and who did not know about his undocumented status until he applied for a driver’s license. Last fall, Zion told the Washington Post that he was deeply affected when, at age 12, he watched the crash of United Flight 93 in his new home State of Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, but he could not join the Army out of high school because of his undocumented status. Because of DACA, he was able to enlist in the Army, but both his status and his ability to continue serving his country hang in the balance during this debate. Many of my colleagues have spoken movingly and eloquently about the Dreamers who have come forward to tell their stories. I associate myself with their remarks, and challenge my colleagues who have not met these young people in person to listen to their stories and perspectives. Over the last few months, I, and my staff, have had the opportunity to meet several very impressive Dreamers living in Rhode Island who have illustrated what the loss of DACA means to them and their families. I met one young woman studying at Brown University who needs DACA to ensure that she can stay here to attend medical school and help fill the shortage of doctors in America. Another young man I met told me that DACA, for him, means being able to drive to school and work every day to save up for advanced education. These young people want to live productive lives and, indeed, according to the Center for American Progress, letting DACA expire completely would cost our Nation’s economy over $460 billion over the next decade, including an annual loss to Rhode Island’s economy of an estimated $60 million. Finding a solution for these people is not just the right thing to do, but it also makes smart economic sense, and I believe that is part of the reason why the American people are largely in agreement on helping Dreamers.

I also wish to note that this same moral and economic sense applies to the need to provide deportation relief and legal status for qualified recipients of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and Deferred Enforced Departure. These individuals came to America from devastated parts of the world seeking safety and a fresh start, and they have become integral members of our community and our economy. Like DACA recipients, they have passed rigorous and periodic background checks, paid hundreds of dollars in fees, and demonstrated that they are not risks to public safety or national security. The average TPS beneficiary has been in America for 19 years and many have been here even longer. About 70 percent to 80 percent are employed, and they are collectively parents to nearly 275,000 American citizen children. Since 1999, I have been fighting for a pathway to citizenship for Liberians who came to States like Rhode Island to escape two bloody civil wars and the Ebola virus outbreak. Some of these Liberian refugees have been fixtures of our community for nearly 30 years but, like DACA recipients, they could face deportation in a number of weeks because of the expiration of TPS and DED protections. Congress can and should include these populations in the solutions we discuss here this week. Mr. President, I, along with many of my colleagues, have taken the tough votes to strengthen our border and ensure immigrants play by the rules. I have voted for the DREAM Act and for comprehensive immigration reform that passed in this body. I know that we can address this crisis if we choose to, but I also know that the only true path forward is real bipartisan compromise, not posturing or legislative gamesmanship. I urge my colleagues to support compromise legislation to address the specific crisis before us and, when we have done that, to begin earnest discussions on bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform. I yield the floor.