March 24, 2021 - Issue: Vol. 167, No. 55 — Daily Edition117th Congress (2021 - 2022) - 1st Session
Opioid Epidemic (Executive Session); Congressional Record Vol. 167, No. 55
(Senate - March 24, 2021)
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[Pages S1734-S1741] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] Opioid Epidemic Mr. CORNYN. Madam President, as we all know, over the last year, COVID-19 has taken center stage as the No. 1 public health crisis facing our Nation. No community has been spared from the devastation caused by this virus, which has claimed more than 540,000 American lives. But beneath the surface, the problems we were facing before the pandemic still exist, and, in many cases, they are getting worse. A year of stress, isolation, and loss has taken a serious toll on America's mental health and has led to increasing rates of anxiety and depression. These same factors have led to an increase in domestic violence as families have spent more time at home, often while battling the stress of job losses, financial difficulties, and virtual learning. And, of course, there is the opioid epidemic, which continues to destroy communities across our country. In 2019, there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in America-- 70,000. We are still waiting on the complete figures for 2020, but preliminary data shows that things are trending in the wrong direction. From June 2019 to May of 2020, more than 81,000 Americans have died from overdoses. We know a significant portion of those deaths involve heroin--roughly 20 percent of those who overdosed in 2019. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency's ``National Drug Threat Assessment,'' the vast majority of that heroin comes from Mexico, a staggering 92 percent. As we have discussed the crisis at the border, I have talked about ways the surge of unaccompanied children affects Customs and Border Protection's ability to carry out its other missions, including stopping the flow of these illegal drugs. Time spent processing and caring for children means less time on the frontlines catching or deterring the cartels from moving their poison across the border into the United States. A Bloomberg report last year brought another aspect of this epidemic to light: the fact that chemicals made in the United States by U.S. companies were key ingredients in the manufacturing of heroin in Mexico. One of those companies is Avantor, a Fortune 500 company that supplies chemicals and lab materials and services across a number of industries. Avantor produces millions of products, including everything from medical masks to high-quality chemicals for pharmaceuticals, to kits for science labs in schools. But the focus here is on one particular chemical--acetic anhydride. This is an 18-liter jug of acetic anhydride, and you can see Avantor's name on the label. Avantor sells this through a subsidiary known as J.T. Baker into Mexico. Now, there are legitimate uses for acetic anhydride. It is used to make cigarette filters and chemicals used for photographic films, but this wasn't a photo taken in a chemical lab or a manufacturing plant here in the United States. This was taken by a Bloomberg reporter in Mexico who was able to purchase this chemical online, no questions asked. This should have never happened. Why? Because acetic anhydride is a highly regulated chemical, at least in the United States and, actually, around the world. Some companies even bar the importation of acetic anhydride because of its use in manufacturing illegal drugs. But the reason it is regulated is it is a precursor in the production of heroin. That is why many countries ban the importation outright. Without this chemical, it is virtually impossible to transform opium from a poppy seed into the more lethal drug of heroin. Acetic anhydride, as I said, is one of the most tightly controlled chemicals worldwide and has been for some time. The International Narcotics Control Board has been sounding the alarm on this dangerous chemical since the [[Page S1735]] 2000s. In fact, its annual report has described horrific examples of the dangerous precursor chemical being diverted from legitimate uses to illegitimate uses, like making heroin. But the fact is, Mexico did not sign on to the International Narcotics Board protocol for this dangerous chemical until 2018, and even then, the enforcement, oversight, and control of this precursor was lax, at best. Even now, given the controls the cartels exert over large swaths of Mexico, I have no confidence that any controls on this chemical are effective in stopping illicit uses in that country. The Bloomberg investigation brought to light how easy it was for the cartels to get hold of this chemical. The reporters were able to purchase this 18-liter jug online or at a medical supply store. It didn't take any special requirements. You can imagine how easy it was for the cartels to get their hands on this chemical. While the controls, oversight, and enforcement of this chemical are much tighter in the United States and have been for years, it presents a constant challenge when Mexico does not have the same standards and enforcement. It presents an additional hurdle for the safety of our communities when U.S. companies, like Avantor, avail themselves of foreign subsidiaries to create and manufacture the precursor chemical in a cartel's own backyard, thereby facilitating the manufacture and sale of the deadly drug known as heroin. Of course, the winners in all of this are the cartels, in addition to their criminal network of smugglers, who move the drug across our border. The losers are our communities here in the United States and our loved ones who have been tragically affected by the opioid epidemic. This is an open-air drug lab in Sinaloa State, the home of El Chapo's drug empire. Cartels can use this single jug of 18 liters of chemical to make heroin in this drug lab that is concealed in a rural part of Mexico. They can make out of that one jug about 80 pounds, or 90,000 hits, of heroin out of one jug. Of course, one hit is enough to destroy a life, but think of the pain that one 18-liter jug can inflict on an entire community, and Avantor knows that these jugs in this size can be easily concealed in something like the trunk of a car. One container of this chemical costs $324. The street value of the heroin that it will yield is at least $3.6 million. One jug at $324 can produce $3.6 million worth of street value in heroin. If this doesn't make your blood boil, you are not paying attention. After all, it is simply impossible to believe that Avantor, which is a Fortune 500 company that is publicly traded here in America, was selling large quantities of this chemical--banned in many countries of the world because of its use in illegal drug manufacturing--and had no idea that it was being used for illicit purposes in Mexico. I don't think anybody would believe they didn't know. Bloomberg reports that this has been going on for at least the last 10 years, when photos like this surfaced of the J.T. Baker line of product showing up in drug busts by the Mexican authorities. Unfortunately, the bad news doesn't stop there. The nominee for the third highest ranking position at the Department of Justice has profited to the tune of millions of dollars from Avantor stock. Vanita Gupta has been nominated to serve as the Associate Attorney General, and she is a very large shareholder in this publicly traded company. She owns millions of dollars of Avantor stock, parked in her own accounts and in the various trusts she has identified in her financial disclosures. This isn't just a blind investment in a mutual fund; this is the family business. Ms. Gupta's father is Avantor's chairman of the board. Following Ms. Gupta's confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee, Senators submitted questions for the record. One question was submitted by Senator Grassley, the ranking member. He asked Ms. Gupta if she were aware that Avantor was producing and selling chemical precursors used in the illegal heroin trade in Mexico. She said: I am aware of the allegations. The next question from Senator Grassley was about her financial holdings. Since she owns upwards of $55 million in Avantor stock, he asked if she had profited financially from this chemical trade of acetic anhydride by Avantor in Mexico. Ms. Gupta said: As a shareholder with no role in Avantor, I am not able to say whether and how much I have profited from the various parts of Avantor's business. I generally believe witnesses who testify under oath at Judiciary Committee hearings if there is no reason not to believe them, but it pains me to say that Ms. Gupta had already established a clear pattern of deception or of flat-out lying during her confirmation process. Ms. Gupta wrote an op-ed piece in the HuffPost on November 4, 2012. At that time, she said that States should decriminalize the possession of all drugs--not just marijuana but all drugs--for personal use. In the article, she said: States should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs. That is a quotation. You can see that here. That would include decriminalizing fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other highly addictive, deadly drugs, including, of course, heroin. Well, that wasn't her answer at her confirmation hearing. When asked whether she advocates for the decriminalization of all drugs, she didn't mince words. She said: No, Senator. I do not. Now, I understand that it is natural for people to change their minds, especially in light of new information or new experiences. In Ms. Gupta's case, she noted that her experience at the Department of Justice and with addiction in her own family had led her to evolve her position on these issues. Yet, in responding to Senator Grassley's written questions, she wrote: I have never advocated for the decriminalization of all drugs, and I do not support the decriminalization of all drugs. That is demonstrably false. It is not true. She obviously held the view and felt so strongly about it at the time that she penned an op-ed piece in a national publication to advocate for the decriminalization of all drugs. When a person has been nominated for a leadership position at the Department of Justice, that person has a duty to be honest and forthright. If you have learned any new information and have changed your mind, that is fine, but you can't flat-out mislead about not having held beliefs that you clearly held in the past, especially when those beliefs could interfere with your ability to do the very job for which you have been nominated. It is not just with decriminalization that Ms. Gupta has misled the Judiciary Committee. As to qualified immunity, defunding the police, and the death penalty, Ms. Gupta has offered misleading statements on each of these issues. Policy differences, I can accept, but a lack of candor is disqualifying, especially for th Office of the Associate Attorney General. So when Ms. Gupta said she was unaware that Avantor was profiting or that she was profiting from the illicit manufacturing of heroin in Mexico, I do not find that credible. It is just another example of saying whatever you need to say to get confirmed by the Senate. The Department of Justice is the highest law enforcement Agency in the country, and Ms. Gupta has been nominated to serve as third in command. If confirmed, she will oversee the Civil Division, which will make major decisions about who will be investigated, who will be charged, and who will face punishment. Some of those potential targets include opioid companies, drug manufacturers, or perhaps even companies that are diverting precursor chemicals to the cartels. If you look at the work at the moment of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, you will see a number of civil actions already related to the diversion of opioids and companies involved in illegal schemes. What does this say about her ability to supervise those kinds of cases? The Department requires professional detachment from even the appearance of impropriety, and this conflict of interest of Ms. Gupta's goes far beyond simple appearance. Ms. Gupta has financially benefited from the sale of this chemical to cartels in Mexico. [[Page S1736]] She has financially benefited whether she knew it at the time or not, but she won't even admit it. As a result, any case that has a nexus to drugs brought by the Department of Justice while she is at the helm will have a giant cloud cast over it. Finally, what I find most troubling, in addition to her lack of candor, is that Ms. Gupta has shown absolutely no remorse for the harm done by Avantor in facilitating the manufacture and sale of heroin here in the United States. I estimate that, in the last 10 years, more than 100,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses associated with heroin. So I cannot support the nomination of Ms. Gupta to serve as Associate Attorney General, and I urge all of my colleagues to oppose her nomination as well. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee. Unanimous Consent Request--S. 903 Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, last month alone, more than 100,000 migrants crossed our southern border. Our ports of entry are overrun; holding facilities are packed; and, yes, our Border Patrol agents are absolutely exhausted. They are exhausted. This isn't just a logistical challenge; it is a tragedy made worse by the Biden administration's disastrous open borders policies. The crisis is escalating, especially for the tens of thousands of children who have arrived in this country very much alone. Unaccompanied minors accounted for nearly 10 percent of all migrants who crossed our border last month. That is roughly 10,000 children a month walking into chaos. Anyone paying a bit of attention knows what is going on here. Customs and Border Protection has been sounding the alarm on the connection between children and human trafficking for years. The coyotes, the cartels, and the gangs use children as drug mules. They use them as sex slaves. If you don't believe me, ask anyone with the CBP why they administer pregnancy tests to little girls as young as 13 as soon as they arrive at the border. This is a heartbreaking situation. These children are living in hell, and it is getting worse. False claims of family ties have fueled a rise in fraudulent asylum claims and in human trafficking. Adult migrants are making arrangements with cartels and smugglers to borrow children. They claim kinship and use that relationship to bolster a fraudulent asylum claim. And what do they do when they have gotten what they want? They send the child back across the border to start the entire nightmarish process with another stranger. That is correct. This is called child recycling, but I think ``recycling'' is an odd choice of words to describe one human being treating another human being like a piece of garbage. Again, this is heartbreaking. If you want to get an idea of how big a problem we have, consider that the Department of Homeland Security says that, over the past decade, they have seen a 1,675-percent increase in asylum cases. In 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement implemented a pilot DNA testing program to try to stop this rampant exploitation. They found that 20 percent of all kinship claims they were able to screen were lies--20 percent. This is a humanitarian crisis, an environmental crisis, and a health and safety crisis. The Biden administration has lost control of this situation, but there are things we can do right now to protect these children and put the smugglers in check. This week, I introduced the End Child Trafficking Now Act, which would require our border agents to administer DNA tests to adult migrants claiming kinship with a minor without migrants' having the legal documentation to prove it. If the adult refuses, they will be immediately deported. Furthermore, the bill mandates a 10-year penalty for all alien adults who lie about their relationship with a minor. The test is simple. It takes about 90 minutes. Ninety minutes could mean the difference between that child finding safety in the United States and that child being dragged back to a cartel. We are on pace to see 17,000 more unaccompanied minors arrive this month. ICE proved this testing strategy can help protect them. There is no valid, fact-based reason not to do it. Madam President, as if in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 903 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. Further, I ask unanimous consent that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there an objection? The Senator from California. Mr. PADILLA. Reserving the right to object, Madam President, I share my colleague's desire to prevent child trafficking. Trust me, as a parent, I know it is a laudable goal. But as drafted--as drafted--this bill would create enormous and instant chaos at airports around the country and every other port of entry. As written, it would require every foreign family who seeks admission to the United States, even just for a family vacation, to have a third party witness a test to their affiliation or else submit to a DNA test. I can't imagine any of our airports have the resources to implement this. It would simply lead to the same chaos we saw after the implementation of President Trump's Muslim ban, or worse, it would overwhelm our law enforcement officials and create bottlenecks at customs for citizens and noncitizens alike, not to mention the many legal and ethical questions as it pertains to genetic privacy and the storage of that information. I would be more than happy to sit down with my colleague from Tennessee in the context of a larger discussion about immigration reform to see how we can ensure that we include provisions to prevent child trafficking, but I don't think this bill as drafted will actually accomplish that goal, and so I object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The objection is heard. The Senator from Tennessee. Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, I think my colleague understands that this bill would apply to individuals, to adults who cannot show kinship and do not have legal documentation. We know that human trafficking, sex trafficking, and child trafficking have become a major industry. We know that child recycling is a practice that is used by the cartels. We know that they are using this to move adults into the country; thereby, this is something that would put the cartels in check and show that we are not going to stand for them recycling children, claiming kinship to children who are not theirs, and trying to move drug smugglers and cartel members into this country. Mr. PADILLA. Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll. The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll. Mr. CRUZ. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded. The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Baldwin). Without objection, it is so ordered. Unanimous Consent Request--S. 890 Mr. CRUZ. Madam President, I rise today to bring attention to the serious humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Right now, as we speak, thousands of children have entered the United States illegally and sit in crowded detention centers wrapped up in emergency blankets, hundreds, even thousands, of miles away from home. They are without their families and without their parents. Many of them have been trafficked and have been physically and sexually abused along the way. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that just last month alone, 29,792 unaccompanied children came across our border, including 2,942 children under the age of 12. All of these children came here without their parents, and they have come here in large numbers because they know that President Biden is promising them amnesty. The illegal immigrants coming across our southern border right now are not just children. President Biden's Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has said: ``We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.'' In February, more than 100,000 illegal immigrants came across our southern [[Page S1737]] border, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is 3 times the number of illegal immigrants who came through the southern border in February of 2019, and it is almost 6 times the number of illegal immigrants who came through our southern border in February of 2018. The Biden administration refuses to call this a crisis, but that is what it is. We have a humanitarian crisis, and we also have a security crisis. Of the over 100,000 illegal immigrants who came here in February, 71 percent of them are single adults, according to the Pew Research Center. The Biden administration's policy has been to welcome these illegal immigrants and to halt or slow deportations as much as possible. When Joe Biden became President, he immediately halted construction of the border wall. He ended the ``Remain in Mexico'' policy, an incredible foreign policy victory President Trump negotiated with Mexico, which stipulated that illegal immigrants from Central America crossing illegally through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States would stay in Mexico during the pendency of their proceedings. President Biden ended that, ripping apart that international agreement, and, instead, he reinstated the failed policy of catch-and-release. So now when we apprehend illegal immigrants, we let them go, including illegal immigrants who are criminals and who are convicted criminals guilty of violent crimes. President Biden's political decisions have produced a crisis and a crisis that is growing. What the Biden administration has made clear in the last 2 months is that their priority is illegal immigrants and not American citizens. That is why, in just a moment, I am going to propound a unanimous consent request that the Senate pass Kate's Law. Kate's Law is named for Kate Steinle, who was 32 years old when she was tragically killed on a San Francisco peer by an illegal immigrant who had several felony convictions and had been deported from the United States not once, not twice, not three times, not even four times. He had been deported five times. By the revolving door of our border, this violent criminal kept being deported, and he kept coming back, and he kept coming back, and he kept coming back. And beautiful Kate Steinle was shot and killed because of our broken immigration system. Kate's Law is commonsense legislation. It would amend Federal law to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for any illegal reentry offense. Kate's Law is critical to ensuring that illegal immigrants who have been deported, especially those with violent criminal records, are deterred from repeatedly entering the country illegally over and over and over again. If the illegal immigrant, violent criminal wh killed Kate Steinle had been in prison for illegally entering the United States the fifth time, Kate would still be here today. I have had the opportunity to meet Kate Steinle's family. They don't understand why our system is broken. They don't understand why we keep letting in violent, criminal, illegal aliens over and over and over again. And I will tell you, the American people--roughly 80 percent of Americans--agree with Kate's Law. This is commonsense legislation. We are about to see a Democrat object to it because today's Democratic Party doesn't care what the American people say. But if this were in the realm of sanity, Kate's Law would pass 100 to nothing. Look, we can have disagreements about legal immigration, about what the rules are, but when it comes to violent, criminal, illegal aliens who enter the country illegally over and over and over again, it ought to be real simple. We ought to be able to come together as Democrats and Republicans and say: All right, let's draw the line there. We don't need more murderers in America. I have spent a lot of time down in the valley and at the Texas border. I have spent a lot of time with agents from the Border Patrol. Tomorrow, I am going back to the border to see for myself what the conditions are like right now. I am leading a delegation of 17 other Senators, and we are going to go talk to Customs and Border Patrol agents. We are going to meet with CBP leadership. We are going to meet with law enforcement and community leaders. We are going to tour the detention facilities directly. Now, you may not see that on TV because the Biden administration is refusing to allow the press to see the facilities. For 4 years, Democrats went on and on and on about kids in cages. Now, those cages were built by Barack Obama, and they are bigger and fuller under Joe Biden. And the Biden administration doesn't want you to see the Biden cages. So they have declared a media blackout, that reporters are not allowed. The Trump administration allowed the media to go to the border. The Obama administration allowed the media to go to the border. The Bill Clinton administration allowed the media to go to the border. The George W. Bush administration allowed the media to go to the border. But Joe Biden wants to cover up the crisis that his administration has created, and it is a crisis that, sadly, Senate Democrats are complicit in creating as well. We have yet to have a single Senate Democrat willing to break with the Biden administration on the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the border. The worse it gets, the more kids who are abused, the more kids who are assaulted, the more Americans who are put at risk of COVID, and the more Americans who are put at risk of violent crime. At some point, I hope and pray we will see Senate Democrats willing to say: Enough is enough. It is time to stop being angry partisans, and it is time to come together with common sense and protect the American citizens. For that reason, as if in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on the Judiciary be discharged from further consideration of S. 890, and that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; further, I ask unanimous consent that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Mr. LUJAN. Reserving the right to object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The junior Senator from New Mexico. Mr. LUJAN. Madam President, there is not a single Democratic Senator in this body who believes that someone who commits a violent crime should not feel the full weight of the U.S. judicial system for their crimes. I hope my friend from Texas would agree with that. I don't think there is a Member in this body--Democratic, Republican, Independent, the staff--not a one. I think the same holds true for our colleagues who work just down the corridor from us in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, we must do everything in our power to make certain that those engaged in violent crimes face prosecution and feel the full weight of the law. That is not just bipartisan; that is the right thing to do. Where I disagree with my colleague is the assertion that immigrants are inherently criminal. They are not. They are people whom our kids go to school with, whom we work with, who grow our food in America, who work to prepare that food or even stock the shelves, teach in classrooms, serve in the U.S. military defending our freedoms in the United States of America. So to my friend from Texas, this seems to be a continuance of the harmful proposals from the Trump administration. I certainly think that many of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle in the U.S. Senate also disagree with the hateful pronouncements from Steve Miller. This feels like a continuance of that, to strike fear in Americans and to breed distrust in immigrants. Now, I agree with my colleague that we have to work together to stop that false narrative. This false narrative must stop because it is not contributing to fixing the broken immigration system we have in the United States. I agree with my colleague that we should come together and work in a bipartisan way to learn from one another. I am new to this Chamber, but I am not new to these challenges. I certainly hope that my colleagues who are traveling to the border-- and I commend them for doing so because this is an important conversation we should be having. I hope they travel to Matamoros. I don't know if my colleague from Texas has done that. I did. [[Page S1738]] I traveled down there with a group of colleagues. We had a chance to visit with the Border Patrol in El Paso. We had a chance to visit with Border Patrol in Antelope Wells in New Mexico and Lordsburg in New Mexico. We have had the honor of traveling down into the Rio Grande Valley, down to Brownsville. We had a chance to visit with folks on the frontlines, not just wearing the green uniform of our Border Patrol and those working with the Department of Homeland Security but those who are also providing humanitarian relief. Those camps in Matamoros that I went to, they still exist. And one of the questions that needs to be asked is, What are these kids going through? What are they thinking about to travel thousands of miles because of the concerns that they have for their own health and well- being? I hope we can have that conversation and solve this problem. So let's find a way to work together. I have said it before, and I will say it again: We need to go after criminals and felons, not children and families. In truth, I think we can get there. So as I close, I just say: Let's be a beacon of hope to the most vulnerable. Let's make sure we go after these criminals and felons, wherever they may be, and they feel the full weight of the law. But when it comes to the broken immigration system in America, let's work together to fix it. Therefore, I object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. Mr. CRUZ. Madam President. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas. Mr. CRUZ. Madam President, I appreciate the warm sentiments of the Senator from New Mexico, but the American people can distinguish the difference between talk and action. The Senator from New Mexico suggested that all Democrats support holding criminals to account. I would suggest the facts are precisely to the contrary. Just 2 weeks ago, on the floor of this body, we introduced an amendment to provide that $1,400 government stimulus checks should not go to criminals currently in prison. Every single Senate Democrat voted against that. That amendment failed by one vote. If even one Democrat had said ``OK, that is reasonable,'' it would have passed. Yesterday, I introduced multiple unanimous consent requests to stop money from going to convicted criminals in prison and to send the money instead to the Crime Victims Fund. A Democrat objected. I then said: All right, if you don't want to do all criminals, how about murderers? Can we agree, if you were convicted of homicide, if you killed somebody, let's not send you a government check; let's send it to the Crime Victims Fund? The Democrats objected. I said: All right, how about rapists? The Democrats objected. I said: How about child molesters? Surely, we can all agree child molesters are not worthy of a $1,400 taxpayer government bonus given by the Democrats. The Democrats objected. So with all due respect to my friend from New Mexico, it is not the case that Democrats support holding prisoners to account. Today, in the Rules Committee, the Democrats are pushing forward an election bill, the Corrupt Politicians Act, which would allow every felon in America who has been released from prison to vote. It would allow murderers to vote, rapists to vote, child molesters to vote. So it is not the case that Democrats are willing to stand up to violent crime. Now, there are a couple of things that the Senator from New Mexico said that I wrote down. He said the only thing he disagreed with was ``the assertion that immigrants are inherently criminal.'' Well, I challenge anyone watching this exchange to read the transcript. I am glad he disagrees with that assertion. That assertion never came from my mouth. I am the son of an immigrant who came from Cuba. We are a nation of immigrants. I am not remotely asserting that immigrants are inherently criminal. There is a right way to come, and that is to come legally. But case law isn't about immigrants generally; it only applies to criminals. It is immigrants that have a criminal conviction, that have an aggravated felony conviction. So when my friend from New Mexico says that we need to focus on felons--and he closed his remarks with the following: ``We need to go after criminals and felons, not children and families''--the case law does exactly that. If the Senator from New Mexico believes the words he said, the next words out of his mouth would not have been ``I object.'' By virtue of objecting, he prevented us from, in a bipartisan way, going after criminals and felons. Case law is targeted at those criminals and felons. It is not targeted at kids; it is targeted at criminals and felons. I would ask the Senator from New Mexico and every Senate Democrat: What would you say to Kate Steinle's family? I have heard them testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I have visited with them personally. If you were looking them in the eyes, what would you say to a system where Kate Steinle's murderer was deported five times--multiple criminal convictions? I am the original author of Kate's Law. We have voted on this on the Senate floo multiple times. Every time we have voted, every single Democratic Senator has voted against Kate's Law. You don't get to vote against Kate's Law, you don't get to vote against stopping violent criminals from repeatedly entering the country illegally, and then claim you are against violent criminals repeatedly entering the country illegally. Actions mean more than words, and, unfortunately, the actions of today's Democratic Party are extreme and out of touch with the American people we were elected to represent. I yield the floor. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The junior Senator from Florida. Unanimous Consent Request--S. 948 Mr. SCOTT of Florida. Madam President, I rise today to discuss another issue in the Democrats' massive COVID spending bill that we need to fix. My Democratic colleagues want to keep spending into oblivion, taking our national debt to $30 trillion. This would be bad enough on its own, but tucked into the bloated spending package were new tax hikes on self-employed individuals. President Biden and the Democrats didn't talk about it, and they certainly aren't talking about it as they travel the Nation to brag about their bad bill. Democrats are quietly raising taxes, hoping the American people don't notice. The $1.9 trillion so-called American Rescue Plan Act, of which less than 10 percent went to actually help fight COVID and 1 percent to vaccines, had several tax increases and burdensome reporting requirements, including one that significantly impacts the gig workers--those who have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Starting in 2022, this bill requires many contractors with gig economy companies like Uber, DoorDash, Airbnb, and Lyft to file 1099 forms when they previously would not have. The new requirement dramatically lowers the annual 1099 reporting threshold from $20,000 and 200 transactions to just $600 and eliminates the transaction minimum. In late February, before the Democrats rushed their spending bill through Congress on a purely partisan basis, a coalition of groups wrote to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, asking that this onerous new provision, which has nothing to do with addressing the coronavirus crisis, be removed or at least reconsidered. The letter was signed by groups such as the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, the National Asian American Chamber of Commerce, National Association for the Self-Employed, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Women Business Owners. After receiving such a letter, one would think that Democrats would want to reconsider. Raising taxes and reporting requirements in the midst of a pandemic? This is never good policy, but I can't think of any worse timing. Of course, Democrats kept the provision buried deep within the bill, hoping the American public wouldn't notice. The Democrats' new reporting requirements are effectively a tax hike and will ultimately hurt low- and middle-income contractors, the self- employed, and freelancers, many of whom have been devastated by the pandemic, [[Page S1739]] while Federal and State Governments will collect billions more in income tax revenue. My Democratic colleagues want the American public to believe this is about catching tax cheats. And, to be clear, any attempt to evade taxes and defraud the public by not following the law should be condemned, and Congress should appropriately address it. However, a massive new reporting requirement of gig workers, many just trying to make ends meet in the midst of this pandemic, is not about catching tax fraud. It is about punishing the self-employed and raising revenues for the Democrats' massive spending plans. It wasn't that long ago that President Biden promised that he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000. Obviously, that was not true. But this isn't the first time Democrats have tried to quietly increase taxes and saddle the self-employed with new requirements like this. They did it with ObamaCare when they required businesses to send 1099 forms for all purchases of goods and services over $600 annually. They quickly learned how unpopular and harmful this provision was, and they quickly repealed it. The Obama administration even praised the repeal as a ``big win'' for the self-employed. I guess some never learn. What I am proposing is very simple. It is what the Democrats supported in 2011 when they repealed this bad tax increase in ObamaCare. Today, I want to remove this new reporting requirement and simply reinstate the previous law back into U.S. code. Increasing reporting requirements on our gig workers will create new and unexpected challenges for independent, self-employed workers and entrepreneurs, who are already facing an incredible burden created by the coronavirus. Increasing costs and regulations on already struggling Americans is wrong, and I hope all of my colleagues will join me today and repeal this bad policy. Madam President, as if in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 948, introduced earlier today. I further ask that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Mr. WYDEN. Reserving the right to object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The senior Senator from Oregon. Mr. WYDEN. Madam President, the Senator from Florida claims to be looking out for gig workers and freelancers. The reality is very different. What is in the bill, which the Senator from Florida apparently opposes, is a way to make sure that these workers can get the information they need to help meet their existing tax obligations. Without this information, for example, workers may lose out on benefits that would help them pay rent and buy groceries. They could inadvertently lose out on important tax benefits, like the earned income tax credit. The rescue plan, of course, expands the earned tax credit. We want to make sure that every eligible worker can get that financial help. Finally, without reporting, workers might jeopardize the size of their future Social Security benefits, putting their retirement security at risk. So what the Senator from Florida is up to here would deprive American entrepreneurs of the information they need to keep business records, comply with tax requirements, and claim important Federal benefits. For these reasons, I strongly object to this request for unanimous consent. I yield the floor. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. The junior Senator from Florida. Mr. SCOTT of Florida. Madam President, that sounded good, but this is clearly a tax increase. It is a massive tax increase, and it is a massive new reporting requirement on already struggling Americans. Our focus ought to be on helping support American workers, especially these gig economy workers who have been hurt so badly. I am disappointed my colleague wants to increase costs and regulations on American families. What is strange is that my colleague from Oregon voted to repeal this bad provision when Democrats added it to ObamaCare. So what is crazy is, why is he OK today with raising taxes on the American people now? This is all part of the Democrats' tax-and-spend agenda, and it is just the beginning. Let's remember, with the last spending bill the Democrats passed, we will have $30 trillion of debt. As Governor of Florida, I worked so that we cut taxes 100 times, and we paid off a third of our State debt. We have to think that way here. How can we grow this economy and reduce the costs for Americans, not increase the costs to Americans? These bad types of policies will ruin our economy and a shot at the American dream, which we all believe in. I am going to fight every day to get the government out of the way and make sure that doesn't happen. I yield the floor. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The junior Senator from Florida. Mr. SCOTT of Florida. I suggest the absence of a quorum. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll. The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll. Mr. LEE. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Mr. LEE. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that at the conclusion of my remarks, I be allowed to present an excerpt of my speech in Spanish. I will provide transcripts both in English and in Spanish of those paragraphs. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Unanimous Consent Request--S. 884 Mr. LEE. Madam President, I have read the accounts and so have many of you. A young mother from Honduras, two young sisters from Guatemala, a 6-year-old child from El Salvador--they were all told by a local cartel that, for a price, a better life awaits them in America. They are told, as evidenced by those chanting ``Biden, Biden'' at the border, that this new President has opened the borders and that amnesty is imminent, so get in while you can. These vulnerable people are flocking to smugglers and violent criminals and paying them all that they have for their chance to get in while they can. In the last month, traffickers have allegedly made as much as $14 million a week smuggling men, women, and children across the border. Once indebted to cartels and coyotes, the price these vulnerable people pay is far more costly than money. According to media reports, men are used as slaves; women are raped endlessly. In fact, one-third of the women making their way to the border are reportedly sexually assaulted, and 68 percent of the people coming across the border are physically assaulted. Children are rented, trafficked, and ``recycled,'' as they put it, forced to pose as the child of one illegal immigrant after another to activate the so-called Flores get-out-of-jail-free card. One former Border Patrol agent told me that the smugglers prefer to use babies because they are unable to tell Border Patrol agents that these are not, in fact, their parents. What of those who escape the clutches of the cartels? Well, estimates of how many children are currently in Customs and Border Patrol custody vary from more than 4,000 children to well over 15,000. Thousands of these children are being held, packed into housing facilities, for well over the 72-hour limit required by Flores--and with no end in sight. The Biden administration is doing all it can to hide the humanitarian crisis created by its own immigration policies--a disaster that Secretary Mayorkas refuses to acknowledge as a crisis. It denied media access and appears to be enforcing an unofficial gag order on Border Patrol agents. Journalists have not been permitted inside the detention facilities since President Biden took office. Now, it shouldn't be a surprise to any of us that the Biden administration's open border policies have resulted in this overwhelming crisis--and a crisis it is. This is what then-Candidate Biden promised us in the very first [[Page S1740]] Democratic Presidential primary debate. He promised us that when he became President, there would be immediate surges along the border. Unfortunately, in this case, he has delivered exactly what he promised. How exactly did he deliver? Well, first, he made it known that once he was elected, the border would be open for business. Then he reversed course on a number of Trump-era commonsense immigration policies. This incentivized vulnerable people to entrust their lives and the lives of their children to dangerous coyotes and cartels. What are these policies? The safe third country policy, implemented by the Trump administration, requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive. President Biden has moved to repeal that rule. The expansion of the Flores Settlement agreement also creates perverse incentives in our immigration law. Flores is about protecting children, and yet, in the application of the expansion, we have put children in even greater danger of becoming victims of trafficking and cartel manipulation. The Biden policy of keeping all unaccompanied alien minors in the United States, as my fellow Senator from Utah has pointed out, actually incentivizes parents to separate themselves from their children by entrusting their children to a cartel or coyote to bring them to the United States for their chance at amnesty. By moving to loosen the requirements of asylum and expand its application, President Biden has invited immigrants, who could find safety in other regions of their own country or an adjacent country, to make the dangerous journey to the United States. What we need are clear requirements to preserve the opportunities for asylum for those who need it the most. America is the land to which those seeking a better life look for relief, and we should provide relief where we can. We also have a duty to protect our border, our citizens, and our laws, our national interests. At the very least, we have a duty to eliminate policies that empower cartels and coyotes to exploit women and children. We must stop incentivizing vulnerable people to make a journey that will very rarely lead to the outcome they desire. To this end, and together with Congressman Andy Biggs and several of my fellow Senators, I have introduced the Stopping Border Surges Act to address some of the more egregious loopholes in our immigration laws. This bill remedies the expansion of the Flores Settlement agreement that puts so many children in danger by requiring the release of minors with any adult claiming to be the child's parent. It provides expedited processing for unaccompanied minors from all countries--processes currently available only to children from Mexico and Canada. Immediate processing will blunt the incentive for parents to send their children on this dangerous journey alone. In an effort to end the trafficking of children by cartels, it strengthens protections for children released to adults within the United States. It tightens the asylum process so that we can better serve those who genuinely need the protections we can offer, and it incentivizes immigrants to enter our country through official ports of entry. This bill offers a new commonsense series of reforms that will help stem the flood of immigrants at our border and free vulnerable women and children from the clutches of the cartels and of the coyotes. For that reason, I urge all of my colleagues to support it, to join it, and to vote for it. Now, having previously received consent, I would like to conclude these remarks in Spanish, remarks directed specifically to those who might be considering making the dangerous, perilous journey to the southern border of the United States before sending their families. (The English translation of the statement made in Spanish is as follows:) Please do not send your wives and daughters on this journey only to be sexually assaulted by the coyotes and cartels. We hear story after story of smugglers kidnapping women and children and holding them hostage even after they cross our border. In the year 2019, the New York Times documented dozens of cases of these women. This is just one of those stories involving Melvin, a 36-year old mother of three from Guatemala: For weeks in that locked room, the men she had paid to get her safely to the United States drugged her with pills and cocaine, refusing to let her out even to bathe. ``I think that since they put me in that room, they killed me,'' she said. ``They raped us so many times they didn't see us as human beings anymore.'' Please, listen to Melvin's story. Do not make that the story of your family. Madam President, as if in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 884; that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; I further ask unanimous consent that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Mr. DURBIN. Reserving the right to object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The senior Senator from Illinois. Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, we face a challenge at the border; there is no question about it. It really strikes me as strange--maybe unusual--for Members of the Senate from the other side of the aisle to come and yearn for those wonderful days of the Trump administration when it came to the issue of immigration and border policy. Remember when we had the longest government shutdown in history, paralyzing immigration courts and other Agencies? It was, of course, a shutdown that was sanctioned by the President of the United States over his immigration demands. Under President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, incidentally, experienced unprecedented leadership problems. The Department of Homeland Security lurched from one Secretary or Acting Secretary to the next. Listen to this: There were six different Secretaries in that Agency in 4 years, only two Senate-confirmed--more Agency heads in the last 4 years under President Trump than in the 13- year history of the Department of Homeland Security prior to President Trump. They couldn't keep anybody on the job. They quit. They were fired. Nobody could agree with this President's bizarre ideas on what to do with immigration. Are we longing for a return to those days? President Trump unlawfully diverted billions of dollars in Department of Defense funds to build a wasteful, ineffective border wall, which was supposed to be paid for by the Mexicans, if I remember, and then he created a humanitarian crisis at the border with a policy known as zero tolerance--zero tolerance. I remember when Attorney General Sessions came before the American people and actually quoted the Bible to justify the forcible removal of infants, toddlers, and children from their parents' arms. Over 2,200 children were physically separated from their parents as part of the zero tolerance policy. It wasn't until a Federal court judge in Southern California finally said to the Trump administration, ``I demand that you account for these children, and I demand that you reunite them with their parents'' that they set out to do it. Today, years later, years after zero tolerance, there are still hundreds of children separated at that time who have never been reunited with their parents. Do we want to return to those wonderful days of the Trump administration immigration policy? I don't think so. Children in cages, children lost, adrift on the bureaucratic sea, doesn't speak well of America's values. President Trump tried to end asylum protections for children and other vulnerable migrants. He cut aid to Central America, directly harming efforts to fight poverty and violence in the region. More refugees were driven to our border because the President shut down legal avenues for immigration and blocked all assistance to stabilize the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Now comes the Senator from Utah--and he and I have worked on legislation together in the past. I know that we can find bipartisan solutions. I don't think this approach is one of them, but perhaps it is the beginning of a conversation. The President's former Republican allies in Congress claim that the real cause, the real problem behind immigration policy is humanitarian protection for children. They claim that we [[Page S1741]] can protect children by overturning these humanitarian protections, either that have been entered into in a consent decree in court or by law, and subjecting children at the border to indefinite detention and deportation without adequate due process. But there is no evidence that this will deter desperate families from fleeing to our border. There is one thing the Senator from Utah and I certainly agree on. Many of these children and families are being horribly, horribly exploited by coyotes and kidnappers and very bad people. Many of these people and their children are suffering in unimaginable ways because of this. I renew the plea that has been given across Central America by this administration: Don't send your people to our border. Don't send your children to our border. It is not something we should encourage under the circumstances. It has to be orderly, and this is not in many respects. There is no evidence that ending this humanitarian protection for children will deter desperate families fleeing to our border. The bill before us today includes no assurances that children will be humanely treated or that they will be safe from violence once they are deported. This notion that once these children come across the border or are taken into custody by the U.S. Government, that sometime--2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks--later they are turned loose again does not dispense our moral obligation. We want these children to be safe, and that is what the laws are, the Flores decision and others. This bill does nothing to address root causes that are causing migrants to flee the Northern Triangle in record numbers. If people were migrating because of so-called legal loopholes, they would be coming to our southern border from all over the region. Instead, the vast majority come from three countries: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Those countries have the highest homicide rates, some of them, in the world, and girls face a constant threat of sexual violence with little prosecution from local authorities. We are doing desperate things because of the desperate situations in these countries. We are told by the Senator that we have to overturn the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush. But the TVPRA ensures that the United States meets its international obligations to protect unaccompanied children seeking safe haven in our country. It was a response to bipartisan concern that children apprehended by the Border Patrol were being returned to countries where they might be exploited even more. Under TVPRA, unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services and placed in deportation proceedings, which gives them a chance to finally make their case to a judge. Consider Samuel and Amelie, siblings ages 3 and 6, from Honduras. They arrived in the United States traumatized, ages 3 and 6. They said nothing--silent. After being transferred to HHS, Amelie revealed that both children had been raped by drug cartel members. Without TVPRA protection, Samuel and Amelie would have been returned to Honduras and almost certain further exploitation. Democrats are trying to work on a bipartisan repair of this immigration system. It is long overdue. In 2019, after President Trump finally agreed to end the longest government shutdown in history, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that included $414 million for humanitarian assistance at the border and then passed an emergency supplemental for $4.6 billion of additional funding to alleviate overcrowding in detention facilities. In 2018, Senate Democrats supported a bipartisan agreement, including robust border security funding and dozens of provisions to strengthen border security, but President Trump threatened to veto it and, instead, pushed for his hardline plan with the largest cut in legal immigration in almost a century. When it comes to refugees, after World War II, when the United States sadly turned away hundreds and thousands of ultimate victims of the Holocaust and would not accept their refugee status, we set out to prove to the world that we had learned a valuable lesson, and we led the world in offering refugee status until President Trump, who brought the numbers down to record low levels. That does not speak well for the United States, or it shouldn't be a source of pride for anyone reflecting this administration. We need comprehensive immigration reform. I support it. Eight years ago, in 2013, I was part of the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of four Republican and four Democratic Senators. We produced comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate 68 to 32. The Senator from Utah voted against it. Unfortunately, Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives refused to consider it. So here is my invitation to the Senator from Utah and to everyone else interested. Let us sit down again and write that bill. Let's do it in a fashion that really does bring reform to our system. I just talked at a bipartisan meeting on the subject earlier. One of the Senators from a border State said: People in my State don't expect the Federal Government to do anything because it has been so many years since they have done anything. It is time for us to prove them wrong. We have the authority. We have the opportunity. We have the challenge. Making this sort of request on the floor, I know, is symbolic, but I have to say that it is not the symbolism we should follow, and I object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. The senior Senator from Utah. Mr. LEE. Madam President, I appreciate the sentiment expressed by my friend, my distinguished colleague, the senior Senator from Illinois, particularly when he expressed the desire no longer to have people send their children on the long, perilous journey from Central America to the United States. On that, he and I certainly agree, just as we have agreed on a number of other issues over the years. I do think it is regrettable that we are not able to reach this agreement today. This is something we ought to be able to solve right here, right now. This is a very dire set of circumstances. We have to remember what we are talking about is dealing with the Flores agreement. We are in a position where so many of the children coming up through these caravans are in danger because we have in place policies that require the release of minors to any adult claiming to be the child's parent. We ought to have expedited processing requirements for unaccompanied minors, just as we have in place already for unaccompanied minors coming from Mexico and coming from Canada. It makes me wonder: What is it about children from Central American countries--from any country other than Canada and Mexico--that makes them undeserving of that same expedited processing requirement? This is something we need to do. Yes, I understand that our immigration system is a mess and needs reform, but I don't understand why it is that anyone would want to accept the default assumption that we can't fix anything with immigration; we can't even fix this problem subjecting these unaccompanied minors from Central American countries, including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Why can't we give them any relief here until such time as we can come up with a comprehensive immigration reform proposal? It is disappointing to me that we can't do that today. We will keep trying, keep moving on this effort. This is important. Look, regardless of where one stands politically, what party one belongs to, I don't think it is too much to ask to suggest that we shouldn't give kids over to anyone claiming to be their parent without proof, without processes to make sure that is a safe person. We wouldn't want our own children treated that way. We shouldn't treat them that way. Thank you. The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Hassan). The Senator from Illinois.