Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Friday that the new border security amendment added to the immigration reform bill in the Senate is nothing more than a gift to defense contractors, but the Senate Judiciary Committee will still hold his nose and support the legislation.
“So while I do not agree with the Republicans’ border demands, I will support this modification of my amendment because it is one of many tough choices necessary to continue making progress toward passage of this crucial bill,” Leahy said in a statement (posted below).
The measure offered by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) would both double the number of border security officers on the United States-Mexico border and double the length of the border fence. Leahy said the amendment “reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton.”
“I am sure there are federal contracting firms high-fiving at the prospect of all of the spending demanded by Senate Republicans in this amendment,” Leahy said.
I am reminded today that legislating is about making tough choices. It is not about standing on the sidelines and complaining that you cannot get a perfect solution enacted. I have been privileged to serve in this great body for 38 years because of the trust of the people of Vermont. In my time here, I have rarely seen such commitment to an issue as I have seen over the last six months to comprehensive immigration reform. I think of the dozens of witnesses like Jose Antonio Vargas and Gaby Pacheco who called on this Senate to achieve bipartisan immigration reform. I think of the hours we spent in the Judiciary Committee considering amendments and debating this bill. What was initially a proposal from the so-called ‘gang of eight’ became, through an extensive Committee process, the product of a group of 18.
Since the bill was reported to the Senate floor, bipartisan talks have continued and the circle of members supporting it has continued to grow. Senators have been negotiating for days and late into the night trying to gain more Republican support for this important immigration reform legislation. Senators Hoeven and Corker have put together an aggressive package that will add new Republican support to our bipartisan effort and for that progress, I am grateful.
However, it is an understatement to say that this is not the amendment I would have drafted. It is a disappointment to me and to many. The modification to my amendment reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton. I am sure there are federal contracting firms high-fiving at the prospect of all of the spending demanded by Senate Republicans in this amendment. The litany of expensive services, technology, and hardware mandated by this package is combined with an inexplicable waiver of many normal contracting rules. This is a potential recipe for waste, fraud and abuse. It is astounding to me how far in the past the hard lessons we learned in Iraq appear to be. All of us should remember the disgraceful conduct demonstrated by some private companies in Iraq which was uncovered by the work of the Special Inspector General for Iraq. These border provisions will require significant congressional oversight.
It is a cruel irony that when my friends on the other side of the aisle talk about border security, the high cost of implementing their favorite projects are absent from their discussion. Yet, when we are talking about programs that help children who live near the poverty line, then suddenly, fiscal concerns are paramount. Republicans have long demanded we spend more money on one border, rather than come up with a comprehensive solution that takes pressure off that border. The Hoeven-Corker package is border security on steroids. Some are calling it a surge and that military reference makes sense because it will in effect militarize hundreds of American communities in the Southwest. Yet, with this border surge amendment comes additional Republican support for the rest of the essential pieces to reunite families, provide a path to citizenship for millions and spur significant job growth in our country.
One of the reasons I decided to continue chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee is because of this once-in-a-generation chance for us to truly reform our broken immigration system. It is a tragic problem that calls out for a comprehensive solution. There are too many families kept apart because of our broken immigration system, and there are too many people living in the shadows who should be allowed to earn their citizenship for us to fail them now. We owe it to them, to people like Jose and Gaby and so many others, to get legislation passed. So while I do not agree with the Republicans’ border demands, I will support this modification of my amendment because it is one of many tough choices necessary to continue making progress toward passage of this crucial bill.