WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of last year’s failed immigration reform efforts, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and eleven other Republican Senators today introduced 15 specific enforcement bills, each designed to make important improvements to America’s immigration system. Each bill in the package represents a specific step toward securing America’s borders, increasing enforcement at the workplace, or restoring law and order to our nation’s immigration system. The coalition will call for full Senate consideration on each of the individual bills as amendments to any appropriate legislative vehicle or as stand-alone pieces of legislation.
The package of legislation covers a range of issues, including completion of the border fence, establishing English as the national language, discouraging states from granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens and establishing mandatory minimum sentences for illegal entry into the United States.
Following the introduction of the bills, the senators invoked a procedural rule to bring the bills directly to floor, giving Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) the opportunity to allow votes on the measures at any time. Introducing specific bills is necessary due to the failure of last year’s comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The lesson learned from that debate was that Congress must secure the nation’s borders in order to demonstrate credibility to the American people.
Congress found common ground prior to the 2006 elections when it passed the bipartisan Secure Fence Act. Members involved in today’s bill roll-out hope that Congress will again take advantage of an election cycle and enact specific, meaningful reforms.
Sens. Inhofe, Sessions, Specter, DeMint, Vitter, Domenici, Chambliss, Barrasso, Dole, Isakson, Coburn and Alexander each introduced a bill today:
Sen. Inhofe introduced the National Language Act of 2008 which makes English the national language and clarifies that there is no entitlement to receive federal documents and services in languages other than English unless explicitly required by statue. Senator Inhofe said, “Polling of Americans throughout the country consistently demonstrates that Americans overwhelmingly believe English should be recognized as the national language of the United States. Like my English amendments that have passed the Senate with wide bipartisan majorities for the past two years, the National Language Act of 2008 will reduce cost to our federal government and improve the assimilation of new legal immigrants in our nation. This debate is not just about preserving our culture and heritage, but also about bettering the odds of our nation’s newest potential citizens.”
Sen. Sessions (R-AL) introduced legislation to establish mandatory minimum prison sentences for individuals convicted of entering the United States illegally. Senator Sessions said, “It is important that we send the message to the world that America is enforcing the rule of law. This bill will establish mandatory minimum sentences for those that have entered our country illegally, sending the clear signal that the United States will not tolerate further illegality at the border. Doing so will discourage future attempts at illegal entry.” Sen. Sessions also introduced legislation to clarify that the Department of Homeland Security may use “no-match” letters – notices from the IRS that employee names and social security numbers don’t match records – when building a case against employers who are knowingly hiring illegal aliens. Sessions third bill modernizes the workplace enforcement system and creates accountability for employers who break the law.
Sen. Specter (R-PA) said: “Streamlining the deportation process and insisting that countries repatriate illegal aliens who have been convicted of crimes of violence will free substantial Immigration and Customs Enforcement resources, which can then be devoted to improving identification and reporting of deportable criminal aliens in federal, state or local custody. My proposal works to stop criminal aliens from being released onto our streets and helps to close the government’s credibility gap on immigration enforcement.” Senator Specter’s bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to report to Congress every 90 days on the countries which refuse or inhibit repatriation. Receipt of the report automatically triggers denial of certain foreign aid as well as suspension of visa issuances to the listed countries.
Sen. DeMint (R-SC) introduced the Complete The Fence Act, which would require the completion of 700 miles of reinforced pedestrian fencing along the nation’s southern border by December 31, 2010. Senator DeMint said: “Americans demand a secure border and the first step is to complete the fence. Our nation’s borders are fundamental to our sovereignty and our national security. We can’t delay any longer or depend on failed virtual fencing and vehicle barriers that won't stop pedestrians. If we want to have a legal immigration system that works, we must secure the border so we know who is entering and leaving the United States."
Sen. Vitter (R-LA) said: “The American people clearly want us to focus on border security and enforcement, not a bloated, comprehensive amnesty bill. But, to date, that is all that has been offered. We need real, concrete solutions to combat this growing problem, and this 10-point plan offers those real solutions, including my bill that would prohibit COPS funding to those cities who choose ‘sanctuary policies’ over enforcing current federal immigration laws already on the books.”
Sen. Domenici (R-NM) introduced legislation to expand existing federal law to continue Operation Jump Start on the Southwest border and allow state governors to utilize the Guard for border control activities, including constructing roads, fences, and vehicle barriers, conducting search and rescue missions, gathering intelligence, repairing infrastructure, and otherwise supporting DHS Customs and Border Protection directorate. Current law allows the Guard to undertake similar drug interdiction and counter-drug activities. “The National Guard has proven to be a good partner in working with the Homeland Security Department to secure the border. This bill would build on that work in a manner that can benefit both the Guard and DHS,” said Domenici, who serves on the Defense and Homeland Security appropriations subcommittees.
Sen. Chambliss (R-GA), who introduced legislation with Sen. Isakson (R-GA) said: “State and local law enforcement officials are critical force multipliers in the fight against illegal immigration but they are currently underutilized by their federal partners. My legislation, which I introduced today with Sen. Isakson, will facilitate the development of voluntary enforcement partnerships between federal law enforcement officials and their state and local counterparts to better combat illegal immigration. During last year’s immigration bill debate, we listened and heard overwhelmingly from the American people that they do not trust the federal government to enforce our immigration laws. Taking immediate action to secure our borders and stop illegal immigration is the best way to restore credibility with the American people. I said last year that we are going to keep pounding this issue and that is what we are doing today in unveiling these proposals.”
Sen. Dole (R-NC) introduced the Safe Roads Enhancement Act, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to classify repeat drunk driving as an aggravated felony. The bill also would make aliens convicted of this offense ineligible for any visa or admission to the United States and eligible for deportation from this country. Dole said, “In North Carolina, we have had a number of fatal automobile accidents caused by an intoxicated person who was in the United States illegally. In several of these incidents, the illegal alien has a record of DWI, sometimes repeated offenses, but has been caught and released. My bill would help ensure that undocumented aliens who have self-identified themselves by drunk driving are removed. Likewise, individuals who abuse their legal status in the United States by repeatedly breaking our drunk driving laws should lose their privilege of living in our country.”
Dole also introduced a bill to repeal President Clinton’s executive order requiring the federal government to provide services in a person’s native language. Her bill also would restrict funding for providing government services in languages other than English. Dole said, “Hundreds of different languages are spoken by people in this country, and it is fiscally irresponsible and impractical for our government to provide services in all of these languages.”
Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation to discourage states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Under Barrasso’s bill, states must verify that each driver’s license applicant is in the U.S. legally. Noncompliant states would lose 10 percent of their federal transportation funds. The withheld funds would be redistributed to states that follow the law. Barrasso said, “Providing state issued licenses to illegal immigrants is not in the best interests of our national security. Eighteen of the 9/11 hijackers had acquired more than 30 driver’s licenses from five different states. It should be a wakeup call to all of us. More must be done to prevent this from ever happening again.”
The individual bills in the package have not yet been assigned bill numbers.