IMMIGRATION; Congressional Record Vol. 164, No. 101
(Senate - June 18, 2018)

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[Pages S3976-S3978]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. LANKFORD. Mr. President, earlier this year, this Chamber was full 
of conversation about immigration. We had four bipartisan proposals 
that all came to this floor. All four of them had votes. All four of 
them had some engagement from different Members. All four of them 
failed. While we didn't succeed in getting something passed and 
resolved on immigration, I will note that over 70 Senators voted for at 
least 1 of the 4 options that included wall funding, increased border 
security, and naturalization for those students who are in DACA or 
DACA-eligible. At least 70-plus Senators voted for those three options. 
They were written in different ways in each bill, but they all had the 
same basis. I was one of those.
  Like many of my friends on both sides of the aisle, during the 
debate, I said that Americans don't hold children accountable for the 
actions of their parents. It has been a basic principle we have held 
for a long time. We believe in the protection of children and the unity 
of families. That is what we have been about. We have some debate about 
that because some of this body believes a child is not a child until 
you can see them, and some believe a child is a child even when they 
are in the womb. But we do have unity about those individuals--that 
when we can see them and know them as a child, that we keep them as a 
family. Although you could strongly put me on the side of saying I 
think a child is a child even when they are in the womb.
  It is right for us to focus on families. Quite frankly, it is also 
right for us focus on immigration law and to believe that we are a 
nation of laws.
  We have a great dilemma at this point happening around our border. 
Let me set some context for this that I think is important, and I want 
to make sure people understand.
  We are a very open nation for immigration. We have been before, and 
we are now.

[[Page S3977]]

  Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at a 
naturalization ceremony in Oklahoma City and watch people from all over 
the world take the oath, set aside their old country and become 
citizens of the United States. I dare anyone to go to one of those 
events and try to keep a dry eye. It is incredibly moving to watch 
people have this event happen in their life that they will never 
forget--they become an American. They didn't just come to America; they 
are Americans. They have the exact same rights as anyone else in this 
Chamber and live under the same law.
  Now, 1.1 million people a year become naturalized citizens of the 
United States. Each day, 500,000 people legally cross the border from 
Mexico into the United States. We still have a debate on what happens 
with those other individuals who aren't the 1.1 million who legally go 
through the process to become U.S. citizens or the half a million 
people a day who legally cross into the United States. What do we do 
with those individuals who choose not to do it legally? It is a much 
smaller number, but it is exceptionally contentious for us because we 
are a compassionate nation, but we are also a nation that believes in 
following the law--rightfully so. In fact, many people are fleeing from 
countries where the law is ignored to come to a country like ours.
  How did we get here? When a family is detained for illegally crossing 
the border, the Department of Homeland Security has a longstanding 
policy. It is not just for this administration; it is longstanding 
policy not to separate children from their parents unless there is one 
of three things that occur: DHS can't establish that the adult 
traveling with the child is actually the guardian of the child or the 
parent of the child. The second one is that they believe the child is 
in danger--for instance, if there is a belief that the child has been 
trafficked or abused. The third one is that the individual who is 
traveling with the child--parent or guardian assumed--is being 
prosecuted for a crime. Those are the three instances in which you 
separate children from their families.
  Throughout the last administration to this one, those individuals 
were prosecuted, but the difference is, this administration has now 
determined that they are going to prosecute more individuals when they 
cross the border. The previous administrations would look the other 
way. They would see individuals crossing the border, and they would 
say: If they haven't committed some other crime besides crossing the 
border--they would look the other way and allow them to come in, or 
they would say: Here is what is called a notice to appear, and you can 
go into the interior of the country and live in the United States, but 
show up for a court hearing a year or two from now in someplace that 
you want to go to.
  The problem is, as the Trump Administration has noted, that the vast 
majority of those individuals who were given a notice to appear at a 
future court date never show up for that court date and they live 
illegally in the United States.
  Again, they are not one of the half a million people who each day 
cross legally into the country; they are the small group of individuals 
who chose to illegally cross into the country. They are given the 
notice to appear and then don't appear.
  The Trump administration is struggling with this right now and trying 
to figure out what to do in that situation. Well, their decision was to 
say: Zero tolerance. We are going to prosecute those individuals who 
come. Rather than just give them a ticket to, in the future, come to a 
court date, let's do the date right now.
  The problem with that is, as soon as you press charges on that 
individual, you get one of those three criteria that kicks in 
immediately. As soon as charges are filed on the adult--not on the 
child but on the adult--the adult is taken to have charges filed on 
them and start going through the legal process. There is a requirement 
to separate the children then, and the children go to what is called 
the least restrictive environment. Usually that is with a family member 
somewhere in the country, but it is usually 2 months or so before we 
can get that child to someone else in order to help them go with a 
family member.
  That is a mess. It is something that occurred based on the decision 
of the adult who brought the child and the decision of the adult to 
illegally cross the border, but it is still a mess. We as compassionate 
Americans absolutely detest watching families being pulled apart.
  As I have said, the Department of Homeland Security--our default 
every time should be to keep families together unless there is 
absolutely no way to do it. Families should stay together. These are 
individuals who are fleeing from whatever country or are coming for 
economic benefit. They should face the consequences of illegally 
crossing the border rather than doing it the right way--legally--as 
hundreds of thousands of people do every single day, doing it the right 
way. But we should try to keep families together if at all possible.
  The question becomes, Now what? Since the policy change of May 5, 
there are about 2,200 families who have crossed the border since May 5 
who have been picked up. About 2,200 adults have been taken one way, 
and their children taken the other way. It is very difficult for our 
Nation to watch. As a father, I absolutely believe in every fiber of my 
being that children should be safe and kept with their own families in 
a loving and healthy environment. Yet now we are in a tough spot so let 
me try to review and make some recommendations of what we can do about 

  In 1997, there was an agreement called the Flores settlement. The 
Flores settlement was an agreement between the Department of Justice 
and a group of immigrant minors. It stated the Federal Government must 
release to their parents or guardians, without unnecessary delay, 
migrant children who are being held in Federal custody. In this case, 
the parent or guardian is under criminal prosecution, so the Federal 
Government can't do that. The next thing they have to do is to find the 
least restrictive environment in which to release this child, which is 
based on this 1997 agreement.
  This is not a new issue. Every administration since 1997 has tried to 
figure out what to do with it. The previous administration, as I 
mentioned, just released people--adults and children--into the interior 
of the country because it didn't know what to do with this agreement. 
There is a way to resolve this and help keep families together no 
matter what their statuses are as they are working through this 
  In fact, I believe in it enough that in one of the proposals I 
brought to this body to vote on in February, when we were dealing with 
immigration as a whole, there was an agreement to resolve Flores. We 
have voted on this already. I had folks as recently as today say to 
bring a piece of legislation to fix this. I smiled at them and said I 
did 4 months ago and that we voted on it as a body. This is not a new 
issue. It has not just popped up since May 5, as the Trump 
administration has focused on prosecution. This has been an issue for a 
couple of decades.
  Solving the Flores loophole is exceptionally important to us in our 
immigration conversation because there are no simple answers to it 
until we resolve this issue. When the Court requires us to separate 
children from families while they are under prosecution and to find the 
least restrictive environment to ship children, it makes for this 
convoluted, bureaucratic, painful separation of families. I don't think 
that was the Court's intention, but it has clearly been the result of 
that since 1997, and now it is happening more. It has happened before 
in the past, and it will continue to happen until we solve this. In 
February, we brought up the need to continue to debate and get this 
done. We have tried this before. Let's keep focusing on solving this.
  In the meantime, it is my recommendation to this administration that 
before there is prosecution, it offer to families the opportunity to do 
volunteer returns. Currently, if you are from Mexico or if you are from 
Canada and you illegally cross the border, you have the opportunity to 
have what is called a voluntary return, meaning that you don't go 
through all of the prosecution. You know you are in the country 
illegally, but you are not quite at the point of having charges filed 
against you. You have that opportunity, and you take that opportunity.
  I think, before it files charges, the administration should offer to 

[[Page S3978]]

family who comes across the border the opportunity to keep its family 
together instead of going through this painful separation from any kind 
of prosecution that would happen regardless of that prosecution 
occurring. Give families the opportunity to stay together, make a 
decision on what they are going to do together, and get this done. That 
is something the administration can do.
  Short of that, I absolutely believe Kirstjen Nielsen, who is our 
Secretary of Homeland Security, is exactly correct when she says this 
is Congress's fault. Congress has had the opportunity for a couple of 
decades now to fix this, and Congress, for a couple of decades, has 
said that it is not a problem, it is not a problem, it is not a 
  I and several other Senators and quite a few House Members have 
continued to weigh this issue and say it is a problem no matter how it 
is used. Whether it has been used with heavy prosecution or light 
prosecution in previous administrations, it has always been a problem. 
Congress has had the ability to fix it, but Congress has been unwilling 
to do it. It is time for Congress to step up and do the job it is 
supposed to do--take the votes it is supposed to take.
  I am very aware these issues are difficult and technical and 
emotional, but these are real lives that are mixed into this--
individuals who were created in the image of God. They have value and 
worth. Families are affected by this. Congress needs to step up, take 
the votes, and actually do the task that needs to be done. The 
administration is right in that this is Congress's problem and that it 
is Congress's responsibility to fix it. We shouldn't leave the 
administration hanging out there.
  I also say to the administration: You have other options and other 
tools, in the meantime, to keep families together. Use them. For the 
sake of all of those kids and all of those families, use them. In the 
meantime, in the middle of this intolerable position, let's step up, 
and let's take the votes.
  We all know we need border security. In this body, border security 
was an overwhelming bipartisan-supported measure in 2006, when the 
Secure Fence Act was passed. We believe there needs to be border 
security. Let's vote for it. Let's get it done. Let's not just talk 
about doing it someday. Let's actually do it. Let's add more 
immigration judges. Our backlog of a year and a half before one can get 
to an immigration court is absurd. Catch and release is absurd. No one 
would do that or should do that. We have ways to fix that.
  I have stated over and over in this body that I think it is absurd we 
have individuals who are in this country, due to no fault of their own, 
and have grown up in this country whom we have just ignored and 
pretended have not been there. Those people who are in DACA or who are 
DACA-eligible deserve an answer. This Congress should vote on it rather 
than just keep them in limbo.
  Publically, I believe they should have a shot at naturalization. The 
reasonable thing is to give us 10 years to get the border security 
done. At the same time, those individuals in DACA will have a 10-year 
path headed toward their naturalization. That should not be 
unreasonable. In the meantime, give those individuals the opportunity 
to travel and work and go to school and be full participants in our 
  I think the diversity lottery is absurd. Other than salvation in 
Christ, I think one of the greatest gifts you can possibly have on this 
Earth is American citizenship. We just put it out there and say: You 
don't have to have any qualifications. If you want to come, come. I 
think we should actually extend it to people who are going to engage in 
the economy and be productive parts of our society, who have gifts and 
abilities that will help us as a culture. Let's make that the 
extension. Let's keep the diversity lottery. I am grateful to have 
people here who are from all over the world. Let's just make sure they 
are bringing the skills we need. I don't think it is that unreasonable.
  There are things we can do that we agree on and that we should move 
on rather than just say: Someday, let's do. Someday is today. Someday 
is right now. It is time for Congress to step up and take the lead and 
stop blaming everybody else. It is time for us to do our job and vote 
on this for a result.
  I yield the floor.