October 20, 2015

Hirono Denounces Republican Attempt To Criminalize Immigrant Communities

Senator Mazie K. Hirono took to the Senate floor to oppose a Republican attempt to unfairly penalize hundreds of cities and local jurisdictions across the country by stripping them of key federal funding and preventing local law enforcement officials from using commonsense approaches to protect their communities. The measure failed 54-45.

From Senator Hirono’s remarks:

“Instead of turning hardworking immigrants into bogeymen, we should be focusing on real solutions for violence in our communities. 

“If my colleagues who support this bill are serious about addressing violence in America, then they should come to the table to talk about how we can strengthen our laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. 

“And I have been saying this for over a year now: if my Republican colleagues want to discuss immigration reform, I welcome that debate.”

Read Senator Hirono’s full remarks below, as prepared for delivery:

M. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to oppose S. 2146, the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act.

Hundreds of cities and local jurisdictions across our country have financial, constitutional, and public safety concerns with using scarce local tax dollars to hold immigrants in jail when they otherwise would be entitled to release under the law. 

These cities and towns are being called “sanctuary cities” because they have made a local and fact-based choice to keep their community safe rather than serve as an arm of immigration enforcement.

This bill would create new criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants, and make life even harder for them – most of whom are honest, hardworking people – not criminals. 

And the bill also takes severe steps to penalize these sanctuary cities, by stripping them of critical community block grants, and federal homeland security and law enforcement funding.

While this bill purports to protect our communities, it is strongly opposed by law enforcement, victims’ advocates, and local and state government leaders.

Why do they oppose this bill? 

Because demonizing our immigrant communities and using them as scapegoats does not make America safer. 

Decades of research shows the following: That immigrants, as a group, are not a threat to public safety. 

Immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes than the rest of Americans. 

Higher rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime.

Law enforcement is clear: this bill would limit their ability to keep all people in their communities safe. 

Good community policing requires collaboration and trust. 

Our law enforcement officials want to be spending their time going after people who truly pose a threat to our safety.

This bill would have them spending limited resources pursuing hardworking, though undocumented, members of their communities with no criminal history. 

Community law enforcement should not be coerced into serving as an arm of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Throughout this Congress, my Republican colleagues often rail against the federal government telling state and local governments what to do.  But now, when it comes to something as important as public safety and law enforcement, it is suddenly OK to second guess state and local law enforcement?

Instead of turning hardworking immigrants into bogeymen, we should be focusing on real solutions for violence in our communities. 

If my colleagues who support this bill are serious about addressing violence in America, then they should come to the table to talk about how we can strengthen our laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. 

And I have been saying this for over a year now: if my Republican colleagues want to discuss immigration reform, I welcome that debate.

Everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs reform. 

It has been 28 months since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with strong bipartisan support.  Even though it was not perfect from my perspective, we nonetheless worked together to create a compromise bill. 

But House Republicans ducked the issue and refused to take up any immigration reform bill.

The Senate’s comprehensive bill would have reduced the federal deficit by nearly a trillion dollars in just two decades because of the broad economic benefits immigration reform brings. 

It would have protected and united families, strengthened our border security, improved our economy, and encouraged job creation in the United States. 

The Senate’s bill would have brought millions of people out of the shadows, require them to pass a criminal background check, and earn their path to citizenship. 

It would have let immigration enforcement officials focus on true security threats.

The Senate’s bill included $46 billion in new resources to help our Border Patrol, Customs, and Immigration Enforcement agents.  Of this amount, roughly $30 billion was added to further secure our border. 

But that is not enough for some Republicans – apparently some won’t be happy until we literally round up every undocumented immigrant and deport them, which would be catastrophic to our economy if it were not impossible.

The current sanctuary cities debate is not the first time that some have tried to use myths about immigrants to scare Americans.  This rhetoric couldn’t be further from truth, and I urge my colleagues to oppose these scare tactics and to vote “no” to S. 2146.