[Congressional Record: March 18, 2002 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
OPPOSITION TO THE SECTION 245(i) PROVISION AND AMNESTY FOR ILLEGAL
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, last week, CNN broke the news that, six
months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
the Immigration and Naturalization Service finally provided a
confirmation notice to a Florida flight school that two of the suicide
hijackers who died on September 11 had been approved for student visas.
The American people must have been be shaking their heads in dismay.
Certainly many politicians viewed the incident with incredulity and
anger. Our President said he was ``plenty hot.'' The Attorney General
promised an investigation. Legislators and pundits have called for the
restructuring--and even for the abolishment--of the INS.
I find it hard to understand the apparent shock. That this incident
occurred should come as no surprise to anyone who has read anything in
recent months about the inept manner in which our immigration system is
apparently operating. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the
American people heard repeatedly about the lapses in our immigration
laws that allowed these terrorists to enter our country. Three of the
terrorists were in the country on expired visas and should have been
deported. Countless federal reports and investigations have concluded
that INS is plagued by backlogs and delays. The agency has little sense
of who is crossing our borders, and can't track individuals once they
are inside the country.
As if to try to provide some logic for its bumbling, the INS said in
a statement last week that it had no information at the time that it
approved these student visas that either man was tied to terrorist
groups. I hardly find any comfort in that. It doesn't explain why
Mohammed Atta's visa extension kept winding its way through the
bureaucratic process for months after he became recognized
internationally as a brutal terrorist.
Since September 11th, the Administration has sought to reassure the
American people that this government was taking steps to reinforce that
invisible barrier that ostensibly protects our citizens from foreign
threats. The American people were told that this government is doing
all that it can to strengthen our borders and make Americans safe.
But then this CNN report is unveiled, reinforcing the negative
impression that most Americans have of our Nation's border security.
If the American people went to bed last Tuesday night in dismay over
this latest INS debacle, they must have been absolutely dumbfounded
when they awoke Wednesday morning to learn that the House of
Representatives had passed, at the request of the President, what
amounts to an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, many
of whom have not undergone any--any--background or security check.
Supporters of the House-passed extension of the so-called Section
245(i) provision were quick to claim that it is not an amnesty. The
issue, they argue, is where you fill out your paper work--here or
abroad. That is nonsense--
N-O-N-S-E-N-S-E, nonsense. Section 245(i)--amnesty is amnesty--pure and
The section 245(i) provision, which expired last April, allows
undocumented immigrants to seek permanent residency without leaving the
United States, if--if--they pay a $1,000 fee and have a close relative
or employer sponsor them. Without the provision, these immigrants would
be forced to leave the country, and under tougher illegal immigration
reforms passed in 1996, be barred from reentering for up to 10 years.
If waiving tougher penalties for illegal aliens is not a form of
amnesty, then I don't know what is.
Those who support reviving the 245(i) provision impress upon us that
there are many, many individuals who came to this country legally, but
became lost in the huge backlog of paperwork at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service. Thus their visas expired while they were
awaiting the processing of paperwork and they continued to live in the
United States illegally and undetected.
I don't doubt that many of these individuals are well-meaning and
have attempted to follow the law. I recognize that many of these
individuals, if not for some type of legal exemption, will have to
leave the country and be separated from their families. But we must not
forget that three of the September 11 terrorists were living in the
United States on expired visas. An additional two terrorists--Mohammad
Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi tried to change their visa status while they
were in the United States, and, thus, were allowed to begin their
flight training at a Florida school. And as we learned in these last
few days, not only did the Immigration and Naturalization Service never
catch them, but months after September 11, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service was still issuing paperwork clearing the way for
these two terrorists to enter the stream of American society.
These terrorists weren't hiding from the system, they were exploiting
the flaws in the system. Reviving the 245(i) provision reopens another
crack in the system through which a potential terrorist can crawl. What
the CNN story says to me is not that we should be more lenient with
visa applicants, but that we should be much tougher, with visa
The section 245(i) provision poses a dangerous risk to our border
security by compromising the all-important State Department background
checks being conducted on potential immigrants in their home countries.
By allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to apply for
permanent residency in our country, section 245(i) allows them to
sidestep face-to-face interviews at U.S. consulates in their own
countries. U.S. consular officers abroad offer unmatched expertise in
their host country's social conditions. They are knowledgeable of
police records. They are knowledgeable of fraudulent document
operations. They are knowledgeable of political extremist groups. Under
section 245(i), U.S. consulate officers would not fully exercise this
expertise in screening immigrants for permanent residency.
Supporters of the 245(i) provision will tell us that we can rely on a
thorough INS background check. Ha-ha. Don't forget that if the visa
applicants fail the INS security check, they are already inside the
country. If they fail that check, they are already inside this country.
And because of the ineptitude of the INS, they may have been living in
this country for months and, who knows, perhaps years. We cannot afford
to have a weaker visa screening standard for illegal aliens who are
given the opportunity to permanently reside in our country.
Moreover, an extension of the 245(i) provision would contribute
significantly to the INS' dangerously overloaded processing backlog.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service currently faces a backlog of
roughly 4 million cases, and we can expect an additional half a million
visa application filings if section 245(i) is revived. The fact that
the INS is notifying a Florida flight school of Mohammed Atta's student
visa approval 6 months after the September 11 attacks clearly suggests
that the Immigration and Naturalization Service cannot handle further
increases in its workload. What's more, it does not make a whit of
sense to place these new obligations on an agency that both the
administration and Members of Congress are suggesting will undergo
dramatic reforms in the coming months.
All of that is to say nothing about the message that we send abroad
to potential immigrants who are waiting patiently to legally enter this
country. Section 245(i) acts as an incentive, a lure, for illegal
immigration by suggesting that it is quicker and more convenient to
enter the country illegally than to wait outside the United States to
complete the visa application process.
These are serious concerns that the Senate will need to address
before it acts on this issue. The American people and the Congress
should know the answers to these questions. In fact, there are a number
of questions that ought to be raised as we consider changes to our
immigration system, but I am becoming increasingly doubtful that the
administration really wants to provide the answers.
The administration has been very quiet about its reasons for asking
the Congress to renew the 245(i) provision. The White House issued only
a three-paragraph statement last week in supporting the House-passed
extension of 245(i), which states in the first paragraph:
The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R.
1885 . . . This legislation reflects the Administration's
philosophy that government policies should recognize the
importance of families and help to strengthen them.
Mr. President, I support recognizing the importance of families. I am
sure that every Senator here is all for families. In fact, I have yet
to meet an anti-family politician.
But this Government's first obligation, especially in light of what
happened on September 11, ought to be that of protection of American
families, and the 245(i) provision does not meet that test in the wake
of September 11.
Last week, the Homeland Security Director unveiled a color-coded
system to alert Americans of varying levels of terrorism threats.
Governor Ridge warned that the United States remains on an elevated
threat level and that the corresponding yellow light signifies that
there is still a ``significant threat'' of a terrorist attack.
Certainly, the administration would want to explain to the American
people, as well as to the Congress, why an amnesty that streamlines and
shortcuts background checks for illegal aliens is not a threat to our
The suggestion has been raised in the media that the House passed
this amnesty, at the President's request, so that Mr. Bush would have a
legislative achievement to tout at his meeting with Mexican President
Vicente Fox this week. The broader amnesty for 3 million illegal
Mexican immigrants that the President proposed prior to the September
11 attacks has been indefinitely shelved, and it has been suggested
that an extension of the section 245(i) provision is a substitute for
that proposal. Last week the Washington Times quoted the majority whip
in the other body as saying, ``The president says he needs it, and
we're going to do it.'' The paper also quoted a Republican aide saying,
``That's the only reason we're doing it. What the president wants, the
I hope that is not the case. I hope that party politics is not the
sole consideration in a matter as grave as this.
The suggestion has also been raised that the House passed an
extension of Section 245(i), and included it as part of a so-called
border security bill, to pressure the Senate into quickly passing
similar border security legislation that is pending before it. Well,
this Senator from, West Virginia will not be pressured into passing
legislation. The Senate is a deliberative body. Senators have a
responsibility to consider and to throughly debate legislation that
comes before this body, especially legislation that raises as many
concerns as section 245(i). I raise these concerns and I shall continue
to raise them. The administration chose not to address these concerns
last week when the House acted on the 245(i) provision.
Mr. President, the American people and the Congress cannot be
expected to have confidence in our efforts to secure our borders, if
they see the administration advocating legislation that seems to fly in
the face of tighter border security. The administration must explain
why, on the same day that the Homeland Security Director would issue an
elevated state of alert, the White House would push through the House
an amnesty for illegal aliens that would weaken our visa screening
processes. Doesn't make much sense, does it? The right hand seems not
to know what the left hand is doing.
It is lunacy--sheer lunacy--that the President would request, and the
House would pass, such an amnesty at this time. That point seems
obvious to the American people, if not to the administration.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
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