STATEMENT NOMINEE TO BE COMMISSIONER BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY JULY 18, 2001
NOMINEE TO BE COMMISSIONER
THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
JULY 18, 2001
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
It is an honor to appear before you today as President Bush’s nominee for the position of Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization. I am grateful for the confidence that the President and the Attorney General have expressed in me by nominating me to this position.
The task that I will be undertaking, should the Senate confirm me, is important to each of us as citizens and to those who yearn for the freedom and opportunity offered by this great nation. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve and I am energized by the challenge before me.
I hope you will indulge me for a moment as I express my gratitude for the honor and privilege that the Senate has bestowed upon me for the past two and one-half years in allowing me to serve as your Sergeant at Arms. It has been a fascinating and historic experience. But for all those unique experiences, what I will take with me are the warm friendships that I have been privileged to form with Members and staff of both parties and many ideologies. I will miss the daily contact, but I won’t be that far away should you choose to confirm me for this position.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to tell you, this Committee and the Senate what you can expect from me. First and foremost, you will have my full cooperation with every member of Congress, regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Further, I will be particularly attuned to the concerns of the various committees of jurisdiction. I will endeavor to always be forthright, truthful and honest in my dealings with you, with the dedicated employees of the INS and with the American people.
That being laid upon the record, I want to give you a flavor of my philosophy and a brief overview of some of the goals I hope to achieve, if confirmed. I will also endeavor to describe my operating style, although most of you already have seen it in action. Finally, I would like to conclude with a personal note.
The Declaration of Independence very simply and elegantly states that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Those words are deeply imbedded in my mind and in my heart.
The drafters of the Declaration of Independence did not say that all United States citizens are created equal or that all United States citizens plus other specifically described individuals or groups are created equal—they declared that “all Men are created equal”. That principle, and those that I derive from my own religious beliefs and personal values system, provide the foundation for my views on immigration and many other issues. I hasten to add that I believe that the drafters included all of mankind in the term “Men”.
Notwithstanding the problems that we face in this country involving race relations, opportunities denied, or unequal treatment on the basis of economic or social status, I still believe that the United States is that shining city on the hill, casting a beacon of light and hope for all the world to see and follow. We can, and we must, do better in addressing our internal social and economic ills. But we are, and I hope always will be, a living symbol of religious, political and economic freedom and opportunity. That makes us a magnet for those who share our dreams and hopes.
My greatest hope is that there will be a day when all nations achieve democracy, freedom, opportunity and prosperity and, therefore, people no longer will need to search for a better life elsewhere. My greatest fear is that the day will come when America loses those cherished qualities I just described and consequently ceases to be a magnet for the tired, the poor, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, the wretched refuse of teeming shores, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. What a crime it would be if in our fervor to protect our “way of life,” we lose the very things that have made and continue to make that way of life possible.
We should remember that a large number of the people who come to our shores are economic refugees and are not here for a free ride. They provide important services, labor and ideas that keep our economy strong and vibrant. They are the analog to the 19th century American pioneers that we so revere. They are here to take risks and work hard. They remind those of us who have lost a little of that pioneer spirit that opportunity still abounds. They refresh and in fact, embody, the American spirit.
America’s strength is found in its religious, cultural, racial, ethnic and intellectual diversity, and in our willingness to honor and celebrate that diversity. Our Constitution guarantees us the right to be different, to think differently and, within the bounds of reasonable and just laws, to act differently. The constant infusion of new immigrant blood into our society tests and strengthens our nation. Immigration is a virtue, not a distraction or a danger.
Mr. Chairman, I recognize and support the principle that every sovereign nation has a right—indeed a duty—to protect the integrity of its borders. How you carry out that duty is a measure of the character of a nation and provides a prism through which individuals and other members of the world community fashion their judgment of that nation.
If I am confirmed for this position, my primary goal will be to insure that every person who comes into contact with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, regardless of their citizenship, the circumstances of their birth or any other distinguishing characteristic, and regardless of the circumstances under which they find themselves within the ambit of the INS, will be treated with respect and dignity, and without any hint of bias or discrimination. The first impression is a lasting impression and we have only one opportunity to make a first impression—the first impression of America should be that of a compassionate, caring and open nation of opportunity.
A significant part of this goal can be achieved by providing efficient and friendly service to all who petition the INS. Even if the outcome is one that a petitioner does not like, I want his or her experience with the INS to have been satisfactory with respect to the quantity, quality and courtesy of the service provided. President Bush’s goal of a six-month standard for processing cases is appropriate and, I believe, obtainable. We will put in place processes, performance standards and accountability measures that will allow us to achieve the President’s directive.
My goal is to provide the leadership that will create an atmosphere and a culture where those who have the responsibility for enforcing our immigration laws do so in a vigorous, measured, consistent, even-handed and fair manner. Where force is required, only the minimum amount necessary to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective will be tolerated.
I will encourage the employment of common sense, compassion and good judgment in the decision-making process at every level, particularly those areas where the INS has wide discretion. I believe that the vast majority of INS employees today are exercising that good judgment. But there are instances where common sense has not prevailed or discretion has been abused. We will not tolerate such actions or conduct.
I want to insure that we detain only those persons who clearly must be detained by mandate of law or that should be detained, consistent with due process requirements, for the protection of society. Those persons who are detained must be free of abuse, harassment or any other form of substandard or discriminatory treatment. I regard the detention issue as a critical issue, particularly as it pertains to children and families. I pledge to you that I will work with you to guarantee that the most vulnerable of immigrants, especially children, are treated with particular care.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I am committed to accomplishing a rational restructuring of the INS in order to deliver the services required of the agency in the most efficient, consistent and courteous manner. Although I have not arrived at any firm conclusions as to the form or manner of the restructuring, I am convinced that an overhaul is needed.
I want to emphasize what I stated at the outset—if confirmed, I intend to carry out my duties as Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization in a non-partisan, even-handed and fair manner. I have attempted, and I hope succeeded, to follow that path as Sergeant at Arms and I will endeavor to carry on in the same manner. Immigration is not and should not be a partisan issue—it is a truly American issue.
You all know me fairly well, and you know that I believe in following and enforcing the rules. You can rest assured that I will do my best to execute the laws as enacted by Congress and interpreted by the Courts. Where I have discretion, I will always endeavor to exercise it in a fair, compassionate and common sense manner.
I give you fair warning that I will be a strong advocate for the almost 33,000 employees of the INS. I have gotten to know a few of those employees in the past few weeks and I am impressed with their dedication, hard work, loyalty and professionalism. Because of some adverse publicity and harsh criticism over a sustained period of time, INS employees have been painted with a very broad brush. One would think that everyone and everything is dysfunctional. I do not believe it and neither should you.
I am firmly convinced that the vast majority of INS employees are just like those I have met in the past few weeks—dedicated, hardworking, loyal and professional. What the organization needs are leadership, support, a clearer sense of direction, and recognition that the organization has experienced explosive growth in the past few years. Where we lack resources to do the job, you can be assured that I will be on the Hill asking for your support. Where our existing resources are not properly aligned or not properly managed, we will see to it that American taxpayers receive their money’s worth. INS employees can expect me to do my best to help create an atmosphere where performance, integrity, creativity and risk-taking are valued. I want INS employees to have rewarding careers and to experience the satisfaction of knowing that they make a positive difference in the lives of millions of future Americans.
To achieve the aggressive goals that the President has set for the INS, it will take much more than leadership from the Commissioner. It will require that we all accept the mantle of leadership—the President, the Congress, the Attorney General and each and every employee of the INS. Together we will be able to do remarkable things. Together we will help fulfill the dreams of so many whose very lives and freedom depend on actions taken by the INS.
I am aware that criticism has been leveled at the President for nominating someone who has no discernible experience in the field of immigration law and policy. I understand and appreciate that perspective. I am honored that the President and the Attorney General sought me out for this important task and I am committed to doing my best to justify the trust that has been reposed in me.
I consider myself one of the most fortunate individuals on the face of this earth. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, great friends, good health, financial success and a wide variety of work and life experiences and opportunities. I hope that my experiences in the public and private sectors have prepared me to take on this very difficult task with a measure of wisdom and judgment.
I grew up in very modest circumstances. It was the opportunity that America provides that made it possible for me to succeed beyond my wildest expectations. My wish and goal is that all Americans and all those who yearn for the freedom and opportunity that America provides, will have that same opportunity to achieve a dream that is beyond their wildest imagination.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to be here and for the opportunity to serve my country.