Senator detailed her bipartisan proposal with Republican Senator Thom Tillis (N.C.) that strengthens America’s border security and establishes legal citizenship pathway for Dreamers
WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate today on her proposal to secure Arizona’s border and fix America’s broken immigration system.
Click HERE to watch Sinema’s speech.
Sinema partnered with Republican Senator Thom Tillis (R.C.) on a bipartisan proposal to fuel investments in Border Patrol Agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations Officers; reassert control of the border through increased enforcement, technology, resources, and more; modernize the asylum system; reform the employment visa system to ensure our nation’s global competitiveness; and establish a pathway for legal citizenship for roughly 2 million Dreamers who were brought to this country when they were young through no fault of their own.
Below is Sinema’s speech as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. President, I rise today as border communities in Arizona and across our country are in complete crisis.
This crisis is not new; it’s one that has progressively worsened year after year, Administration after Administration, due to the federal government’s repeated failures to address our broken border and immigration system.
As a native Arizonan, I’ve seen firsthand how these failures fall squarely on the shoulders of border states, risking the safety of our communities, and endangering the lives of migrants themselves.
Right now, we’re experiencing a dangerous tipping point.
The combination of an unsecure border, an overworked and under-resourced border patrol and protection force, and never-before seen levels of illegal immigration, asylum seekers, and coordinated smuggling efforts have completely ruined an already broken system.
To make matters worse, Title 42 – the public health order that stops some migrants from entering our country – may soon expire, allowing thousands of migrants to enter Arizona, Texas, and other border states without the proper procedures, plans, or infrastructure in place.
Let me be clear: this is a humanitarian and security nightmare.
Already, our border towns can barely keep up with the demand from the overwhelming levels of immigration.
In San Luis – a small community of roughly 37,000 right on the Arizona, Mexico border – the Fire Chief recently told us that three of his five ambulances are used solely to care for migrants in need, leaving only two ambulances for the local community on any given night.
The City of Tucson has already accepted over 15 percent of its population in migrant releases since April of this year.
And in Yuma, the threat of street releases persists every single day.
With thousands of migrants coming to our border and seeking asylum, our overwhelmed Border Patrol agents are now additionally tasked with processing asylum seekers, taking the agents away from their important work of patrolling the border, apprehending illegal crossers, and stopping cartels, drugs, and smugglers.
The consequences are plain to see – the Mayor of San Luis even recently reported seeing migrants traveling along intercity highways because Border Patrol was too overwhelmed to apprehend them closer to the border.
While towns like San Luis, humanitarian organizations across our state, and our brave men and women in blue, green, and brown shoulder the burden of a failed system, Washington continues to politicize solutions.
Politicians continue to retreat to partisan corners, instead of examining the problem for what it is – not what one party or the other wishes it was – and focusing on finding meaningful solutions.
Some refuse to acknowledge the need for increased security measures at all, while others have a singular view of what kind of security is sufficient.
Some want to welcome all who come to the border into our country, while others want to keep everyone out.
And a few want to defund the very agencies who are tasked with enforcing our immigration laws, or underfund the very humanitarian organizations that provide vital services and care for the asylum seekers our country has always pledged to help.
As someone who’s seen the challenges at our border my entire life, I know these are all false choices.
That’s why I rejected the partisan echo chamber and partnered with my good friend, Senator Thom Tillis, on a bipartisan proposal to help solve some of the real problems our border communities and immigration system continue to face.
Just as we have on a number of complex issues, from gun violence to marriage equality and religious freedom, we focused on our shared values and shared goals.
Before we could tackle the issue of a backlogged asylum process, employment visas, or the status of undocumented residents, we knew we had to focus on securing the border.
A problem as big as our broken border needs a smart, comprehensive solution, and that solution starts by investing in the brave men and women who keep our border safe.
A robust, well trained, and well-resourced Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations, and Air and Marine Operations force are critical to secure our border, keep our communities safe, and ensure the fair and humane treatment of migrants.
Senator Tillis and I focused on boosting pay, increasing force sizes, and providing our agents and officers the equipment and technology they need to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
Beyond supporting our men and women in blue, green, and brown, we are committed to reasserting control of our border.
Senator Tillis and I understand that to secure our border, we need physical barriers where they make sense – but relying only on physical barriers represents a 17th century answer to a 21st century problem.
The fact is, the majority of the illegal drugs seized coming into our country arrive through our ports of entry.
This past October, our Office of Field Operations officers reported a 73% increase in fentanyl seizures compared with one year ago.
Just two weeks ago, Office of Field Operations officers at the Nogales Port of Entry seized over 1.5 million fentanyl pills in less than a 5-day span.
A wall alone won’t stop these drugs from finding a way into our country and killing our friends, our neighbors, and our loved ones.
We must supplement existing security barriers with innovative technology solutions, we must boost our border protection and patrol forces, and we must update the policies governing our border to meet the moment.
For years our asylum system has represented the promise of America – welcoming those fleeing persecution to find freedom and safety.
Today, our asylum system is broken, our Border Patrol isn’t able to do their jobs and catch dangerous criminals, and our border communities cannot keep up.
In order to uphold the promise of protection and freedom, and ensure our asylum system works for those who it seeks to serve, we must acknowledge that the status quo is no longer functional.
Our immigration courts and asylum officers remain completely backlogged, with simple cases often taking years to resolve, sending a message that America does not take this process seriously and our system can be manipulated.
In Arizona the impact is clear. Small towns along the border like San Luis, Nogales, Naco, Yuma, and Ajo are overwhelmed, struggling to care for their own residents while managing an increasing influx of hundreds of migrants a day.
With our asylum system broken, more migrants make the arduous and often devastating journey to our border.
When they arrive, they risk not being able to access the care and medical attention they need.
Arizona’s humanitarian organizations do incredible work – going above and beyond every day to avoid street releases and ensure all migrants are treated fairly. But they can only do so much.
For example, the main humanitarian organization in Tucson – Casa Alitas – has been operating over capacity for over a month, serving an average of 600 asylum seekers a day.
And Yuma’s Regional Center for Border Health now contracts hotel rooms and buses due to the large number of migrants coming to its city.
With snowbird and the farming season underway, hotels are increasingly limited, placing even more strain on the city’s already overwhelmed public health and emergency-response system.
Senator Tillis and I understand that we cannot address the border without also fixing our asylum system.
Our bipartisan plan creates an orderly system for those wishing to claim asylum.
By streamlining the asylum process in a manner that respects human dignity and due process, we’ll quickly and fairly adjudicate claims and remove those who don’t have a valid claim of asylum, sending a message to all that our asylum system will not be manipulated.
The crisis at our border represents an immediate threat, but those of us from border states know – and have seen up close – that strong border security, healthy cross-border trade, and a fair immigration system all go hand-in-hand.
We can – and must – achieve all three.
In 2019, over 2 trillion dollars worth of goods were traded through our ports of entry, and the Nogales port alone handles over a billion dollars of produce each year.
The goods and services traded between Arizona and Mexico power jobs across our state – and often, immigrant families are the very workers fueling our cross-border trade and keeping this sector of our economy strong.
To ensure our border states’ economies continue to grow, and to ensure our nation’s economy continues to thrive for generations to come, we need a robust workforce.
That’s why our bipartisan proposal fixes a wasteful loophole in our current employment visa system.
For years, hundreds of thousands of visas have gone to waste.
By righting this wrong, we’ll increase our country’s competitiveness and ensure America has the workforce it needs to power our economy and compete on the world stage.
I believe the future resilience of our country also depends on the full inclusion of millions of young people often known as Dreamers.
In America we don’t punish children for the actions of their parents, and millions of young people have been brought to our country through no fault of their own.
These children have grown up in our neighborhoods, attended our schools, graduated, gotten jobs, served in our military, and contributed to our economies, all while making our communities more vibrant, enriched places to live.
But now, they are stuck in limbo, casualties of Washington’s inability to solve our broken immigration system.
That’s why Senator Tillis and I say enough is enough. We call on our colleagues to join us in our bipartisan plan to give these young people a chance to be recognized as Americans.
Our proposal is tough but fair, and I’m certain it will make America a stronger, safer place for all of us.
I stand here today disappointed that as we close out the 117th Congress, Washington has chosen to yet again retreat to partisan corners instead of doing the hard and necessary work of finding lasting solutions when it comes to the crisis at our border.
And in Arizona, we’ll continue to shoulder the burden.
Part of the problem is that many in Washington have never taken the time to really see our border up close, and without seeing it for all its diversity and challenges, it’s easy to rely on partisan talking points instead of focusing on meaningful solutions.
That’s why when we come back in January, one of the first things I will do is convene a bipartisan group of Senators who are willing and committed to get stuff done and bring them to the border to see what Arizonans see every day – because a crisis this big cannot be ignored.
And in Arizona we cannot afford for it to continue much longer.
Over the past four years, I’ve worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to solve some of our country’s toughest challenges.
Through honesty and collaboration, I believe we’ve shown America there is so much more that unites us than divides us. We’ve shown America what is possible when we listen to one another, not to respond, but to understand.
There is no challenge more intractable, more difficult to bridge, and more dire than our border and immigration crisis.
And, even still, I believe we can come together and start to earnestly solve it.
I’m willing to do the work, I’m thankful for partners like Senator Tillis who are also willing to do the work, and I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us, put down the politics, and help us get this done.
Thank you, I yield the floor.