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Cotton Addresses Border Emergency on the Senate Floor

March 14, 2019

Below are his remarks as delivered:

The Senate will soon vote on the president's declaration of a national emergency. We have reached a moment of crisis. But it's not a constitutional crisis-it's a crisis on the border. A crisis of American sovereignty.


When hundreds of thousands of foreigners arrive at the southern border and demand entry, that's not migration. That's an emergency and a threat to our sovereignty. And the stories speak for themselves.

Last Thursday, an American citizen named Rocio Alderete was shot to death on a bridge over the Mexican border near McAllen, Texas. Early reports suggest Rocio was caught in a shootout between cartel gunmen and Mexican police. But whatever the case turns out to be, Rocio has perished-the latest American victim of lawlessness at our southern border.

Since last October, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 260,000 illegal aliens at the border, a surge of 90 percent-almost double-from the previous year. For the most part, these aren't young men coming for work, as was often the case in the past, but Central Americans gaming our generous asylum laws. Instead of running away from the Border Patrol, these illegal aliens run to it, so they can be captured and released into the country with a notice to appear in court, which they hardly ever do. And thanks to stupid laws and activist judges, illegal aliens are even using little kids as legal force fields, because being detained with a minor increases their odds of being held in America, not turned around and sent home.

As a result, we see all the horrors of the human-smuggling trade at the border today. Women and girls are sexually assaulted at horrific rates. Hundreds die in the desert each year of thirst and exhaustion. Infectious diseases we'd all but eradicated with vaccines are appearing again in border communities. ICE health officials have found 236 confirmed or probable cases of mumps among detainees in the past year-after reporting zero cases the previous two years.

This surge of illegal aliens is swamping law enforcement's ability to do its job. "Overwhelmed," that's the word we hear so often from agents. Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says, "This is clearly both a border security and humanitarian crisis."

But the consequences of this crisis stretch far beyond the border, sometimes thousands of miles away. An American-one of 192 every day-dies of a drug overdose. The poison in his veins flowed across the Mexican border. A brave police officer and father, Corporal Ronil Singh of California, is shot dead the day after Christmas. His killer snuck into the country illegally. We have failed to protect our border, as any sovereign nation must, and our people are dying because of it.

The president has declared a national emergency because of this crisis. Yet the administration's sensible, long overdue efforts to secure the border have been met only by howls of outrage from the Democratic Party and its media wing. Judging from their reaction, you'd think the real emergency wasn't our lawless border but any genuine effort to secure it. The minority leader called the president's emergency declaration "a lawless act" that showed "naked contempt for the rule of law." Other members of the self-styled "Resistance" have compared the president to Hitler.

Curious, overheated claims, I have to say. To be "lawless," after all, one must act outside the law. Yet the president's critics don't even bother making that case, probably because they don't have much of one to make. The president isn't purporting to invoke his inherent executive powers under Article II of the Constitution. He doesn't even claim to defend his constitutional prerogatives from legislative encroachment.

On the contrary, he is only exercising the statutory authority delegated to him by us. By this very body: the United States Congress. More than half of the $8.1 billion the president is using to build the wall and secure the border comes from non-emergency statutes passed by Congress. The remainder comes from an explicit delegation of various powers to the president in the event of a national emergency, just like the one that the president has declared, which we also delegated him the authority to do. I should add that the National Emergencies Act passed nearly unanimously, with only five no votes in the House.

Now, I'm sympathetic to arguments that the National Emergencies Act is too broad and gives the executive branch too much power. That's a reasonable debate to have. Believe me, Congress has ceded too much power to the executive for more than a century, expanding an administrative state that increasingly deprives our people of a meaningful say in their government. So I invite my Democratic colleagues to reconsider the wisdom of this path. Maybe we can reform the EPA. Perhaps we can require up-or-down votes in Congress to approve big regulations so politicians can show some accountability for once. I'm ready for those debates. Believe me, I'm ready. But in the meantime, don't pretend we didn't delegate all these powers, or that it's lawless for the executive to use laws we passed, just because you deplore him.

If you want to see lawless executive action, by the way, you can look instead to the last administration. President Obama purported to give millions of illegal aliens legal status and work permits in clear violation of statutes passed by Congress. And he expressly defied our ban on bailout payments from the Obamacare slush fund to health-insurance companies. Strange how I don't recall the self-styled "Resistance" manning the ramparts and rushing to the Ninth Circuit back then. In fact, I only recall congressional fanboys of a president using the "pen and phone" to encroach on our constitutional prerogatives.

Now, I've heard from some senators who admit the president is acting lawfully, but who worry about the slippery slope of executive power. I respect this view. Our system of separated powers calls upon each branch to jealously protect its own powers. But one can ski to the bottom of a slippery slope pretty fast. Today, a Republican declares a national emergency on the border. Tomorrow, a Democrat-or who knows these days, maybe a Socialist?-declares a gun-violence emergency to confiscate guns or a climate-change emergency to shut down coal-fired power plants. I'll acknowledge it doesn't take much to imagine such abuses of power by a liberal president-especially with the gang they've got running today. But that's precisely what such actions would be: abuses. What the law says matters here. We have delegated to the executive the power to enforce the nation's immigration laws, including by emergency declaration. We have not delegated to the executive the power to confiscate guns, close power plants, or any of the other common entrants in the parade of horribles on the slippery slope. That's the difference between lawful and lawless government, and it's the case here.

Others claim that the crisis on the border isn't bad enough to call a national emergency. Some have gone so far as to deride it as a "fake" emergency. Well, if the killings, caravans, and cartels at the border are a "fake" emergency, I'd really hate to see a genuine emergency. But suppose we take their claim seriously. We ought to be able to compare the crisis at the border to past national emergencies to see how it stacks up.

Right now there are 32 national emergencies in effect. Thirty-two national emergencies! Among them is a national emergency related to election fraud-in Belarus. Another is in response to the breakdown of the rule of law-in Lebanon. A third is in response to a failed coup-in Burundi.

I don't deny that those are real problems, or that an American response may well be warranted. Far from it. But I doubt many Americans would put them ahead of the serial violation of our sovereign borders by millions of foreigners. If Belarusians warrant an emergency declaration, then surely Americans do, too, when we face a crisis on our border.

Democrats used to take border security seriously. But in elite society these days, border security is a bad word-and "wall" is practically a four-letter word, unless it's the walls that protect the rich, the powerful, and the politically connected from a dangerous world. Just look in the news: Their latest presidential aspirant, Robert Francis O'Rourke, a former congressman and failed Senate candidate, has even gone so far as to suggest tearing down existing barriers at the southern border. Which I'm sure thrilled all the good people of El Paso who don't live in a world of private planes and security details.

Regrettably, the Democrats' hostility to border security couldn't come at a worse time for our country-because there is indeed a crisis at the border. And we ought to be addressing it. We could be spending this valuable legislative time to tighten up our asylum laws, crack down on employers who exploit illegal aliens instead of hiring American workers, or ramp up drug enforcement. Instead we're debating whether the crisis at our southern border can be called an "emergency." Instead of solving a problem we're trying to spin it.

So I have a simple suggestion for my colleagues, if they're genuinely alarmed by the president's invocation of the very emergency powers we delegated to him. Instead of furrowing your brows and tugging your chins and gravely citing Youngstown Sheet, let's tackle this emergency declaration by making it unnecessary. Let's get to the root of the problem and secure our border once and for all. No more border crisis, no more emergency. It's as simple as that.