I join today with my colleagues in supporting the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill. It’s important that we continue to support the brave men and women who put their lives on the line both at home and abroad. But today, as I support funding for our troops I also stand opposed to the part of the Emergency Supplemental known as “REAL ID."
This controversial and overly-broad provision has no place in an emergency spending bill. The changes to our immigration laws and the policies on asylum proposed by this legislation are major modifications that are contentious on both sides of the aisle. As it is written, this bill undermines both due process and the principles of fundamental fairness on which our immigration laws are based.
This legislation, plain and simple, is a drastic and unknown change. It’s the type of change that both the House and the Senate should have deliberated on and given in-depth consideration to. The Senate has not had the opportunity to do that.
Just look at what this legislation does:
First, it increases the burdens on those seeking asylum in the United States and limits judicial review of some decisions. These are people who are often persecuted in their own countries and cannot produce the level of documentation or corroboration of their abuse that this bill requires. Next, it permits the Department of Homeland Security to waive “all legal requirements” that interfere with the construction of roads or barriers along our borders. That means that the Secretary of Homeland security can waive any state or federal environmental, health and safety, civil rights, labor, or criminal law. And there is very limited ability of anyone to challenge these decisions. That means the Secretary has a tremendous amount of discretion to override existing laws and step all over state’s rights.
It also limits judicial review of removal cases and discretionary decisions of agencies - that means an agency, not a judge, will have the final say.
And most notably, it creates national standards for identification cards that states must enforce. That means that states now must not only verify the many forms of identification that are required, but they are also responsible for keeping track of a drivers license holder’s immigration status. That creates a huge increase in expenses for states and it also means that state officials, who have no background in immigration law, will be forced to enforce these complicated provisions. That’s an unfunded mandate on states that are already in fiscal crisis.
Plain and simple, REAL ID drastically changes immigration laws, limits access to the courts and due process, and places significant new costs and duties on local and state governments. The Senate should have had the ability to review, debate, and amend this provision before it became a permanent part of our federal immigration law.
Now, I am the first to agree that we need strong and comprehensive immigration reform. We need to look at all the problems with protecting our borders and ensuring our safety. We need to make sure that the programs that work are updated and continued. We need to make sure that the programs that don’t work are fixed so that we do not have porous borders. But we need to use regular order to do so. “The Senate must have the opportunity to consider comprehensive reform, not focus on piecemeal measures. And President Bush should lead the way in working with Congress and our allies for solutions that protect our borders. And for solutions that allow our rich history and tradition of immigration to continue. But these supposed solutions cannot come at the expense of our constitutional framework.
REAL ID is an unfunded mandate that is punitive. We do not know if any of the provisions will actually make us safer – we just know that they override state’s rights and undermine civil rights and civil liberties. I believe that it is our duty, as members of the Senate, to balance national security interests with due process and constitutional rights, yet because we have not had hearings or been able to evaluate this change to our immigration law we do not know the extent of its impact.
REAL ID proposes several different and significant changes to our immigration laws, I believe that it is important for the Senate Judiciary Committee to have an opportunity to hold hearings and consider comprehensive legislation that looks at all areas of the law. Then the whole Senate should have the ability to fully debate the issue on the Senate floor.
I am disappointed that this controversial measure was added to this must pass legislation. We should be passing an Emergency Supplemental bill without the harmful REAL ID provision. And then we should turn our attention to real reform and the Senate should proceed to a thoughtful and comprehensive debate on immigration reform that protects our borders and our constitutional mandate.