Pelosi Floor Speech on Republicans’ Anti-Immigration Bill
“Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I commend him for his leadership as Chairman and now Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, and his important work for comprehensive immigration reform. I also salute the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, who has not only chaired the immigration committee, she has taught immigration law; she has been an immigration lawyer; she represents a very diverse district in California blessed with a strong immigrant population.
“Mr. Speaker, more than 520 days ago the Senate passed bold bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform by an overwhelming majority. It was bipartisan; it was overwhelming – 520 days ago, more than that. Time and again, the Republican leadership in the House has promised productive action to fix our clearly broken immigration system; yet time and again, Republicans have refused to give the American people a vote on this critical issue. They have ignored law enforcement, the badges, faith leaders, the bibles, and business groups – the three Bs; – denied our countries billions of dollars in economic benefits and one trillion dollars in deficit reduction; turned their backs on millions of hardworking immigrant families forced to live in daily dread of separation and deportation.
“In the face of Republicans' failure to act, President Obama has used his well-established legal and constitutional authority to bring our immigration system back into line with our needs as a nation and our values as a people. The President's executive actions will restore accountability to our immigration enforcement: securing our borders, deporting felons, not families, requiring undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes.
“Presidents have had broad authority to defer removal when it is in the national interest and past presidents have regularly used this authority.
“President Ronald Reagan understood that immigration was a constant reinvigoration of our nation. As a new president in 1981, President Reagan said: ‘Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.’ In the lead up to the Immigration Reform and Control Act, President Reagan again called out our nation to action when he said: ‘We're also going to have compassion and legalize those who came here some time ago and have legitimately put roots down and are living as legal residents of our country, even though illegal. We're going to make them legal.’
“In a signing statement of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, President Reagan said: ‘We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America.’ He went on to say: ‘The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society.’ Does that sound familiar? He went on to say: ‘Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight, and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.’
“In the years immediately following the enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, President Reagan and President Herbert Walker Bush took bold action to protect the spouses of children and children of people who received status under the law. Although Congress in that immigration bill explicitly chose not to grant status to these people, Presidents Reagan and Bush recognized that it was not in the national interest to separate families. Using their authority to establish a “Family Fairness” program by executive action, they offered spouses and children indefinite protection from deportation and gave them work authorization.
“Every president since President Dwight David Eisenhower has used this same broad authority – Republicans and Democrats alike. Dating back more than 50 years, presidents have granted Extended Voluntary Departure to nationals of more than a dozen countries, including Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Poland, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Uganda. President Bush granted deferred enforcement departure to Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre, even though he vetoed a similar bill passed by Congress. I remember that well; it was my bill. He vetoed the bill because he didn't want to sign the bill, and then he issued the executive order, doing exactly what the bill would do. Several years later he granted the same status to 200,000 Salvadorans.
“Thanks to President Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions in that same vain, millions of hardworking, law-abiding families will be able to celebrate the holidays with a renewed hope in the future. In response to this Presidential action of common sense and compassion, Republicans are advancing today on this floor a radical bill of appalling callousness and cruelty. With this bill, Republicans are demanding that we deport hundreds of thousands of young DREAMers who know no country but the United States. With this bill, Republicans would tear apart millions of families and throw thousands upon thousands of American children into foster care. With this bill, Republicans would deport the family members of our heroes in uniform serving overseas; deny release and respite to victims of human trafficking and domestic violence; reject the values that are the at the heart of our heritage and our history.
“This legislation is unworthy of our nation. Don’t take it from me; that is why this bill is opposed by groups including the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops who wrote: ‘Instead of traumatizing these children and young adults – the future leaders of our country – we should invest in them by ensuring that their families remain intact.’
“Mr. Speaker, I hope our colleagues will take the advice of the Catholic Conference of Bishops and vote against this legislation. Democrats in the House will continue to demand comprehensive immigration reform that honors our heritage, giving certainty to families, fueling innovation, creating jobs and reducing the deficit. We know that the President's steps cannot be a substitute for legislation. They must be a summons to action.
“Here in Congress and across the country, we will keep up the drumbeat for progress, of advancing comprehensive immigration reform. We will do so, heeding the advice of President George W. Bush who told us, as we dealt with this issue, to treat the people who are affected by it with respect. Republicans should reject this cold-hearted bill and give the American people a vote on immigration reform that they deserve.
“With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.”