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Strengthening our commitment to legal immigration

Throughout my service, I have spent considerable time with my constituents and, quite frankly, have anguished with them on how to best address the strain the illegal alien population is having on my state and others across the nation.

As many of you know, last Congress, 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.

Let me underscore this point: I continue to believe that we must do everything to properly and finally secure our border. Many of our nation’s problems result from a residual effect of a porous border and a breakdown of our immigration enforcement system. I continue to work with and support my colleagues whose states are located along the Southwest border. Of all people, they know what resources we need to deploy to accomplish the job.

I’d like to use this brief time we have together to outline the key provisions of my bill, which will address critical issues that have been overlooked in the immigration debate. But, before doing so, I want to stress that my legislation is not meant to be comprehensive in nature. It won’t fix everything that’s wrong with our immigration system. But, it will provide solutions to many problems that have been acknowledged on both sides of the aisle.

The first thing my bill would do is address the over-reaching of the Administration with regard to parole and deferral.

As many of you know, immigration law allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to defer action on individuals in the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. Normally this is done on a case-by-case basis. Last year, memoranda drafted by senior staff at the Department of Homeland Security surfaced detailing ways to use the deferred action and parole process to circumvent Congress in order to legalize those who are in the United States illegally.

As you can imagine, using these administrative actions would be a tremendous abuse of power by unelected bureaucrats. They were designed for very specific and individual cases, not as a backdoor to keep millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. For this reason, my bill specifies that an alien may only be paroled or granted deferred action on a case-by-case basis — the way these laws were intended to be used.

Next, my bill focuses on existing law enforcement programs, the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs. These programs have been valuable tools to our law enforcement officials, giving state and local law departments more authority in detaining and deporting criminal aliens. For example, in Fiscal Year 2010, the 287(g) program was responsible for identifying 32,457 criminal aliens. What I don’t understand is why some cities would choose not to participate in these effective programs. That is why my proposed legislation requires law enforcement agencies that are selected and enrolled in the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs to fully comply with the requirements of such programs or risk losing federal reimbursement 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, another one of their top concerns is how we fix our visa system. 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 or gangs. 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 recommendations for reform to our system was to create a visa exit program for foreign visitors to the United States. Departure information is vital for determining whether foreign visitors are leaving 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 aliens have overstayed their visas 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. Believe it or not, 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 seven years since the first pilot program was completed. How much more time needs to be wasted before we act? Thus, my bill would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a mandatory exit procedure for foreign visitors to the United States.

Another problem within the visa system is the fraud-laden visa lottery known as the Diversity Visa program.  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 terminate the Diversity Visa program, unless the State Department recommends how to eliminate the fraud and abuse that currently exist in the 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, the Diversity Visa 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 an economic tie to the United States. And because of limited availability of verification, the program presents serious national security concerns.

In a recent blog post by Janice Kephart from the Center for Immigration Studies, she brings attention to the national security implications of the abuses within the Diversity Visa program. She states:  “At least one terrorist incident was benefited by the DV program . . . an Egyptian who had entered the United States in 1992 . . . eventually obtained full legal permanent resident status when his wife won a [Diversity Visa] in 1996. On July 4, 2002, he drove to the L.A. Airport with two guns and a hunting knife, approached the Israeli Airline El Al ticket counter, and killed an employee and man waiting in line.”

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.

Another issue continually raised by my constituents, and many across the country, is the impact that illegal aliens and their families are having upon our welfare programs. Los Angeles County, California has been very proactive in this respect. County officials actually track who receives welfare benefits and how much have been paid out. Much to my amazement, it appears that L.A. County in 2010 distributed close to $600 million in welfare benefits to households that include illegal aliens. 

In order to have an honest discussion about the drain illegal aliens are having upon our welfare system, we must be armed with state-specific information to fully 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 agencies, 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. Some of you may recall that the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which required sponsors of legal immigrants to be responsible for individuals’ expenses during the first five years of residency in the U.S., had the option of offering legal immigrants CHIP and Medicaid coverage with state-only dollars. There was no availability for federal matching dollars.

Unfortunately, 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. My legislation permits 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 percent of its U.S. citizen children and pregnant women eligible for CHIP or Medicaid. Second, the state must show that it is not substituting state dollars with federal dollars. 

Another topic of concern that I regularly hear about is identity theft. The identity theft that illegal aliens 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, school loan, or credit card. 

It is no secret that many in the illegal immigrant community perpetuate identity theft with stolen or fabricated Social Security numbers. In fact, just a few weeks ago in Virginia, the police shut down a document mill where they believe thousands of fraudulent IDs were provided to illegal aliens.

I was recently made aware of a two-year-old girl from Utah whose identity was stolen by a 38-year old illegal alien. By the time the parents of the two-year-old became aware of the fraud, the illegal alien had already taken out two loans and opened credit cards – saddling the young child with over $15,000 in debt.

Fortunately, the illegal alien was apprehended when he tried to obtain a loan from a local Utah bank. A diligent bank employee spotted the discrepancy and alerted the little girl’s parents. The thief was caught, but the family was left with countless hours of work to correct the fraud perpetrated against their child.

Last year, the Utah press reported on another identity theft case about a newly married university student who has been battling to reclaim his identity for the last 15 years. This young man was seven years old when his Social Security number was stolen by an illegal alien in his 60s living in another state.

At the time, his parents thought they had corrected the error but when the boy began working at the age of 16, he started receiving notices that his wages were being garnished to pay for 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.

We shouldn’t have to rely upon an observant bank employee to combat identity theft. Currently, there is no system in place to alert original Social Security holders when potential fraud or improper usage has occurred.

The federal agency that is best suited to track the use of mismatched Social Security numbers is the Internal Revenue Service. That is why my bill requires the IRS to send a notice to an employer that an inaccurate Social Security number 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 Social Security number holder or parents of minors that a discrepancy has been detected.

If it is an actual mismatch, they are instructed to contact the IRS. If they suspect fraudulent use, the Social Security number holder is provided with contact information for the Federal Trade Commission and various credit bureaus to report the problem. Finally, if no response is received from the Social Security number holder, the IRS is required to refer the account number to appropriate federal agencies for possible investigation.

Let me pause here to underscore a point. Currently, the original Social Security number holder never receives notice when a mismatch has occurred within the workplace. And, quite frankly, I do not have the confidence that the IRS is requiring much of the employer to correct or verify an employee’s submission. This is not acceptable. Today, when at a click of a mouse, someone can apply for credit cards, mortgages, or even car loans, there is no excuse for leaving Social Security number holders in the dark.

One can only imagine that if this simple notification step had been available for my constituents and many others, years of laborious efforts and countless hours of notifying credit bureaus, banks, and other authorities would have been greatly reduced, if not avoided all together.

To make matters more confusing in this area of the law, the Supreme Court has essentially tied the hands of prosecutors in going after these thieves and those who are involved in document mills. Prosecutors must 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.

In order 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 section 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 children. Unfortunately, it seems that lately you can’t even turn on the T.V. without seeing a news story about Mexican drug cartel violence. As additional federal law enforcement personnel and military units continue to be deployed to the Southwest border, their focus is 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.

Listen to this: 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. 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 past year. Each plant can yield one pound of marijuana with a street value of $1,000. These sites are typically far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow potent marijuana. Growers of these fields have even created irrigation systems to disrupt or divert water sources. This problem is not 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.

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.

I hope now you can see why I believe the fight to control the border is no longer isolated to just the physical boundary between the United States and Mexico. In my view, securing the border also means prohibiting mass deferral or parole; streamlining the visa system; requiring participation in key law enforcement programs; clamping down on ID theft; tracking the amount of welfare benefits diverted to illegal immigrants; ensuring that dollars are being used to cover American children in federal insurance programs; and keeping our national parks and federal lands safe and free from traffickers and drug cultivation.

Let me conclude by saying that my bill represents solutions to key immigration issues confronting our great country. They are common-sense solutions designed to strengthen our commitment to legal immigration and America’s security.

Again, thank you for allowing me this opportunity give you a preview of my bill before I reintroduce it next week. There is no doubt that the proposed measures can make significant improvements to our broken immigration system.


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