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Cotton Calls for an End to Chain Migration

January 10, 2018

Thank you, Chairman Grassley, for your leadership on this issue. Thank you for offering the SECURE Act, which I and so many other senators have supported. I want to continue this debate where Senator Tillis left off.

We've heard a lot today about the so-called DACA program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and the kind of negotiations in which we're currently engaged. Hopefully, those negotiations will reach a solution that will satisfy all the parties and give certainty and legal protection to the DACA population.

We've heard a lot today about border security and the wall. I want to focus on one other element of a needed, negotiated solution, and that's chain migration. Putting an end once and for all to chain migrations. Because when you give legal status to an illegal immigrant, that is a permanent change in law. It will never be reversed. Therefore, you can't simply accept some window dressing at the border, one year of funding for demonstration or pilot projects. You have to have a permanent change in return for a permanent change, and an end to chain migration will be one of the most important permanent changes to U.S. immigration law in 52 years.

What is chain migration? Well, under the current law, which dates back to 1965, if you're a citizen, you can bring any one of your relatives to this country. Not just your spouse and your unmarried minor kids, your nuclear family, but also your adult kids and their spouses and their children, and your adult brother and your adult sister, and your parents, and then their siblings and so on and so forth. That's why it's called chain migration. Each person is a potential link in a never-ending chain.

So the vast majority of people that immigrate to our country legally every single year do so for the sole reason that they just happen to be related to somebody that's already here.

Now we've heard a lot of talk about the American Dream in recent days, that we're a nation of immigrants, it's part of our core. And that is absolutely right. We are a nation of immigrants. We're a nation where blood ties are not supposed to dictate the path of your life, where you can fulfill your dreams. But we have an immigration system that does the exact opposite, an immigration system that favors the ties of blood, the ties of kinship, the ties of clan, the ties of tribe. What could be less American than that?

And as a result, we also get a massive wave of low-skilled and unskilled immigrants over the last 52 years. Today, only one in 15 of the million-plus immigrants who come here every year come here because of their education or job skills or their job offer.

That means you have thousands and thousands of workers with absolutely no consideration of what it means for the workers who are already here, for workers who are American citizens, who are earning a wage. In many cases, the most recent immigrants are going to face competition from the next wave of unskilled immigrants.

So we're putting downward pressure on their wages, the wages of people who work with their hands and work on their feet, who hold the kind of jobs that require you to take a shower after you get off work, not before you go to work.

Blue-collar workers have begun to see an increase in their wages over the last year for the first time in decades, and that's in no small part because of the administration's efforts to get immigration under control, but it's not enough to stop there.

The real question is, who should our immigration system work for? It should work for the American people, the American worker. It should be crafted for their benefit, not the benefit of foreigners.

We should have an immigration system that fulfills the needs of our economy, that focuses on jobs and wages for American citizens here, whether your parents came over on the Mayflower or whether you just took the oath of citizenship last week. It's not some radical position. Liberal Democrats used to believe in that.

Now, I understand in this debate, most of the attention is focused on that population of about 690,000 illegal immigrants who came here through no fault of their own as young children 15, 20, 30 years ago. I think the concern for them is very understandable. President Trump has shown it. My colleagues have shown it today. I share it as well.

President Obama did them a real disservice by unilaterally and unconstitutionally, therefore unsustainably, giving them legal status in this country to work. President Trump did the right thing by recognizing that President Obama lacked that authority. And he shouldn't have put them in that position. But nobody in this Senate-I think I can speak for my other 99 colleagues-nobody is eager to see these people face deportation.

Yet at the same time if we're going to give them legal status, we have to recognize inevitably as an operation of logic there are two negative consequences that flow from that. You can say you don't mind them but you can't say they don't exist.

First, as you've heard from so many others, you're going to encourage parents from around the world who live in poverty and oppression and strife and war to illegally immigrate to this country with their small children in hopes of getting their children American citizenship sometime in the future. That is dangerous and in my opinion that is immoral to offer those kinds of inducements.

Second, as I've explained, you'll create a whole new category of American citizens who can now get legal status for their extended families, to include the very parents who brought them here in violation of the law in the first place.

As part of this debate, we've often heard the old line that children ought not pay for the crimes of the parents. Well, if that is the case, can't we at least agree that parents can pay for the crimes of the parents? They're the ones who created the situation in the first place.

President Trump has said, as I've noted, that he wants to protect the DACA population. But at the same time, he has said repeatedly we must build a wall and secure our border and end chain migration. I agree that we have to build a wall on our border. I have to say it's a little amusing to see how our Democratic colleagues have changed their tune on this point.

First, they were complaining for weeks that the president hadn't written a border security plan yet. They kept asking for a punch list, a punch list, what your contractor provides you when he is done building your home but not quite done with every single technical speck. The administration provided that to them just last week. Now they are complaining that it's too expensive. It's "outrageous" in the words of the senator from Illinois.

Although I want to point out that while the president's proposal would cost $18 billion, it's over ten years so $1.8 billion a year. The senator from Illinois has proposed a naked amnesty bill that would cost $26 billion over ten years.

That's right: $18 billion is too much to secure our southern border, to build a wall and to provide more agents, and buy more technology. But $26 billion to provide more welfare for illegal immigrants after they get amnesty is a-okay.

I'd also point out that a lot of Democrats supported the Secure Fence Act just over a decade ago-building over 700 miles of a physical barrier on our southern border.

Maybe I could propose new grounds for starting negotiations. How about we simply agree as a baseline that we will fully fund the hundreds of miles of physical barriers that the Senate minority leader voted for just 12 years ago?

They also supported the so-called Gang of Eight bill five years ago that also would have built hundreds of miles of physical barrier on our southern border. What's changed since then?

Now, all that being said, building a wall will help stop illegal immigration, but it won't fix all the problems to the law itself. That's why I've said, as the president has said, we also have to deal with that second consequence, ending chain migration.

Now, one trial balloon I've heard floated in recent days is that a negotiated piece of legislation could eliminate the immigration preference for the adult unmarried kids of legal permanent residents, green-card holders.

That's perfectly fine, we should do that for sure, but to act like that alone would end chain migration? It's preposterous. It will delay a very small part of chain migration-only delay, only delay a very small part-about 26,000 of the more than 300,000 people who come here a year through family preferences, because it doesn't even touch the preference for the adult, unmarried children of citizens-or parents, or siblings, of citizens and green-card holders alike.

In other words, once these young people in the DACA population become citizens, then they will be able to get legal status for their relatives-which means, far from stopping chain migration, it will actually accelerate the naturalization process and the chain that we're trying to stop in the first place.

The time has come to end this foolish and unwise policy, and indeed, dangerous policy, as we saw just a few weeks ago in the most recent attempted terror attack in New York that had at its initiating point someone who got into this country because of chain migration.

Not a single advanced, industrialized nation has such a lax immigration policy when it comes to immigrant families as we do. Not Canada. Not the United Kingdom. Not France. Not Germany. Not New Zealand. Not Japan.

If we're actually going to fix the problem, if we're going to do right by the American worker, if we're going to promote the American Dream and American ideals, then it's time for these mindless family preferences and chain migration to come to an end.