A Moment for Choosing

by Jeff Sessions

Almost no Senate Democrat voted to block Obama’s executive amnesty plans.

The Senate today considered a motion to prevent President Obama from issuing an executive action effectively offering legal status to illegal immigrants, which he has threatened to do after this fall’s election. The motion, which needed 51 votes, was rejected, 50–50, with just five Democrats defecting. Following is an adaptation of a speech Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered urging members to vote to allow the Senate to block the president’s actions:

With this vote, senators will make a simple but vital decision. It is a decision that will steer the future course of this nation.

With this vote, senators will decide whether their allegiance is to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and the open-borders lobby, or whether their allegiance is to the American worker, the constitutional order, and our sovereign nation’s immigration laws.

The choice could not be more clear. Do we, as a nation, have the right to control our own borders? That is the question every senator will be answering today.

President Obama has announced to the entire world that he will implement a sweeping, unilateral, executive amnesty after the midterm elections. This amnesty by executive order will give, contrary to law, work permits and Social Security numbers to 5–6 million people who illegally entered the U.S., illegally overstayed their visas, or defrauded U.S. immigration authorities.

With the casual stroke of a pen, the president is preparing to nullify the immigration laws of the United States. He is preparing to wipe away the lawful protections to which every American worker is entitled. He is preparing to assume for himself, and himself alone, the absolute power to decide who can enter our country, who can work in our country, and who can live in our country — by the millions — regardless of what the law says, what the citizenry says, and what the Constitution says.

These immigration rules — who can come, work, and live in a country — are the bedrock of any nation’s immigration laws, and indeed its very sovereignty. The president has already erased much of these rules — and his planned executive action would remove much of what remains of them. It would establish for people all over the world the principle that if you can get into America, you can stay in America and even be given the right to work in America.

Let’s consider the current state of immigration enforcement.

Immigration officers already tell us they have been barred from fulfilling their oaths to uphold the law. The president of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers’ council warned that “ICE agents are now prohibited from arresting illegal aliens solely on charges of illegal entry or visa overstay — the two most frequently violated sections of U.S. immigration law.”

The policies of this administration represent an open invitation to the millions who enter the U.S. on visas each year to illegally overstay those visas.

What about our border? Well, we know from the sustained influx of migrants from Central America that all you have to do is show up and demand entry and you likely will be released into the United States. Consider this recent report from the Associated Press: “As of early September, only 319 of more than 59,000 immigrants who were caught traveling with their families have been returned to Central America.”

That means that more than 99 percent of the immigrants apprehended with their families have so far been allowed to stay. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of migrants who have entered without their families and been promptly released into the U.S., and many adults from Central America who have been released as well. As the president’s former ICE director John Sandweg explained, “if you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero.”

And who picks up the tab? Local school districts, local police departments, and local taxpayers.

No nation can have a policy where people can simply show up at the border and demand to be released into the country — especially since the policy is to never seek to apprehend and deport them. But that’s what this administration is doing right now.

These policies represent a collapse of our immigration system.

And what about our asylum system? Here is what the House Judiciary Committee reports:

Asylum approval rates overall have increased dramatically in recent years. . . . The vast majority of aliens who affirmatively seek asylum are now successful in their claims. . . . At the same time, an internal Department of Homeland Security report shows that at least 70% of asylum cases contain proven or possible fraud.

Still, they are being approved overwhelmingly for entry and, once admitted under an asylum status, are eligible for generous social and welfare benefits.

And what about our visa screening process?

Here is what Kenneth Palinkas had to say on that. Mr. Palinkas is the president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, representing 12,000 immigration caseworkers and adjudications officers at the USCIS. Here is just a fraction of his dramatic report:

USCIS adjudications officers are pressured to rubber stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation. The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications. USCIS has been turned into an ‘approval machine.’ . . .  

The attitude of USCIS management is not that the Agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States, or public safety and national security, but instead that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them. . . . 

Large swaths of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visa holders, including laws regarding public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment. There is also insufficient screening and monitoring of student visas.

Now consider what will happen to our system if the president goes through with his plan to provide unilateral executive amnesty to illegal workers and visa violators. What immigration law will be left? The government is not punishing visa overstays, illegal entry, illegal work, asylum fraud, document fraud, workplace fraud, and on and on.

We ignore immigration law for young people, for older people who came as younger people, for the parents of older people who came as younger people, for people with relatives, for people traveling alone, for people traveling with families, for people who entered before a certain date, for people who entered through an airport, or a seaport, for people who do show up in court, for people who don’t show up in court — we have a million excuses for not enforcing our laws.

And when millions more enter illegally asking for their amnesty, will the president print work permits for them too? What moral basis will remain to deny future unlawful entrants amnesty, work authorization, and jobs?

I’m sure this will make the activists, the politicians, and certain billionaire executives who enjoy dinner parties at the White House very happy. But what about what’s good for America? What about the interests of the American people?

America is not an oligarchy. “The Masters of the Universe” don’t get to meet at the White House and decide how to run this country.

When the American people learned what was in the Senate amnesty-and-guest-worker bill — for which every single Senate Democrat voted — the people said: No, no, no. And the House stopped the plan.

But now the same groups who wrote this bill are working with the White House to extract these benefits through executive fiat. They had at least 20 secret meetings in July and August alone to plan and execute their scheme.

These measures, we are informed, would include a massive expansion in the admission of new foreign workers — including more workers for IT giants who are laying off Americans. We learned from Rutgers professor Hal Salzman that two-thirds of all new IT jobs are now already being filled by foreign guest workers.

Wages are falling. Americans wish to see record legal immigration levels reduced, not increased, by a 3-to-1 margin, and yet Senate Democrats are colluding with the White House to dramatically increase the supply of low-paid labor to fill open jobs.

Studies show wage declines among all wage earners since 2009, but the declines on a percentage basis are the greatest among our lower-income workers. Does this not concern our leaders?

So far, the Senate Democratic caucus has enabled the administration’s lawless scheme every step of the way. Not one Senate Democrat has supported the House plan that will stop this executive amnesty. Not one has even demanded that Mr. Reid bring it up for a vote. Not one has pledged to stay here in Washington every day until this executive amnesty is stopped. But it’s not too late.

Where is the courage? Where is the independence? Where is the willingness to stand up to the political class, the lobbyists, the party bosses, the elite set in our nation’s capital, and to stand by the side of the American people? Indeed, to defend the institutional power of Congress, which alone has the power to make law.

Until that happens, every Senate Democrat is the president’s partner in this scheme as surely as if they wrote the executive orders themselves. As surely as if they were sitting right next to the interest groups huddling with White House aides to craft these orders.

So I have a message today to all the special interests, the global elites, the activists, and the cynical vote-counting political plotters that are meeting in secret at the White House. And the message is this: You don’t get to sit in a room and rewrite the laws of this country. Congress writes the laws. You may not be used to people telling you “no,” but I’m telling you “no” today.

But, it is critical that our Senate Democrats be willing to tell you “no” today too.

I also have a message for the American people: You have been right from the beginning. You have justly demanded that our borders be controlled and our laws enforced and that, at long last, immigration policy serve the needs of our own people first. For this virtuous demand, you have been demeaned, even scorned, by the governing class. They know so much, this cosmopolitan elite. They want you to believe that your concerns are somehow illegitimate. That you are wrong for being worried about your jobs, or your schools, or your hospitals, or your communities, or your national security. These elite citizens of the world speak often of their concern for people living in poverty overseas, yet turn a blind eye to the poverty and suffering in their own country. They don’t want you to speak up. They don’t want you to be heard. They don’t want you to feel you have a voice.

But you do have a voice. And your message is being heard. And I am delivering that message to the Senate today.

This is a moment of choosing for every senator. Where will history record you stood?

I am going to make a motion that would allow this Senate to block the president’s planned executive amnesty. If you believe we are a sovereign nation, with the right to control our own borders, then you must vote “yes.” If you believe America is an oligarchy, run by a group of special interests meeting in the White House to rewrite our immigration laws, then vote “no.”

The nation is watching today. This is an issue of extreme importance for the American people and the rule of law.

Will you, at long last, break from your majority leader, or will you once again surrender your vote to Mr. Reid and the groups meeting in secret at the White House and thereby enable their lawless actions?

This current Congress has failed to pass a single appropriations bill on time, has violated the in-law spending limits agreed to, and has blocked amendments to such a degree that the entire heritage of free debate in this body has been damaged.

If we leave town without having passed a bill to block this executive amnesty, then it will be a permanent stain on this Senate, on the constitutional order, and on the tenure of this entire Senate Democratic caucus.