Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Immigration Vote

Posted on February 15, 2018

Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, the senator from Delaware is somewhere in the neighborhood. And he has a train to catch in a few minutes. So I ask consent that after I make a few remarks about today's events, the voting today, that the senator from Delaware be recognized and following his speaking, that I be recognized again.

Mr. Alexander: I thank the president. Mr. President, today the senate voted on immigration. Immigration is a passionate issue.

It affects the lives of people. It affects the American creed which involves the rule of law, which involves the fact that there are very strong opinions about it.

All of us know that. Of course, Mr. President, that's the reason why we have a United States Senate.

This is not an issue that the Shreveport City Council or the Nashville City Council can solve.

They can't -- they can't solve the problem of our nation's borders.

They can't solve the problem in our communities of what to do about people who were brought here as children illegally through no fault of their own.

That's our job. That's the job of the President of the United States. It's the job of the United States Senate. It's the job of the United States Congress. We tried before. We tried in 2007, and we failed. We tried in 2013 and this body passed a bill with 68 or 69 votes. I voted for it.

All the issues we debated today, we wouldn't have them anymore if we dealt with border security in 2013.

We would have added 20,000 border agents, 700 miles of fencing, biometric detection at our ports of exit and entry, e-verify for all of the employers in the country.

We would have dealt with the issue of legal status for people illegally here, people overstaying their visas, temporary workers.

We would have done all of that in 2013. But we did not do it. So we're left with this problem of a large number of people living in this country, some for a long period of time, who were brought here as children through no fault of their own.

That's one problem. And we've got a problem on the border. The border isn't secure. And the people coming across the border is one problem.

In my view, the drugs coming here across the border are the biggest problem.

We've had a lot of hearings in our health committee about the opioids addiction.

A lot of the heroin, a lot of the illegal drugs that are just devastating our communities are coming across -- are coming across our southern border. It's just a fact about that. And we need to deal with it.

So we're dealing with it and we voted today on what to do about the children brought here illegally by their parents through no fault of their own and what to do about border security.

Now, the president of the United States did his job on this one. He did what a president is supposed to do.

I read a book one time by George Reedy who was Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary.

He said the president's job -- the senator from Delaware is a former governor so he knows about that.

He and I had an executive job when we were governors. I did my job this way.

A governor's job, a president's job, is to see an urgent need, develop a strategy and convince half of the people you're right.

That's what he said the president's job was and I think President Trump in this case has done his job. He saw an urgent need. He saw the need of the DACA, the dreamers, the DACA people who are here. He saw the urgent need to deal with the border.

He saw an urgent need to deal with some other holes in our system of illegal immigration. He saw a need to deal with the fact that we've kind of slipped into a situation where the million people a year who come here legally are -- come unlike most countries in the world.

They're brought here by cousins just because they're cousins. They're not brought here because they're part of the immediate family or because they add something special to our country, either skilled or unskilled. And he sought to change that.

He recognized the fact that once we give someone legal status in this country, once we say to you, we've decided we want you to be here permanently or nearly permanently, we want you at least one day to dream of becoming a citizen of the United States.

I agree with the president on that. I don't want millions of people living in this country permanently who are pledging their allegiance to Afghanistan and Russia and China and Japan and every other country in the world.

I want them to stand up in the federal court or wherever they have the naturalization ceremony or to be able to dream of standing there and take the same oath of allegiance to this country that George Washington’s soldiers took at Valley Forge which is the same allegiance today as it was then.

When you renounced your allegiance to any other country and pledged your allegiance to the United States.

I want anyone who we decided deserves legal status on a permanent basis to have that in the back of their minds, not their pledge of allegiance to Korea or Afghanistan or Bangladesh or any other country in the world.

So I think the president did his job. He made a reasonable proposal. He did something I think most Democrats, many Americans, maybe many Republicans did not expect him to do.

He said, let's take care permanently of these children who were brought here, 1.8 million he said, through no fault of their own, as long as they behaved, don't get in trouble, follow the law, law abiding, let's give them the dream of citizenship after 10 or 12 years.

Let's deal with merit-based immigration. Let's make some changes in our legal system. Let's plug some of the holes in the boarder so these drugs don't come in.

The president made a very strong proposal. Now, we're doing what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to react to that.

Well, we did today. Senator Grassley offered the president's proposal. He got 39 votes. A bipartisan group offered a narrower version of what the president wanted.

It only included the border security part, $25 billion, and a permanent fix for the DACA or dreamer -- those who are here because of that provision in the law. It got 54 votes. But neither got 60. Neither got to 60 which we need. Now, why do we need 60 votes? Because we're the United States senate, Mr. President.

House of Representatives only need a majority. We get 60. Because we want a consensus. Why do we need a consensus? When we take on a big, difficult, passionate issues like this, -- passionate issue like this, we want the people of this country to accept it.

We want them to say, if that many Democrats and that many Republicans think that, maybe I should rethink my own view and think it's a good idea.

That's why President Trump has a chance to -- he won his election because he promised a wall. He talked about immigration. Now he's saying here's a solution that has to do with border security and citizenship and for the DACA children and people will pay attention to that.

And they'll pay attention to us if we get more than a bare majority to vote for some version of what the president has recommended.

Well, we're up to 54. I can give you an example of what I just said. In the late 1960's, the debate was civil rights.

Everett Dirksen was the minority leader of the United States Senate.

He was the Republican leader. Lyndon Johnson was the president. He was the Democratic president.

They worked together to get 68 votes for the Civil Rights Bill of 1968. It was opposed by Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. But when Senator Russell lost, he flew back to Atlanta and said it's the law. We should follow it.

That's what we did with civil rights. That's what we did with social security. That's what we did with Medicare. That's what we did more recently with fixing No Child Left Behind, with 21st Century Cures.

When we take on a tough, complicated issue and we talk about it long enough and we get enough of us on both sides of the aisle to agree on it, we get a consensus. The country accepts it.

You don't have to worry about the next congress coming in and passing, repealing it, and changing it.

When we don't do that, it's like Obamacare. It passes with a partisan vote and then we have a permanent political battle trying to repeal it or replace it that's been going on for eight years.

We're still not through it yet. We hope to be but we're not through it yet. So we need 60 votes for a solution to the DACA children who were brought here and to the border security position.

Actually, Mr. President, I would suggest our goal should be 70, not 60. We're not going to get there with a situation that has, you know, 45 -- 47 or 48 democrats and eight or nine republicans.

That doesn't make 60 in the public schools of Tennessee. And we won't get it with almost all the Republicans and just a few Democrats. That's not a majority. That's not a consensus. That's not going to persuade the people of this country that we've come up with something lasting that most people can accept.

I have no doubt we can get there. There were 36 senators of both parties who came to a meeting three weeks ago at which we said to our two whips, Durbin and Cornyn on each side, we'd like for the two of you to help us find a consensus on this, 36 of us.

There have been 20 or 25 meeting, about equal number of both parties trying to find some solution here.

I think we're making some pretty good progress. We just didn't get there today. So I’m glad the majority leader said this is not the end of it. It can't be the end of it. We can't just leave this here. I can't go back to Tennessee and tell Memphis or Nashville or Knoxville, sorry, we can't do it so the city council will now decide what to do about these children illegally here and about the drugs coming across the southern border and about illegal immigration.

I can't do that. The president has done his job. The senate worked on it for a week. We got up to 54 votes. We need 70.

So my hope is that the president will continue to advocate, do his job, and see an urgent need. He did. Recommend a strategy to deal with the need. He did. And try to persuade at least half the people he's right. He's a good persuader.

Then we'll do our job. That's not to stand in the corners and throw things at each other. Let's see where we can agree and do what we did on civil rights and fixing No Child Left Behind.

This is not any harder than those issues. We ought to be able to do it. Otherwise we shouldn't be here.

I tell my colleagues often, this is pretty hard to be a United States Senator. It's hard to get here. It's hard to stay here. And while you're here, you might as well amount to something.

Amounting to something means getting a result. We didn't get a result today but I’m convinced that we can.

In conclusion and then I’ll go to my friend from Delaware, now how do we get to 70?

Well, I came up here years ago and worked for a senator named Howard Baker. He was very successful in this body. He ended up as the majority leader, stood right over there next to Senator Byrd when he was the Democratic leader.

They had great differences of opinion, but they ran this body very well.

Howard Baker had a saying. He said, it helped to be an eloquent listener and he said, you know, you have to remember that sometimes the other fella might be right.

I'd like to say to my democratic friends, and in this case, the other fella might be named Trump, they might not like that.

They may not like it but I think we should give the president credit for recommending -- seeing an urgent need, recommending a strategy, and doing his best to persuade half the Americans that he's right about that.

I think we need some members of the other side to do what eight of us on the Republican side did this day which is move the other direction, recognize the other fellow might be right, come to a conclusion, and do our job.

I think we made a start this week but we're not there yet. I look forward to the opportunity to finish the job and remembering that Howard Baker's advice, the other fellow might be right, might be a good way to start with that.