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On Senate Floor, Rubio Stresses Need for Congress to Pass Republican Bill on Family Separations

Jun 21, 2018 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stressed the need for Congress to act on family separations after the president signed an executive order yesterday to stop the separation of families. Yesterday he, and Republican colleagues, introduced the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act, legislation that would ensure the integrity of our nation’s immigration laws by requiring that children and their parents remain together during their legal proceedings.

A rough and partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below.

A few issues have divided our country and political process more than immigration. It’s well known by now how difficult it is to get anything done on the topic. Later today the House will have a vote. I don’t know how that will turn out, but we’ve seen how difficult it is to even get to that point. And the reason why it’s a difficult issue is multifaceted. The first is that it involves people. It’s easy to throw around numbers, a hundred thousand, 1.1 million a year, 2,000. But these are human beings who by and large want to come to America because it’s the best country in the world. So that’s one of the things that makes it difficult is we’re talking about human beings. It’s not trade, it’s not dollars. It’s people. The other reason why it’s difficult is because we are a nation in which few of any of us are but a few generations removed at most from someone who came from somewhere else.

The closer you are to that reality, the more you identify with those who want to come here. I was blessed to be born in the United States, but I didn’t do anything to earn that. I happened to have benefited from the fact that my parents live 90 miles away from the greatest nation on earth. They could have been born somewhere else. They could have made a different decision in their lives. I’m not even sure what would have happened, quite frankly, since my parents had me in their 40’s, I’m not sure I would have even been born. But I’m a beneficiary of that incredible blessing. The flip side of it is, I’m also a lawmaker. And I understand that every nation on this planet has immigration laws. Mexico has immigration laws. Canada has immigration laws.

This is not just a difficult issue in America. It’s a difficult issue around the world. One of the reasons why it’s so difficult here is because we have long prided ourselves on being a nation of immigrants, and we remain that. One of the things that isn’t repeated enough, and you’ll never get this if you listen to some of the way this issue is covered, on either side of this debate is that every single year over a million human beings, over one million human beings enter the United States legally, and many of them within three to five years swore an oath to become American citizens. And I believe with all my heart that strengthens our country. So with all that noise that you’re hearing, just remember the baseline. Every single year over a million people come to this country legally. That’s happening and will happen again this year. I will tell you, no other nation on Earth even comes close to that level of generosity. The problem we have is that in our region there are countries of incredible instability.

I would ask everyone, if you’re a parent and your children are hungry and you’re fearful that your children or your wife or your family can be killed by a gang, would you not do almost anything to help them? So we understand that part. And that has to be balanced with the reality that America is a country that’s proud of its heritage as a nation of immigrants, that continues to be generous and welcoming, but also has to have a system. It can’t be disordered because otherwise it strains our capacity, and it also overlooks another obligation we have and that is an obligation to our own people.

No nation on earth, not even one as wealthy or as great as America can welcome every human being on the planet that wants to come here. That’s not harsh. That’s true. What other country does? Canada doesn’t do that, Mexico doesn’t do that. No other nation on earth, including the ones that have policies like that. many are much more restrictive than the United States. Most of the threats in Europe, you can go there but they’ll never let you become a citizen.

Every country has its own set of rules. Our rules have fluctuated. There have been times in our history much more restrictive than now in terms of immigration. So we have this situation. We have this incredible instability in places like Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala. And one of the responses to it, which I strongly support, we’ll fund it again this year, is something called the Alliance for Prosperity. It is probably in the long term the best thing we can do to deal with the problem we have right now. And what that does is it builds the capacity of the government in those countries to deal with those gangs that are threatening people, to create economic opportunity so people don’t have to leave.

The administration says we’re going to end it, and we’re going to detain them together and and someone’s going to sue us under the “Flores Settlement,” which is why the government must act. Congress must act.

So I watched some of the speeches on the floor last night from some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and the best way I can describe the argument is I understood it, and if I’m wrong somebody should come tell me. But I heard the arguments carefully because I was trying to figure out well, there has got to be a way to deal with this–it’s a tough issue.

Their argument was, number one, do not detain the children at all. Keep the “Flores Settlement” in place. Don’t detain the children. Number two, don’t separate the families. So that means not only can you not detain the children, but don’t detain the parents. So let them go. And number three, if they don’t show up for their hearing, and you eventually run into them, don’t deport them either.

So if we’re not going to detain children, we’re not going to detain parents. And if they don’t show up for the hearing, we’re not going to deport them unless they’re violent criminals. Then the de facto policy is if you come to the United States alone, you will be detained and returned. But if you come to the United States with children, you will be released and never deported, potentially.

Now I want to tell you, and this is not conjecture. I already told you—I know people. I want to tell you the perception that that creates. It creates the perception, it creates the incentive—people can argue about whether dividing families is a deterrent or not. I don’t even want to make that argument because I don’t think that’s a deterrent we should use as this nation. It’s not who we are.

We should never say we’re going to punish your kids in order to keep you from doing something. But I can tell you whether or not it’s a deterrent, it is most definitely an incentive to have a policy that says if you come alone, you’ll be apprehended, detained and returned. But if you come with kids, we’re going to let you in. Because it is true: I find it to be cruel to separate these kids from their parents. I want to tell you what else is cruel, and that is the journey that people have to undertake in the hands of some of the most horrible human beings on this planet who traffic human beings through Mexico and across our border. Let me tell you how horrible it is.

Yes, it is cruel to divide families. It is also cruel to have an incentive for people to bring children on this journey, and that’s what this is. And to go back to the point, unless I’m wrong, as I understand it, the policy that we’re being asked to support by some is don’t detain the kids, don’t detain the parents in order to not separate the families, and when they don’t show up for the hearing, don’t deport them. Well, then really, your de facto law basically is that you come to the United States alone, you’ll be detained and returned. But if you come with kids, you will get to stay. That’s irresponsible, and if that is in fact the policy, then you should admit it, ‘This is our policy, this is what we think the law should be.’ And you can’t go around saying, ‘I’m for border security,’ but they’ll never tell you what they’re for. And you can’t go around saying, ‘We should only enforce our immigration laws on dangerous criminals.’ Everyone agrees with that one.

And so the best way forward is a bill that Senator Tillis and others filed yesterday. And that is one that will allow us to house families together while pending their hearing. Some will qualify for asylum and get to stay. Others will have to return together. Is it perfect? No. The United States government is not in the business of housing families. We do have an obligation to ensure that we can expedite their hearings so they’re not there for a long time. we do have an obligation to say if you legitimately qualify for asylum, you should be given the opportunity to apply for it. we do have an obligation to say while we detain families, we are going to provide them safe, sanitary conditions, because that’s who we are as a people and that’s who we should be.

We do have an obligation to do all of that, and that’s why this bill adds 200 new judges to help expedite and why it calls for expediting cases that involve families with children. I know this is a tough issue, but our law cannot be that if you come here unlawfully with children, you get to stay, we’re not going tone force it because you are creating a cruel incentive for more people to do that. And you’re basically saying we have laws but we’ll refuse to enforce them, and then you don’t have an immigration system. and then people turn on immigration. and then we can’t solve the problem we have today. I say to you in closing as someone who is by no means an immigration restrictionist, by no means.

In fact, I support doing something reasonable with the people who have been here a long time and are not dangerous criminals, they are now part of our country. I support extending TPS for the Haitian community, many of whom are business owners in Miami-Dade county where I live. I support extending TPS for the Honduran community who are here legally by the way. In both cases TPS makes you legal. Some of them own businesses, some of them have graduated and are going to medical school.

I support all of that, I support doing something responsible with people who were brought here as children through no fault of their own, have grown up here their whole life. Some don’t speak anything but English and finding some permanency to their status in this country and a path to citizenship, I support all of that stuff. I also support enforcing our immigration laws so we can welcome more people in the future, but there has to be a process. Every sovereign country in the world has laws and a process and most of them enforce their laws in ways that are much more stringent, in many cases, much more barbaric than anything that you’ll ever be accused of having done in the United States. And that’s not what I’m advocating, I don’t know anyone who is. So it’s been a tough week on a tough issue.

I hope that we will act. I know how appealing this is as a political issue. I know how much cable news time people get on both sides talking about it, but I hope we can make progress at least on this one little piece, and then move forward and do the rest. But this one little piece, I hope will just deal with it. And I think we’ve got a proposal before the Senate that doesn’t make the situation perfect, but sure makes it a lot better than what it is now. And it sure is preferable to dividing families and sure is preferable to a law that tells people bring your children on this very dangerous journey because if you do, you’ll get to stay. And it’s my hope we’ll act and get something done.