Skip to Content

Menu ×

Senator Cotton Speaks About Immigration and Refugees on the Senate Floor

March 14, 2016

Last Thursday, the Democratic candidates for president had a debate. They made several extreme, irresponsible statements about immigration policy. I oppose their calls to reward mass illegal immigration with blanket amnesty, which would undermine the rule of law, cost Americans jobs, drive down wages for working Americans, and invite more illegal immigration.

But what must President Obama think? After all, he has attempted to grant amnesty by fiat to over five million illegal immigrants, though the courts have blocked most of those amnesties for now. Yet the senator from Vermont and Hillary Clinton both insisted that the president hasn't gone far enough. They would "expand" on his actions and go "even further."

In fact, a debate moderator called President Obama "the deporter-in-chief" and Hillary Clinton tacitly accepted the characterization, saying she wouldn't deport nearly as many illegal immigrants as President Obama has-which, of course, isn't a terribly high bar to clear since deportations are down 42% since the start of President Obama's second term, and last year deportations hit a 10-year low. Still, I can't imagine President Obama is too pleased with his would-be successor.

I also can't imagine a more opportunist and irresponsible position than the one taken by Hillary Clinton. As she panders for votes, she limited deportation priorities to "violent" criminals and terrorists. Apparently, Secretary Clinton will welcome con artists, identity thieves, and other non-violent criminal illegal immigrants with outstretched arms into our country. 

Even more astonishing, she stated unequivocally, "I will not deport children. I would not deport children." As I said, this is pure opportunism. For instance, I imagine this child would've liked Secretary Clinton's policy to be in effect during her husband's administration.

This is the famous picture of Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban boy who reached our shores despite his mother tragically dying at sea. Elian's U.S.-based family pleaded with the Clinton administration to grant him asylum, as was our common custom for refugees from communism. But President Clinton rejected these pleas, siding with the Castros. Federal agents stormed a private residence and apprehended Elian at gunpoint.

Where was Secretary Clinton? I guess she didn't have a no-kids policy back then. But we don't have to guess. The then-First Lady was campaigning for Senate in New York. She opposed congressional action to protect Elian and advocated returning the boy to Cuba-contrary to a decades-long, bipartisan consensus that we should grant safe harbor to refugees from totalitarian communist states.

Yet the sad story of Elian Gonzalez isn't the most recent or harmful example of her opportunism. Just two summers ago, our country faced a migrant crisis on our southern border. Nearly 140,000 people, about half of them unaccompanied kids, poured across our border. Notably, most didn't flee from the Border Patrol or try to avoid capture; on the contrary, they ran to U.S. border agents.

Why would brand-new illegal immigrants, having successfully crossed our border, turn themselves in? The answer is simple: they had been led to believe that they would be allowed to stay. From the multiple administration memos instructing agents not to fully enforce immigration law to President Obama's unlawful executive amnesties to the Senate's own amnesty legislation, every signal from Washington said our political class lacked the willpower to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws in the country's interior.

Some might say these policies and proposals wouldn't have covered newly arrived illegal immigrants, that they would've faced deportation. Perhaps. But what they signaled was a complete unwillingness to enforce our immigration laws-just like amnesty granted in 1986 invited another generation of illegal immigrants to migrate to our country and wait for the next amnesty. They certainly gave the human traffickers who transported and abused these kids plenty of grounds to tell desperate parents, "Send your kid north with me and he'll get a permiso."

In the end, they weren't wrong. Nearly two years later, only a very tiny minority of unaccompanied children have been deported. In fact, more than 111,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States illegally from 2011 to 2015, but only 6% have been returned to their home countries. Yes, some may have received a deportation order from a court, usually after failing to appear for a hearing. Yet the Obama administration has made little to no effort to locate them. 

It's fair to say, therefore, that the human traffickers, the so-called coyotes, weren't wrong and many Central American parents took an understandable risk. After all, a life in America "in the shadows," as advocates for amnesty and open borders call it, may well be preferable to the poverty and violence back home.

While those things may have been the push factors in the migrant crisis, there can be no doubt that the pull factors of amnesty, deferred action, non-enforcement, economic opportunity, and safety were just as strong, if not stronger. That's why even the Obama administration tried to address them. President Obama met with leaders of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek their assistance. Vice President Joe Biden flew to Guatemala and publicly urged parents not to believe the coyotes' promises of amnesty. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson wrote an open letter to Central American parents.

And, yes, Hillary Clinton got involved, too. Secretary Clinton stated in 2014 that these children "should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are." She insisted that "we have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay."

That was the right position then, and it's the right position now, even if real action didn't back up the Obama administration's empty words. But that was then, and this is now, in the middle of another flailing presidential campaign. Secretary Clinton now says she would not deport children under any circumstances-not even those who just arrived, or presumably those who arrive in the future.

We've come to expect such opportunism from the House of Clinton, but even worse is the irresponsibility. Put yourself in the position of desperate parents in Central America. You live in third-world conditions. Work is scarce. Food and water are a struggle. Power doesn't always come on with the flip of a switch. Gangs control many of the streets. Murder rates are some of the highest in the world. You have every reason to try to escape these conditions, or at least get your kid out. But where to go?

You just got your answer. Hillary Clinton, one of the most famous people in the world, one of only six people likely to be the next President of the United States, just broadcast new hope to the world: you can come to the U.S. Of course, it's a peculiar kind of hope. She didn't say go to our embassy and seek asylum. She certainly didn't say get on an airplane and fly safely to the U.S. Nor will she ever take such massively unpopular positions. Instead, she essentially invited you to take a life-or-death gamble: if you survive the trip, you can stay.

How is this moral? How's it compassionate to create incentives for such reckless behavior? Hillary Clinton just created a full-employment opportunity for human traffickers. She just helped oversell illicit tickets on this train: The Beast, a network of freight trains aboard which migrants from Central America cross Mexico to the United States. The Beast has another name-the Death Train. It's called that because many who ride it don't survive, or if they do, they only escape with grievous injuries or after enduring physical and sexual abuse at the hands of criminal gangs. With her irresponsible pandering, Secretary Clinton's words will contribute to untold suffering, pain, and death among Central American families.

And it's equally irresponsible when looked at from the American perspective. Secretary Clinton's promise to deport only violent criminals and no children under any circumstances will badly harm struggling Americans. Decades of mass immigration has contributed to joblessness, stagnant wages, and communities stressed to the breaking point to provide education, housing, emergency services, public safety, and other basic government services. The coming Clinton wave of illegal immigration will only make it harder to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and get immigration under control and working for Americans-who are, after all, the people we're supposed to serve.


The world is full of violence, oppression, corruption, and injustice. We cannot turn a blind eye to this; it often has a way of arriving at our borders and on our shores. Like most Americans, my heart breaks when I imagine the plight of those desperate parents in Central America as they look upon their little ones. That's why I strongly support efforts to assist countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop stronger institutions and improve living conditions there. Many dedicated professionals in the State Department, FBI, DEA, Southern Command, and other federal agencies are there serving us to do just that. 

At the same time, we cannot solve all the world's ills and our foremost responsibility is to Americans, not foreigners. We can help reduce the push factors in foreign countries driving migrants to our borders, but we are not obligated to accept their citizens into our country.

On the contrary, our obligation is to protect and serve Americans, and to do so we must also eliminate the pull factors for these migrants here at home. Like any country, we have a right-indeed, we have a duty-to control who comes to our country and allow them here only if it's in our national interest.

America is a nation of immigrants, but we're also a nation of laws. Secretary Clinton has not only displayed contempt for our immigration laws, but also encouraged foreigners to break those laws, to their own great danger. We must say to those foreigners, loudly and clearly, do not make this dangerous journey. Do not violate our laws. Do not come here illegally.

It is the humane thing to do and it is the right thing to do. Secretary Clinton should be ashamed of herself for doing otherwise.