Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The FY 19 Homeland Security, SFOPS, and FSGG Appropriations Bill

The Committee has three bills before us today — the State, Foreign Operations bill, Department of Homeland Security bill, and the Financial Services and General Government bill.  I thank all of the Chairs and Ranking Members for their hard work.  As the Ranking Member of the State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I will reserve my remarks on the bill until we turn to it.  I will note that I worked closely with Senator Graham, as we always do, in drafting the bill, and I believe we produced a truly bipartisan product.  I urge members to support the motion to report.

Today the Committee is also considering the Department of Homeland Security bill.  This bill is the product of hard work and bipartisan cooperation between the DHS Subcommittee’s Chairwoman, Senator Capito, and Ranking Member, Senator Tester.  Reaching a compromise on the DHS bill – which touches on some of the most heated and controversial issues before our country today – is no small feat.  Both leaders and members stuck to their word and avoided poison pill riders and controversial authorizing legislation, despite enormous pressure – on both sides – to add such provisions. This is how the Senate is supposed to work – putting politics aside for the sake of doing the vital work of the American people.

First and foremost, I am glad that after weeks of false and conflicting justifications for requiring that children be torn from their parents at the border, the President agrees that family separation is heartless and must be avoided. I remain deeply concerned, however, that he intends to swap family separation with indefinite family detention. I condemned incarceration of families during the Obama administration and will do so again now. Proven alternatives exist that are effective, less costly, and infinitely more humane. I also remain deeply concerned that President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy makes zero sense. Why waste our finite enforcement resources by criminally prosecuting migrants with no records, who pose no threat, and who are only seeking refuge from unimaginable violence and terror in their home countries?

Despite repeatedly lying to the American people, these inhumane and nonsensical policies are his creation and his alone. And he needs to fix them.

The President needs to start governing based on our shared American principles, not on crass political calculations.  Systematically tearing infants and toddlers from their parents is an affront to our most basic values.  As Americans – as human beings – we simply can never allow such inhumane policies to be carried out by the country viewed as a beacon of human rights to the world. 

Because we worked in good faith with the Republican majority – because each side has made compromises in this bill – this DHS bill is not President Trump’s bill.  This is the Senate’s bill.  It rejects the President’s extreme immigration agenda.  It does not fund the hiring of a single additional ICE agent; the President requested funds to hire 3,000 agents.  It does not provide a single dollar for any additional detention beds over the FY18 Omnibus level; the President wanted funds for nearly 12,000 additional detention beds.  We also cut in half the President’s request for 750 additional Customs and Border Patrol agents.  The President has repeatedly pressed for billions of taxpayer dollars for his massive, cynical and symbolic border wall.  His campaign promise that Mexico, and not American taxpayers, would pay for any of this is receding in the rearview mirror.  Yet this bill funds only 65 miles of new pedestrian fencing.

This bill also holds the Trump administration accountable through transparency.  Although President Trump announced that he would end his abhorrent family separation policy, this bill nonetheless requires the administration to publicly report – every month – details about any incidents of family separation.  The bill withholds funds from DHS until the first such monthly report is issued.  It also requires the Trump administration to produce weekly reviews about the health and status of pregnant women detained by ICE.  And it ensures that the public will have access to detention facility inspection reports within 60 days, and reports about detainee deaths within 30 days.  This bill ensures that Congress and the American people can scrutinize – and hold accountable – the Trump administration’s treatment of vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers. 

This bill also provides critical resources to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service.  Each play a critical role in keeping our nation safe.  The bill supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In Vermont, we know all too well, as we still continue to recover from Tropical Storm Irene nearly seven years ago, the important role that FEMA plays in supporting states and communities after natural disasters.  With Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida still recovering from last year’s hurricane season, even as this year’s season begins, it is vitally important that we come together as a nation to support our communities recovering from disasters.

Finally, I want to thank Chairman Lankford and Ranking Member Coons for their work on the Financial Services and General Government Bill.  This bill makes key investments in small businesses through the Small Business Development Center Program, and other related programs, which support local economies around the country.  It funds regulatory agencies that American citizens rely on like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.  And I’m especially glad that this bill includes a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees.  These men and women are dedicated public servants, and I’m glad we could include this well-deserved raise.   

This is also Senator Lankford’s first year as Chairman of this Committee and together with Ranking Member Coons they should be proud of the bipartisan bill before us. 

I will now make the motion to report the bills, and urge an “Aye” vote to advance each of these bills to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. 

# # # # #

CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667