Text of Sen. Orrin Hatch introducing immigration bill

Published: Thursday, Sept. 30 2010 10:00 a.m. MDT

The text of Hatch's introduction of the bill "Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act" on the Senate floor:

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America's Security Act. Our immigration system is broken and needs reform. We can make progress by starting with the laws that already exist. My bill would enhance our core immigration and enforcement laws for both legal and illegal immigrants.

Much has been discussed this Congress on how to proceed on the very complex and, unfortunately at times, partisan issue of immigration reform. Some have introduced non-binding resolutions others have tried to attach immigration-related measures to non-germane legislative vehicles. But, we're never going to get anywhere with these political stunts which do little to get to the root the problem.

Throughout my service, I have spent considerable time with my constituents and, quite frankly, have anguished with them on how to best address the considerable strain the illegal alien population is having on Utahns. Among other things, I have taken the initiative to increase immigration enforcement in Utah include bringing ICE Quick Response teams to our state, creating an immigration court, and establishing an ICE Field Office Director position to address Utah's immigration concerns. I also brought the 287(g) cross-deputizing program and just recently the Secure Communities program to Utah.

There is no question that more needs to be done. That's something everyone will agree on. Just recently legislation was enacted to enhance border security. I was pleased that this was a bipartisan effort. Some argue that the bill is sufficient to secure our border, but I disagree. There is much work to be done before the border is properly sealed. I continue to work with and support my colleagues whose states are located along the Southwest border. They know what resources we need to deploy to secure the border.

While Utah is not a border state, we still share the same concerns of our neighbors along the border. However, our problems result from a residual effect of a porous border and a breakdown of our immigration enforcement system.

For years, I have been saying most immigration problems could be solved if we would enforce the laws on the books. Unfortunately, the current Administration continues to explore ways to exploit current law and score political points.

During the past several months, the Obama administration has been holding behind-the-scenes talks to determine whether the Department of Homeland Security can unilaterally grant legal status, on a mass basis, to illegal immigrants via deferred action and parole. If the Administration is successful, it would be the equivalent of back-door amnesty for millions. For this reason, my bill specifies that an alien may only be paroled or granted deferred action on a case-by-case basis – not en mass -- the way these laws were intended to be used.

The 287(g) and Secure Communities programs continue to be valuable tools to our law enforcement officials in detaining and deporting criminal aliens. For example, in Fiscal Year 2010, the 287(g) program was responsible for detaining 29,295 criminal aliens. What I don't understand is why some cities would choose to not participate in these effective programs. That is why my proposed legislation would require eligible states, counties, or cities to actively participate in the Secure Communities or 287(g) programs or forego compensation for incarceration expenses. Turning a blind eye to these law enforcement programs poses a serious risk to the public and creates sanctuary cities.

When I meet with my constituents, one of their top concerns is how we fix our visa programs. Many are concerned, and with good cause, about how some of these folks are getting into the country. Disturbingly, some visa holders are active participants in organized crime. They come to this country and infiltrate our communities, wreaking havoc in our neighborhoods.

In an effort to address this problem, my bill would provide our State Department consular officers the necessary legal authority to deny members of known gangs from coming into our country. It's not acceptable to allow these thugs to slip through the cracks.

After 9/11, many areas of our immigration system came under scrutiny. One of the top recommendations for reform to our system is to create an exit procedure for foreign visitors to the United States. Departure information is vital for determining whether foreign visitors are departing the U.S., maintaining their visa status, and evaluating future visa eligibility for these visitors. Not to mention, the ability to track departures goes to the heart of keeping America safe.

Without such exit procedures, however, the task of determining whether an alien has overstayed their visa in the United States is nearly impossible. Since 2004, the Department of Homeland Security has been testing exit programs and departure controls at U.S. airports for visa holders leaving the United States. As recently as July 2009, another pilot program was concluded by the Department of Homeland Security. To date, we still haven't seen any implementation of exit procedures for our country's visitors, nor have we seen any final conclusions made by the Department. It has been over six years since the first pilot program concluded. It is time to act.

Thus, my bill would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a mandatory exit procedure for foreign visitors to the United States. This should have been done years ago.

Additionally, the proposed legislation would eliminate the fraud-laden visa lottery, known as the Diversity Visa program. At present, applicants of the visa lottery program are open to being defrauded by so-called service providers who offer to assist them in obtaining Diversity Visa status. Unlike other immigrant visa categories, this is one of the few visas that allows people to immigrate to the United States without having any connection to the country. In other words, the applicants may not have any family, employment, or even provide an economic tie to the United States. And because of limited availability of verification, the program presents serious national security concerns.

Let me be clear: If anyone is a proponent of a diverse nation, one that enjoys the influence of many cultures, it is me. But what we have right now in the visa lottery program does not accomplish the intended goal.

After careful consultation with State Department officials, I have been advised that the Diversity Visa program needs serious reform, and some have even called for complete elimination of the program. In light of this guidance, I propose to sunset the Diversity Visa program, unless the State Department recommends to Congress how best to combat fraud and eliminate abuse currently in the program.

One of the most heated issues that is continually raised by my constituents, and many across the country, is the impact that illegal aliens are having upon our welfare programs. It came to my attention that Los Angeles County, California, actually tracks this information. Much to my amazement, L.A. County confirms that in 2009 alone, they distributed over $2.4 billion in federal-state welfare and food stamp programs. Of that amount, $569 million was issued to households that include illegal aliens. Let me reiterate: the illegal alien population in L.A. County received over a half-billion dollars of welfare benefits in one year alone.

In order to have an honest discussion about the drain illegal aliens are having upon our welfare systems, we must be armed with state-specific information to understand the extent of this problem.

Thus, my bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and any other appropriate Federal agency, to submit an annual report to Congress outlining the total dollar amount of Federal welfare benefits received by households of illegal aliens for each state and the District of Columbia. The annual report would also include the overall dollar amount each state spends on Federal welfare benefits. Without having this information, we will continue to dismiss the serious economic ramifications to our country's prosperity. We cannot afford to perpetuate this problem any longer.

My legislation also includes a provision which revisits the legal immigrant policy included in the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-3). The CHIP Reauthorization law overturned language requiring a five-year waiting period before legal immigrants may be eligible federal health coverage. The five year waiting period was included in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193). As my colleagues will recall, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act required sponsors of legal immigrants to be responsible for individuals' expenses during the first five years of residency in our country. States had the option of offering legal immigrants CHIP and Medicaid coverage with state only dollars. In other words, states could not receive federal matching dollars for covering these legal immigrants.

The 2009 CHIP law overturned that policy. Today, states may still cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women who have been in the U.S. less than five years. However, the big difference is states now receive federal matching dollars for covering those individuals.

The provision in the bill I am introducing today would permit states to continue receiving federal matching dollars for covering legal immigrant children and legal immigrant pregnant woman but two conditions must be met. First, the state must demonstrate that it has covered 90% of its U.S. citizen children and pregnant women eligible for CHIP or Medicaid. These individuals' family income may not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Second, the state must demonstrate that it is not supplanting state dollars which were being used to cover legal immigrants prior to passage of the 2009 CHIP reauthorization law with federal dollars.

Another top concern I regularly hear about is identity theft -- that of both adults and children who have to spend a great amount of their time and money to clear their good names and restore their credit history.

In 2006, parents of Utah two-year old Tyler Lybbert realized their daughter's identity had been stolen by 38-year old Jose Tinoco. By the time the Lybberts became aware of the fraud,

Mr. Tinoco had already taken out two loans and opened credit cards – saddling Tyler with over $15,000 in debt. Little Tyler was left holding the bag.

Fortunately, when Mr. Tinoco tried to obtain a loan from a local Utah bank, an employee spotted the discrepancy and alerted Tyler's parents. Mr. Tinoco was caught, but the Lybberts were left with countless hours of work to correct the fraud perpetrated against their child.

This past weekend, the Utah press reported on another identity theft case. A newly married radiology student at Weber State University has been battling to reclaim his identity for the last 15 years. When Cameron Noble was seven years old his Social Security number was stolen by Mr. Jose Zavala of California – an over 60-year-old man.

Noble's parents thought they had corrected the error but when Cameron began working at the age of 16 he started receiving notices that his wages were being garnished to pay child support. The problem has continued to haunt him ever since--in the form of tax withholdings and credit report confusion. He is now nearing the end of the process to obtain a new Social Security number.

It is not a secret that many in the illegal immigrant community perpetuate identity theft with stolen or fabricated Social Security numbers (SSN). The identity theft they commit often affects the very young – who may not notice problems for years or decades until they are old enough to apply for their first job, car or school loan, or credit card.

As in little Tyler Lybberts' case, why did it take a bank employee to pick up on the theft? Because there is no formal system established to alert SSN holders when potential fraud or improper usage have occurred.

The federal agency that is best suited to track the use of mismatched SSN numbers is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). That is why my bill requires the IRS to send a notice to an employer that an inaccurate SSN has been discovered for an employee. If the employer does not respond to the notice within 60-days to correct the inaccuracy, my legislation will require the IRS to notify the SSN holder or to parents and guardians of a minor, that a discrepancy has been detected and to do the following: 1) if it is an actual mismatch to contact the IRS; 2) if they suspect fraudulent use, the SSN holder is provided with contact information for the FTC and various credit bureaus to report the problem; and finally 3) if no response is received by the SSN holder, the IRS would be required to refer the account number to appropriate Federal agencies for possible investigation.

Let me pause here to underscore a point. Currently, the original SSN holder never receives notice when a mismatch has occurred. And, quite frankly, I do not have the assurances that the IRS is requiring much of the employer to correct or verify the submission. That is not acceptable. In this day and age, when at a click of a mouse, someone can apply for credit cards, mortgages, or even car loans, there is no excuse why SSN holders are left in the dark.

One can only imagine that if this simple notification step was taken in the case of little Tyler Lybbert or the Noble family that years of laborious efforts and countless hours of notifying credit bureaus, banks, and other authorities, could have been greatly reduced if not avoided all together.

To make matters more confusing in this area of the law, the Supreme Court has more or less tied the hands of prosecutors in going after these thieves and those who involved in so-called document mills. The case of Flores-Figueroa v. United States undermined prosecutors' longstanding practice of using the aggravated identity theft statute by requiring them to also prove that a defendant knew that he or she was using a real person's identity information, as opposed to counterfeit information not connected to an actual person.

To clarify the Criminal Code and provide our prosecutors with the latitude they need to pursue these cases, my bill makes clear that defendants who possess or otherwise use identity information not their own, without lawful authority, and in the commission of another felony is still punishable for aggravated identity fraud, regardless of the defendants' "knowledge" of the victim.

Finally, my bill's identity theft would require the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the FTC, and the Commissioner of Social Security to conduct a study to determine the most feasible and cost-effective ways to protect the credit worthiness of individuals, especially that of children.

Mexican Cartel drug violence has been placed front and center by the media and members of this body. Some of my fellow colleagues have called for more resources directed to this problem. As additional federal law enforcement personnel and military units continue to be deployed to the southwest border the focus has been on weapons, drug interdiction and bulk cash smuggling. While I recognize the importance of these border enforcement activities, too little attention is being paid to outdoor marijuana cultivation by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Outdoor marijuana cultivation by Mexican drug trafficking organizations is causing increasing environmental damage, especially on publicly owned lands. From 2004-2009 more than 11 million marijuana plants have been eradicated from federal public lands. Outdoor marijuana cultivation is the chief source of revenue for Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Growing marijuana in the U.S. saves traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling their product across the border and allows gangs to produce their crops closer to local markets. Illegal alien workers are smuggled in from Mexico to serve as laborers and provide security to the grow plots. Mexican gang plots can often be distinguished from those of domestic-based growers based on their plant volume and security measures. Many of the plots are encircled with crude explosives and are patrolled by armed illegal aliens providing security for the crop.

In my home state of Utah, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement have seized more than 110,000 marijuana plants this year. Each plant can yield one pound of marijuana with a street value of $1,000. These remote plots were on federal land and nestled under the cover in a national forest or hidden high in the rugged-yet-fertile tracts of federal land. All of the sites were far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow far more potent marijuana. Growers of these fields have even created irrigation systems to disrupt or divert water sources. They even use illegal fertilizers that damage the environment and the local eco-system.

In one recent incident in Garfield County, Utah an illegal alien grow worker was armed with a shotgun and confronted six teenage girls who inadvertently hiked into the marijuana field. The worker brandished a shotgun and demanded to use their cell phone. Fortunately, the group of girls were able to run away from this armed man and prevented what could have been a very tragic outcome. The girls were quite traumatized and reported the incident to local police. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the local authorities apprehended the man a short time later.

So far this year in Utah, as a result of joint investigative efforts between federal, state and local law enforcement, 20 arrests have been made in connection with the outdoor cultivation of marijuana on federal lands. Out of the 20 arrests made, 19 were illegal aliens. This is not a problem that is unique to Utah. Other states with substantial federal lands are also seeing a spike in marijuana cultivation by Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including Colorado, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Michigan.

It is for this reason why my legislation would provide tougher penalties for cultivating marijuana on federal lands and destroying the environment. Provisions of this legislation would also require the Office of National Drug Control Policy to formulate a comprehensive and coordinated action plan to address marijuana cultivation on federal lands. This plan will be a broad strategic approach to disrupt Mexican drug trafficking organizations' central source of revenue and a key reason for organized alien smuggling.

Mr. President, the fight to control the border is no longer isolated to just the physical boundary between the United States and Mexico. Securing the border now means addressing Mexican cartels; prohibiting mass deferral or parole; streamlining the visa process; requiring participation in key law enforcement programs; clamping down on identity theft; tracking the amount of welfare benefits being diverted by illegal immigrant households, ensuring that dollars are being used to cover newly eligible American children in CHIP and Medicaid; and keeping our great national parks and federal lands safe and free from drug traffickers, drug cultivation, and environmental damage.

Let me conclude by saying this bill represents key issues that are important to my Utah constituents and Americans across the country. They are common sense solutions to strengthen our commitment to legal immigration and American's security. I urge my colleagues to partisanship aside and support this bill.

I yield the floor.

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