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Gang of Eight Bill Stronger Than Trump's Immigration Orders, Argues Senator

A Border Patrol SUV watches the border from a mountain near Brown Field Air Unit and Otay Mesa. (Josh Denmark/U.S. Border Patrol)

WASHINGTON — A Colorado Democrat argued on the Senate floor this week that the 2013 Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill was actually tougher than President Trump’s immigration and border security executive orders.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) was on the bipartisan legislative team along with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

During Wednesday’s debate on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to become attorney general, Bennet said the “fundamental reason” he objected to Sessions’ nomination “is that he led the fight in 2013 against our bipartisan effort to reform the broken immigration system in the United States.”

“And I sat here on this Senate floor night after night after night listening to the senator use fear and inaccuracies to derail our best chance in years to fix this broken immigration system,” he added.

The Gang of Eight’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 passed in the Senate but was never brought up for a vote in the House.

“As to the work of the Gang of Eight, I would have been happy for people to have seen what happened behind closed doors in those seven months,” Bennet said. “It is
how the Senate ought to operate.”

He remembered Sessions saying during that debate that the bill would have “dramatically increased incidence of criminal alien violence, officially legalizing dangerous offenders, while handcuffing immigration officers from doing their jobs” while causing a “huge increase in immigration” to take jobs from “struggling American workers.”

“These claims are demonstrably untrue. If our bill had become law, we would have secured our borders, we would have bolstered internal security, we would have better protected American workers, and we would have strengthened our economy,” Bennet argued. “Contrary to his characterization of what was in that bill, the 2013 bill provided far greater security than President Trump’s plan.”

“The first two words in the title of that bill were ‘border security.’ That has been completely ignored by the critics,” he added. “It has been completely ignored by people who want to make an issue out of this in national campaigns. But the reality is it provided billions of dollars toward new technologies to monitor the border. It called for the building of a 700-mile fence. By the way, none of the rest of it
would come to pass until we took care of the border.

Bennet said the Gang of Eight bill provided for “nearly 20,000 new Border Patrol agents — four times more than ordered by President Trump and double the current number — and not paid for by raising taxes on the American people at our border with Mexico, not paid for in a way that would destroy our trading relationship with
Mexico, but paid for by fees that people were paying as they were becoming lawful in the United States of America.”

“It had protections in the bill for American workers to ensure that employers hired American labor first,” the senator added. “I know [Sessions] objected to this, and I understand we had a difference of opinion, but the bill included a tough but fair path to citizenship, requiring people to go through background checks as part of a long path to citizenship.”

Trump’s executive order, signed in the first week of his presidency, targets illegal immigrants for priority deportation who have not only been committed or charged with a crime, but “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” “have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency,” or “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

It also says sanctuary cities “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.”

The Department of Homeland Security was ordered to “take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct” a border wall “using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control.” A comprehensive border security report is also due to the president within 180 days including “geophysical and topographical aspects of the southern border.”

Trump said the order “empowers ICE officers to target and remove those who pose a threat to public safety, calls for the hiring of another 5,000 Border Patrol officers, calls for the tripling of the number of ICE officers.”

After Trump met with a group of Senate Democrats at the White House on Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Trump told them he was reviewing the Gang of Eight bill.

“Is that the same Gang of Eight immigration bill that he attacked during the Republican primary, viciously attacked Marco Rubio for being a part of? That’s the same that we’re talking about?” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) told reporters at the House Dems’ retreat in Baltimore today.

“Look, you know, not everything about that legislation we viewed as being the best, but we recognize it is an incredible achievement of the Senate to actually do that. I lauded them, Senator Schumer and all those involved, Senator McCain et al that were involved in the past with that and Senator Rubio as well,” Crowley said. “…So, look, if he’s had a road to Damascus experience, an epiphany, knocked from his horse and seeing a bright light, you know, I’m not so sure I’ll believe it yet, but maybe it’s a start. We’ll see.”