Immigration (Executive Session); Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 212
(Senate - December 15, 2020)

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[Pages S7478-S7480]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, millions and millions of people will 
breathe a bit easier on January 20. That relief will be especially 
sweet for those who suffered under Donald Trump's coldhearted approach 
to immigration and asylum.
  The President has built a wall to immigrants, but it is not made of 
fencing or brick and mortar. The President has rebuilt the infamous 
paper wall, like that of the 1930s, which kept too many Jews out of the 
United States, trapping them within the murderous regime of Nazi 
  The paper wall was built on anti-migrant regulations, including one 
targeting anybody who might become a so-called public charge. It was 
reinforced by racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism. It created 
bureaucratic roadblocks that had no purpose other than to frustrate 
applicants, block visas and refugees, and slow immigration to a 
trickle. That is awfully familiar to those who watched Donald Trump 
succeed horribly at repeating some of America's worst immigration 
  In the last 4 years, I have often thought about my late mom and dad 
who were refugees to America. My parents were German Jews who fled the 
  Not all of our family got out. My great-uncle, Max, was one of the 
last to be gassed at Auschwitz.
  When my father arrived here at 13, he barely spoke any English. He 
studied hard. When the war came, my dad, who wasn't exactly built like 
Captain America, wanted more than anything to wear the uniform of the 
U.S. Army. My dad essentially talked his way into the service. He 
joined the Army's psychological warfare division because, with his 
fluent German, my dad wrote propaganda pamphlets that our planes 
dropped on the enemy soldiers that were retreating further and further 
back toward Berlin.
  I have seen those pamphlets, and--with a little son pride--they were 
smoking. They just told the Nazis they didn't have a chance. In 
contrast, the materials their military dropped on our soldiers was 
written in mangled English--comical stuff. My dad has really been 
singled out. He is in the Holocaust Museum for his contributions for 
helping our Army beat the Nazis, and after the war, he became a 
journalist and an author.
  My mom came in 1939, a few years after my dad. During the war, she 
served in the Women's Army Corps. She was in England, France, and 
Germany, and on the wall at home is a picture of my mom in her WAC 
uniform. You can look at that picture, and you can see pride in serving 
our country from every single pore.
  After the war, my mom had a long career as a research librarian, and 
she worked even harder raising her oldest son, who mostly wanted to 
play NBA basketball instead of hitting the books.
  Both my parents felt so blessed that they could get out of Germany. 
They made it over the paper wall. They had a chance to become 
  Most Jewish families in the United States have stories just like 
these. Some were able to get out; others were left behind, and some 
were lost.

[[Page S7479]]

  Many remember the MS St. Louis, a ship with nearly 1,000 refugees--
mostly Jewish--fleeing Germany in 1930. Originally, they sailed for 
Cuba, but they were turned away when they reached Havana. Then they 
tried to come to America. They got so close. They could see the lights 
shining in Miami, but again they were turned away and sailed back to 
Europe. Hundreds of them died in death camps. Many more lives like 
those aboard the St. Louis could and should have been saved, but the 
paper wall--that paper wall--kept too many people out.
  In 2020, caring people looked back and recognized that paper wall and 
our failure to save more people from execution at the hands of the 
Nazis. It was a staggering humanitarian disaster, a real stain on 
American history.
  Donald Trump and his advisers, on the other hand, must look back and 
see the paper wall as a big success, a playbook for 
their administration. Under Donald Trump, the policy of the United 
States on immigration, asylum, and refugees--sum it up in one word: 
cruelty. Trump's worst legacy on asylum and refugee policy, without a 
doubt, is the kidnapping and abuse of youngsters--children--locking 
them in cages, losing track of them, and losing track of their parents. 
It is the forced sterilization of women in the custody of the U.S. 
Government. It is violating U.S. law and international treaties to turn 
asylum seekers into criminals.

  I went to the border to see for myself what Trump's family separation 
policies looked like in practice. When you see it, you never forget.
  I met a migrant woman who was almost 9 months pregnant and suffering 
complications. A pediatrician from Oregon who came with me was 
concerned that this woman's life was in danger, as well as her unborn 
child. She had been stopped at the border, along with her husband and 
their 3-year-old son, even though she had a legal right--a legal 
right--to make an asylum claim.
  Our pediatrician, who worried that the woman was going to go into 
labor right there, had to make a judgment call about what we ought to 
do. So, fortunately, we got her case before the right border 
authorities. She was able to make her asylum claim, get medical care, 
and keep her family together.
  At the time, I saw a little boy who had been detained for several 
nights in a cold, cramped cell--they call them iceboxes--and then sent 
back to Mexico. This youngster was so traumatized at the border that he 
became entirely nonverbal and afraid of adults. His father held my hand 
and cried, and he told us how helpless he felt as a parent. I will 
never forget that experience.
  Children and parents on the southern border are experiencing the 
worst of Donald Trump's hostility, but it doesn't end there. His 
administration has relentlessly attacked and squeezed the traditional 
systems of immigration and humanitarian assistance and refugee 
resettlement as well. A lot has gone into this paper wall. Anti-
immigration policies have bookended the Trump 4 years. One of their 
first new policies out of the gate was the Muslim ban, which was a 
nightmare for many immigrants and immigrant families.
  Now, in Donald Trump's final days, his administration has made the 
citizenship exam twice as hard and twice as long. Reportedly, questions 
were rewritten with Trump-friendly political bias and tricky language 
designed to trip people up. There wasn't any discussion about any exams 
here in Congress. When you read the old version of the test that 
existed before the Trump meddling, it was pretty darn challenging. 
There is no good-faith explanation for the changes. It was only about 
making it harder--making it harder to become an American.
  Through his years in office, Donald Trump steadily lowered the cap on 
refugees allowed in the country. For 2021, he set it at the lowest 
number ever.
  Then there is the DACA Program, Deferred Action for Childhood 
Arrival. We talked here in the Senate about the Dreamers, and when the 
program was created, there was a promise made that it would be OK for 
the Dreamers to come out of the shadows. You could apply without fear 
and have your application renewed in 2 years. I think the government 
has a moral obligation to keep the promise. Not on Donald Trump's 
watch--if not for court orders, DACA would be dismantled by now.
  There are more than 11,000 hard-working young people in my home State 
that are DACA recipients. I have talked with a lot of them. They come 
to my townhall meetings. We meet on campus and meet in coffee shops.
  Not long after the pandemic hit, one young Oregon DACA recipient 
started working with COVID patients. She just wanted to help during the 
pandemic--coordinating tests, working on followup, contact tracing. 
What a wonderful person doing essential work during the pandemic, but 
her temporary DACA status ran out just when the Trump administration 
blocked renewals. Fortunately, my staff and I were able to help her 
reapply and retain her status so she could keep working in the only 
place she ever called home.

  The harsh reality is there are thousands and thousands of young 
Dreamers who have been faced with the same panic of losing their 
status, being ripped from their homes and deported. The fact is, Donald 
Trump has used these Dreamers like pawns.
  Recently, he dusted off the public charge rule, using the past to 
discriminate against Jewish refugees. I consider it a wealth test for 
immigrants--a cruel system that pushes vulnerable immigrant families 
into destitution.
  In Oregon, right now, it means that there are families who are just 
afraid to seek assistance they are entitled to receive, afraid to seek 
emergency medical assistance during a pandemic, and afraid to seek 
disaster relief after huge wildfires. These families--we talk to them--
they desperately need help. They are members of Oregon's collective 
community, but they can't get it because they are fearful they will be 
labeled a ``public charge.''
  Donald Trump revoked protected immigration status from hundreds of 
thousands of U.S. residents originally from countries ravaged by war, 
famines, and epidemics. Many of those people who have lived here for 
decades had planted deep roots. Nothing is accomplished by revoking 
their status and deporting them, other than shattering their lives and 
weakening their communities.
  Then, the Trump administration adopted a ``no blanks'' policy so they 
could reject applications for visa and asylum if there were just simple 
paperwork errors. For example, let's say an only child filling out a 
visa application leaves a blank where it asks for details on siblings--
they could be rejected. Even simple errors that mean nothing--writing 
in a dash instead of an ``N/A'' for an inapplicable question--leads to 
rejection. The policy, here again, has resulted in huge cuts to 
immigration and asylum.
  During the pandemic, the Trump administration denied COVID relief to 
tax-paying, law-abiding American immigrants who secure America's food 
supply or save lives as frontline healthcare workers.
  Next, there is a sabotage of the system of printing documents for 
immigrants, including green cards that allow residents to work and go 
to school. This affected tens of thousands, again, who did nothing 
wrong. Some of them were newly approved applicants, many others were 
longtime U.S. residents replacing green cards that were expired or 
lost. If an immigrant's green card expires, and they don't have the 
replacement, they are out of luck and technically in a kind of legal 
never-never land. It is all because Donald Trump wanted to break the 
system just to cause harm.
  Now let's talk about those who work alongside our military overseas. 
You would think that if there were any group--any group--whose 
immigration status got a special level of care from our government, it 
would be those whose lives are in danger in their home country because 
they served courageously alongside our forces. That has not been the 
case under Donald Trump.
  For example, there have been reports on an Afghan pilot on the run 
from the Taliban because his clearance to relocate in the United States 
was reversed. The U.S. Army pilot who trained him said:

       He's marked as a dead man. He's done all he can there. . . 
     . If anyone needs to be a U.S. citizen, it's him.

  But the Trump administration, which initially approved his 
relocation, went back on its word. This pilot is now reportedly in 
hiding with his wife and their 4-year-old daughter. They are among tens 
of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis whose lives are in danger

[[Page S7480]]

waiting for the U.S. Government to decide on their immigration status.
  The number of these courageous individuals brought to the United 
States has plummeted under Donald Trump, again, because of this anti-
immigrant bias.
  I remember the late-Senator John McCain speaking often about why our 
country needed to protect those who helped our men and women in battle. 
John McCain said it wasn't just a moral issue but also a national 
security issue. He said: Won't it be harder to get people to help our 
soldiers in the future if America abandons those who have helped us in 
the past? For Donald Trump, it seems hostility toward immigrants 
overrides even America's national security.
  Donald Trump has often claimed he supports immigration. He once 
hijacked a naturalization ceremony, which is supposed to be a solemn 
event, no politics. He stole that moment from the group of people 
becoming citizens so he could go on and on about false claims about his 
position on immigration. He said he wanted ``tremendous numbers of 
people to go in.''
  Over the last, I guess, 8 or so minutes, I have proved that sure is 
not true. The reality is, Donald Trump cut legal immigration in half. 
If I were to walk through every cruel and inhumane thing this 
administration has done to immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, we 
would be standing here until the beginning of January.
  It is going to be hard work dismantling Donald Trump's paper wall, 
but it is a must-do for the President and Vice President-elect. I know 
they agree.
  I want to close my remarks by talking a little bit about why 
immigration matters. As an Oregonian, I can tell that you that Oregon 
is clearly stronger today because of our openness to immigrants and 
refugees and asylum seekers. We call it, at home--people hear me talk 
about it here--the Oregon Way. It is about fundamental decency. There 
is no other way to describe the Oregon Way than those two words, 
``fundamental decency.''
  Here is an example of how the Oregon Way collides with the Trump 
policies pertaining to visas. Twelve years ago, an Iraqi boy named 
Mustafa came to Oregon to receive badly needed medical care. He was 
very injured. He lost a leg during the U.S. bomb strike. He needed 
complicated surgeries that couldn't get done in Iraq, so a group of 
Oregonians worked with a nonprofit to bring him to my hometown of 

  Mustafa got good care and was able to go home. The plan was for him 
to come back to Oregon, periodically, for ongoing treatment. Back home 
in Iraq, however, communication was difficult, and his family was 
displaced by Islamic State militants.
  Miraculously, in 2016, Oregonians recognized Mustafa on the TV news 
from a refugee camp outside Fallujah. It was clear he still dealt with 
serious health problems. Again, Oregon citizens and nonprofits went to 
bat for him. Again, they worked to bring him to the United States for 
care, except this time--this time, the Trump administration closed the 
door to Iraqis. They were out of luck.
  My staff and I got involved, and together with all of these dedicated 
Oregonians, we were able to work with the Embassy and get key officials 
to get a temporary visa for Mustafa and his mom. He got the lifesaving 
care he needed. The Oregon Way actually beat back Trump's hostility to 
  Now, supporting immigration is not just the decent thing to do, it is 
also the smart thing to do for our economy. My State is a perfect 
example. From the high-tech economy in the ``Silicon Forest'' to our 
wonderful family farms all across the State, immigrants contribute 
every day to our economy.
  Nationwide, on average, communities with more immigrants have 
stronger and more dynamic economies. Immigrants are more likely than 
those born in the United States to participate in the labor force. 
Immigrants are more likely to own a small business. Immigrants are more 
likely to move for employment and take jobs that otherwise go unfilled. 
Those immigrants, plug gaps in our economy. They plug gaps in our job 
market. Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs. Their kids are 
more likely to want to just work and work and work, and they have shown 
that they are more likely to climb the economic ladder.
  Immigration has also proven to be a big economic and population boost 
for our rural communities, which too often, in too many parts of the 
country, somehow look like people just are willing to turn them into 
economic sacrifice zones, compared to the focus on the cities and 
  Our colleges and universities desperately need more foreign-born 
students. Most foreign-born students pay full sticker price and 
subsidize the students born in the United States. Due to COVID and 
anti-migrant policies, fewer and fewer international students come to 
study in American schools. They are choosing to study in other 
countries instead. And you can bet those other countries are happy to 
welcome the bright minds at our expense and let them find a way to help 
their economies.
  Our schools struggle to keep the doors open under these conditions. 
They have managed to block some Trump policies that are particularly 
harmful to students. I am very proud that my alma mater, the University 
of Oregon, led one of those lawsuits.
  But still, many schools are likely to close. And if there are fewer 
international students coming here who are subsidizing Americans, the 
price that American-born students pay for a college education goes up. 
It is legislative malpractice for the lawmakers to allow that to happen 
when it is a crisis you know is headed this way. It is, obviously, in 
our interest to be a magnet for the best and the brightest.
  Immigrants also protect vital safety net programs that Americans care 
so deeply about. With 10,000 people reaching retirement age every day, 
our country needs more workers, more people paying into Social 
Security, more people paying into Medicare, welcoming into the country 
more working-age people who can help shore up those trust funds. It can 
help to protect the Medicare guarantee and help ensure that Social 
Security pays full benefits. It is a big mistake to pass up that 
  Finally, the economic boost isn't the biggest reason to support 
immigration. The biggest reason is immigration is about our national 
character; it is about our common history. Our country was founded by 
people with courage and audacity, people who picked up their lives and 
crossed oceans to start something new. Who are we to turn away all 
those who would follow in their footsteps? Welcoming immigrants from 
around the world makes us more youthful and resilient. It honors our 
  America has always been a land of opportunity. It is why my parents 
loved the United States so deeply after they arrived here as frightened 
youngsters fleeing the worst of humanity. Decades later, because of the 
opportunity this country handed my parents, their son--a first-
generation Jewish kid--has the honor of standing on the floor of the 
U.S. Senate, the honor of representing Oregon in the U.S. Senate. And 
what an honor it is to be able to be here this morning to talk about 
why the Wyden family is so grateful to the United States of America. If 
someday people around the world no longer see the United States as a 
land of opportunity, we will have strayed from America's character and 

  For now, the good news is that Donald Trump's Presidency ends next 
month. The attacks on our immigration system and on people who dream of 
becoming Americans will be nothing more than the angry tweets from a 
man voted out of office.
  With the end of the Trump era, the United States can tear down the 
Trump paper wall and rebuild the coalition of Americans from all across 
the political spectrum who value the contributions of immigrants and 
who care for asylum seekers and refugees. It is an important part of 
what makes America so special.
  I yield the floor, and I believe we have another speaker.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from North Carolina.