- Constituent Services
- Legislative Resources
- Press Shop
- About Jeff
- Strategy Sessions
- Contact Jeff
The Standing Rules of the Senate are drafted to encourage vigorous public debate on our nation’s most important issues. Indeed, the U.S. Senate is often referred to as “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” The Rules allow any Senator to seek recognition from the Chair at any time and, absent a temporary agreement to the contrary, to speak without interruption so long as he or she wishes. Debating important questions before the Senate is one way a Senator can highlight an issue, advocate for a change in policy, or voice his or her opinion on pending legislation.
Senate debate occurs in public, and is televised on CSPAN and transcribed in the Congressional Record. For your convenience, I post transcripts of my Senate floor speeches on this site for your review. I hope you find them informative and useful. My web site also makes available information on my voting record and legislation that I have sponsored in the Senate.
Mr. SESSIONS. Madam President, I offered an amendment to the Homeland Security legislation that is before us which would make that system permanent, and make its use mandatory for contractors that do business with the U.S. Government.
Essentially, employers all over America are accessing the E-Verify online system that allows them to have an instant check to determine whether the person who has applied for employment with them is legally in the country. They simply check their Social Security number and other data against the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases. When the system determines a person is not here legally, employers don't hire them. Over 96 percent of the people are cleared automatically when a business checks. Of the remaining 3.9 percent of queries with an initial mismatch, only .37 percent of those were later determined to be work authorized. A certain percent of applicants are found to be here illegally, and they should not get a job or any taxpayers' money from a part of the stimulus package. Stimulus funds were set aside to help us reduce our unemployment rate in this country and to hire American workers. The prospect of jobs should not be a magnet to draw more illegal workers into the country.
The first thing you do, if you have an immigration problem, is stop rewarding those who break the law. One of the things you do not do is reward people who come illegally with jobs. You do not have to arrest them or do anything unkind. You simply do not hire them, especially with taxpayers' money that is designed to create American jobs.
This has been a matter we have talked about for some time. It is very important in this time of economic slowdown because the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for June, just a week or so ago, had jumped to 9.5 percent, 467,000 jobs lost, the highest unemployment rate in 25 years. We have massive job losses. A lot of good people are out of work, they need work and are willing to work.
E-Verify is not a perfect system. People can find ways beat it, no doubt, but it actually works. One study by the Heritage Foundation concluded that as much as 13 percent of the jobs created under the stimulus plan would go to people illegally in the country the way we were operating. By utilizing the E-Verify system, I have no doubt we could drop that percentage dramatically. I am very concerned about it. I am a bit baffled by the difficulty we have had in moving forward with this amendment.
I will say that two bits of progress--small progress, I know--have occurred. The House Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010 has come over to the Senate, and it includes a 2-year extension of E-Verify. That is better than letting it expire. In addition, the Senate version of the bill includes a generous 3-year extension of this proven system. I have to say that is OK, but neither bill has any language that would make this system permanent. It leaves it on very shaky ground, making businesses that might voluntarily want to utilize it wonder if it really is the policy of our country to use it. Madam President, over 1,000 businesses a week are now voluntarily signing up to use the system.
Failing to make the system permanent also raises questions about the sincerity of our commitment. More significantly, neither one of the bills has any language that says that government contractors, people who are doing work for the U.S. Government, paid for by us, the taxpayers, must use this system. I ask, Why not? What possible, justifiable, rational reason can we give to pass legislation designed to help deal with this recession, to try to create American jobs and not make sure federal contractors only hire lawful workers? What basis could we utilize to say that those contractors should not at least take about 2 minutes--that is about all it takes to punch in a Social Security number into the system--to see whether a person applying for a job is legally in the country.
There is a long history on this amendment. For some reason, interest groups have been lobbying against permanent authorization and mandating use of E-Verify by federal contractors. Certain business groups oppose this amendment. It scares them. Why? I suggest there is only one logical conclusion: They like the idea of hiring illegal workers. But how can we as Members of the Senate representing the American taxpayers possibly justify using their money that is designed to create jobs for American citizens to hire people who are here illegally, creating an even greater magnet to attract more people to come into our country illegally?
I have offered this amendment to the appropriations bill to ensure this successful program be made permanent. And, of course, any time in the future if it ceases to be practical, we could end it. But this amendment would make it permanent, sending a signal--that is part of what we want to do--and it would also be mandatory for government contractors. If a Federal contractor gets a contract to do work, at
least they ought to determine whether a worker is legally in the country before they hire them. I don't think that is too much to ask, and I cannot imagine why anyone would oppose it. But I understand, once again, we are going to have objections.
It is working, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently said this in response to a question I asked:
She is talking about the Obama administration--
strongly supports E-Verify as a cornerstone of work site enforcement and will work to continue to improve the program to ensure it is the best tool to prevent and deter the hiring of persons who are not authorized to work in the United States.
I think that is a pretty good affirmation of it. In fact, that has been a known reality for years. We have known this system has worked for years, but we have had people say: Oh, it is a bureaucratic nightmare. Why do businesses voluntarily sign up to use it, then? They say some people might be held up in employment. Under the bill, if something in the system raises questions about your employability, the person can still be hired while the problem is worked out. What we found is that 96 percent of the people are cleared immediately and only a very small number have turned out to have some sort of mistake in their situation. It is just not a practical objection, in my view.
I understand that some are claiming--my colleagues on the other side of the aisle--that it looks as if Secretary Napolitano will announce something with regard to federal contractors soon, maybe even tomorrow. That would be good. It would be a Presidential directive that could, in the short run, solve this problem. But we have heard that talk before.
President Bush finally, after being subjected to some criticism about this, issued Executive Order 12989 last June. That order mandated the use of the E-Verify system for Federal contractors and subcontractors and was supposed to take effect in January of this year. President Obama came in, as he has the power to do, and he delayed implementation of the order. Indeed, we have had four delays to date in implementing this Executive Order. The first was when President Obama said that the January 28 date was not appropriate. He put it off to February 20 and said that on February 20, businesses that get government contracts have to use the system. Then a few weeks later, the implementation was pushed back to May 21. Before May 21 got here, they pushed it back to June 30. A few weeks ago, we heard it would not be implemented until some time in September. And now we are hearing that they may implement it soon.
E-Verify is certainly one of the most effective tools we have, as the Secretary herself has stated. Why are we not moving forward with making it permanent, I ask. I ask Members of Congress in the House and in the Senate, why don't we play a role in this? Why leave it totally up to the President, who is subjected to all kinds of political and corporate lobbying to not do this program? Why don't we as a Senate just pass it, as we do so many other things, and make it law? If Secretary Napolitano plans to do this in the future, it wouldn't conflict with anything she planned to do. If they were not going to do it, it would be mandated and it would come into effect.
We have to be aware that we have had a lot of obstacles before with the implementation with this system and it has not gone forward in an effective way. I don't think we should wait any longer. Jobs are being lost every single day. They are being lost in significant numbers to people illegally in our country.
T.J. Bonner, the head of the Border Patrol Union, told us most passionately at a Judiciary Committee hearing a number of years ago that jobs are the magnet. If you can stop the magnet, the number of people they have to deal with at the border can be reduced. It sends a signal that the days of open borders and the ability to get a job even if you are illegally here are past. That is the way you do things and make it work. It is all part of a plan to send a message to the world that we are not open for illegality. Under E-Verify nobody is arrested, nobody is captured and taken to be deported. We just simply are taking a reasonable step to reduce the magnet of jobs from taxpayers' money, not private businesses, just government businesses and government contractors. The Federal Government uses it today in its hiring process.
I was surprised to hear one of my Democratic colleagues asking that we not support this amendment, saying that we should have a biometric employment identification database and that he cannot support E-Verify because it is not strong enough. That was a remarkable thing. Anyone who has studied the history of this program has good reason to wonder about the sincerity of people who object because E-Verify is not tough enough. The reason people are objecting is because it works. That is why the immigrant advocacy groups and the business crowd object to it. That is why. There may be better systems, but this one has been up and running for some time and been incredibly successful.
It was contended that I.D. thieves can defeat the system. I suspect that is so. But does that mean the system has to be perfect before we use it? That argument ignores the fact that this bill appropriates a significant amount of extra funds to assist the Department of Homeland Security's continuing effort to reinforce the system's antifraud protections. We have money in this legislation to try to eliminate the ability of people to defeat the system by fraud.
I don't think the argument can rationally be made that extending it would be ``a waste of taxpayers' money.'' We already have the system up and running. In reality, it is not going to cost any more money to have people use it. The system is up and working. I guess if people want to use that as an excuse to vote against the amendment, they can, but it makes little sense to me.
I would like to see an enhanced biometric system. It is absolutely something that can work. We need to do that. There are a lot of things we can do this very day, but you have to admit, if we cannot get the votes to just maintain the E-Verify system, it looks as if we may have even more difficulties with an advanced system.
I won't go on at length about this anymore. We have debated it before. Earlier this year on the stimulus bill, I offered an amendment to make E-Verify apply to the stimulus bill and the people who got government contracts would have to use it. The House put that in their bill. I kept getting objection from the Democratic leadership to my amendment. I couldn't understand why.
And then I began to think about it, and it dawned on me what was happening. If my amendment were to pass and the language was in the House bill, unless real skullduggery were to occur, that language should be in the final bill. But if they could keep the language out of the Senate bill, even though the House had put the language in their bill by an overwhelming vote, they could take it out in conference when they meet in secret to deal with the conflicts between the House bill and the Senate bill. So I brought it up three or four times, and every time I tried to get a vote, it was blocked.
Then, finally, the bill passed without my amendment having passed. And do you know what happened? When they met in secret, in conference, the House leadership--the Speaker and her team--receded to the Senate bill, agreed to eliminate their language, and therefore the language wasn't in the bill. And what happened politically? All the House Members, Republicans and Democrats, could say: I voted for E-Verify. And the Senate Members, when hearing complaints, could say: Well, I would have voted for it if it had come up. It just never came up.
See, this was the plan all along. I just have to tell you what the truth is and how this happened and what is at work out there.
So I hope Secretary Napolitano will do what she can do and the President will do what he can do and order that this system be mandatory for government contractors and to permanently authorize it. But I don't see any reason in the world why we should wait on that. What we should do as a Congress, if we believe in what we say about our goal to eliminate the surge of illegal immigration and trying to protect American jobs at this time of economic recession, is we ought to vote for the amendment. What harm can there be?
So I urge my colleagues to do the right thing on this amendment and vote for it. I am baffled as to why there would be hesitation about it. I think if people look at it, it is very simple. The E-Verify system is up and running. The government employment offices use it before they hire anybody for the government. Thousands of businesses are using it every day. Over 130,000 employers are currently enrolled in the program, and about a thousand businesses a week are signing up to use it. It protects them, in a way. If somebody says: You knowingly hired illegal workers, they can say: I checked and they had a good I.D. and a good name, and I did my best. And that will protect them from complaints against them. Most employers want to do the right thing. They do not want to hire people who are not lawfully in the country. So that is why it is working even as a voluntary program. We are not hearing complaints about it. It is not violating people's civil rights. It is working in a healthy way.
All we need to do now is make this system permanent, not keep leaving it out here in limbo. And secondly, let's make sure it applies to people who not only go directly to work for the U.S. Government but for contractors who do work for the government, people who are getting money under the stimulus bill, which was designed to create jobs for American citizens.
I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.
Madam President, 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. BROWN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.