Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate Democrats’ Visit To Southern Border Facilities, Bipartisan Budget Caps Agreement, And Upcoming Senate Vote On 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Fix Legislation

July 23, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Senate Democrats’  visit to southern border facilities, the bipartisan budget caps agreement, and an upcoming Senate vote on the House-passed 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund fix legislation. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

Last Friday, I went with a group of Senate Democrats to visit several detention centers at our southern border, including the Border Patrol facility at McAllen and processing centers at Donna and Ursula, in Texas. The searing accounts about the conditions endured by migrant families are true. We saw overcrowding. We heard migrants tell us that they were unable to brush their teeth, shower, call their families, or access feminine hygiene products. And we saw children in soiled clothing, caged and expressionless—heartbreaking, thousand-mile stares on the faces of toddlers…where smiles and laughter should have been. It breaks your heart and make your blood boil all at once.

But we saw something else; always looking for the positive. We saw a much better model employed by a non-profit Catholic Charities center run by Sister Norma Pimentel. There, families had access to medicine and food and showers as their asylum cases were being processed in an orderly fashion. These people were being treated humanely, and they were following the law.

Sister Norma told us that the government could replicate this model. She explained that if ICE reinstated the Family Case Management Program, we could see as high as 99% compliance with immigration court orders without the need for expanded detention and overcrowding. What a difference that could make.

Sister Norma showed us that we can treat these migrants with respect and decency without sacrificing border security or law and order. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is such an important point. You can have both humane treatment and rule of law. Anyone who says we must choose between treating these people humanely and enforcing our laws is offering a false choice. We can do both. And we can follow the model of Catholic Charities all along the border.

That’s why Democrats have been pushing to re-start and infuse more dollars into alternatives to detention despite Republican objections. The Family Case Management Program, coupled with a Democratic bill to address the treatment of children. A bill that Senators Merkley, Feinstein, Durbin and I have sponsored, as well as many others… over 30 Democrats, I believe, would both improve conditions at the detention centers and ensure families comply with our immigration laws.

And I’d say one more thing about these kids and parents. They’re not criminals. I asked Mark Morgan—certainly known as a hard-liner on immigration—what percentage of these kids and parents are criminals? A very small percentage. One point it was said 96, and another point 98% are not criminals. They are the same people, that our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents were, who sought safety and a decent life in America. Their children and grand-children—on my father’s side, I’m one of the grand-children, on my mother’s side I’m one of the great-grandchildren—have done good things for America—throughout the country. That’s what America is all about. These people are not fleeing to break the law. They are not fleeing to trafficking drugs. They’re fleeing because the gangs down there told the parents they’ll rape your daughter, we’ll murder your son, we’ll burn your house if you don’t do what we want. Fleeing for the safety, the beauty and the opportunity of America that generations, since the 1600s, have done. They made this country great.

We need to return to a rational discussion about the reality on the ground. And that includes a discussion about the root causes of immigration. Again, when the president says that Americans should know that all these people arriving at our border are criminals trying to game the law, he should know who they are. As I said, his own CBP Commissioner, Mark Morgan, admitted as much to our congressional delegation on Friday when we questioned him. The vast majority are families, are fleeing unimaginable violence and degradation in their countries.

So let’s get at the root causes of this, instead of just tweeting and going on TV and ranting, which people do. First, allow migrants to apply for asylum inside their own countries. Second, hire more immigration judges to reduce the backlog in cases at the border. And third, provide security assistance to these Central American countries to help them crack down on the vicious gangs and drug cartels that cause so many to flee in the first place. This is a rational thing to do. I think most Americans, regardless of their ideology, regardless of their party, regardless of their political position would support.

But The Trump Administration has pledged to end security assistance to Central American countries, that’s counterproductive, it’s boneheaded because it’s going to cause more people to flee. It’s unfortunately been typical of the president’s approach.

This morning, the President tweeted and bragging about how he has cut off funding to Guatemala 9 months ago. Counterproductive. That means more, not less people at our borders. Plain and simple.

In my experience, I have not seen the president be serious about dealing with immigration. He uses the issue, he riles up his base without telling them the truth, making them all think they’re criminals, seen this on Fox News all the time as well. Demeaning immigrants which is what America is all about. Inflaming racial tensions, stoking fear.

So we in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, should take the lead and develop a way forward. A real way that will solve the problems at the border, in a way that both complies with humanity, the American way, and rule of law.

Yesterday, on a different subject now, yesterday the four Congressional leaders and the Trump Administration reached a bipartisan agreement that will strengthen our national security and clear the way for important investments in America’s middle class—investments in health care, in education, in childcare, in veterans, in cancer research and more.

First and foremost, I am pleased to report that in this deal, Democrats have finally found a way to end the threat of sequester permanently. The arbitrary and draconian limits of the sequester have hampered our ability to invest in working Americans for too long. There are large forces pusing the middle-class around, globalization, automation. And the only answer because most of our national companies don’t really make the effort, at least until now, is government. Providing ladders, ways out, ways in, ways up, so that average, middle-class people can maintain that great American dream. Which means simply put: if you work hard then you’ll be doing better in ten years than you are today and your kids will still be doing better than you. We need those kinds of programs: education, and infrastructure, and healthcare, and childcare to make this happen. Otherwise these big economic forces are going to continue to push the middle-class and poor people around. The wealthy, they’ll do fine. Even though this Republican Party and this administration seems to make them they’re first choice. Look at that tax cut. So, this is a good thing. 

It means that the shadow of sequestration, the inability of the government to provide ladders so middle-class people can deal with the big forces pushing them around, will no longer hover over our work on the federal budget.

Now not only did we permanently end that devastating sequester— which by the way the military hated as much as people did who wanted help on the domestic side that slashed them as well. General Mattis was a fanatic almost, in a good way, about this, I miss him, but we Democrats’ did this in extraordinary fashion. The agreement includes a significant increase in funding for critical domestic priorities, including an increase in domestic budget authority that even exceeds the increase in defense by $10 billion over the next two years. For those counting, yesterday’s deal means that Democrats have secured over $100 billion in funding increases for domestic programs since President Trump took office. And at the same time, ensures our military is prepared to keep Americans safe around the world.

And this 100 billion dollars sounds abstract. Let me tell you what it means: More funding to the states for opioid treatment, the states are desperate for more help. Young people are dying of these horrible drugs, treatment works. I held in my arms a father from Buffalo, whose son had served in Iraq, got PTSD, and then got hooked on opioids when he came back here. Finally, the kid hit bottom, he said, ‘Dad I want to go to a treatment center.’ Unfortunately, there was a 23-week waiting period, and the young man killed himself in the 22nd week. Father cried in my arms, a big steel worker with tattoos, and everything else, devastated like anyone else would be with the loss of a child. Well now there will be more money for that. This is not abstract.

What about fixing VA hospitals? What about more money to help educate our kids properly? What about some money to make the burden of college less great, Heavy as it is? What about money for climate, and clean energy? What about money for infrastructure and transportation? All these thing, that 100 billion is not abstract. It’s going to mean jobs for the American people, it’s going to mean ladders up for the American people, it’s going to mean some hope for the American people. And I know on the other side, some on the right will say this increases the deficit, when just a year ago they voted to increase the deficit by 1.5 trillion, now maybe 2 trillion, with a deep tax cut, the overwhelming part of which went to the wealthiest people in America. So don’t start hollering deficit when it comes to helping the middle-class, when you’re willing to deepen the deficit when it comes to helping the wealthy.

And of course, now, part of this is the debt ceiling will be extended until the summer of 2021, preserving the full faith and credit of the U.S.

So looking forward, I think we’ve laid the groundwork for legislation that will hopefully avoid another senseless and harmful government shutdown. The House will now move quickly to put this agreement up for a vote—and then the Senate can follow suit and send it to the president’s desk. And I was glad to see that the President tweeted—I believe it was tweeted—put out a statement that he supported this agreement.

Finally, something we’re going to vote on today at long, long last: the Victim’s Compensation Fund for those brave heroes who rushed to the towers on 9/11. The light at the end of the tunnel, of what’s been a very long and sometimes very dark tunnel, is only now a few hours away. Too long we’ve waited to settle this matter; too many people have put up partisan roadblocks along the road. But now we are here, about to exit the tunnel and guarantee—once and for all—that the heroes who rushed to the towers eighteen years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families when they’re gone.

These men and women, many of them sick, some of them gravely so, won’t have to return to Congress anymore to fight for the compensation they always should have been given. They will be able to go home, attend to their illnesses, their family members, their friends. That’s what they always wanted to do, just take care of themselves and their families, their friends who got sick from the poisonous stuff that was in the air right after 9/11, and bravely these men and women rushed to the towers. That’s all they wanted. Well finally, too long, we’ve waited too long.

Now we’re going to have a few amendment votes first, and I warn my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, if you vote for these amendments you will at best delay the bill, but at worst kill it—neither is a good choice. Neither is a palatable choice, neither is an acceptable choice. Let’s defeat these amendments. I believe they will be defeated. And then let’s pass the bill overwhelmingly. This body has come together to help veterans time and time again. These people are just like veterans at a time of war—9/11 seemed like a war. I was there, I was around, I was there the next day. I was in Washington the day it happened. In a time of war, these brave people selflessly risked their lives and rushed to the towers to defend our freedom, just like our soldiers do. Just like our armed services do. And so we should sign this bill into law.

Now, I will have more to say on the matter before and after the vote, about what this means and thanking the many people, particularly the first responders, names like Zadroga, Pfeifer, Alvarez, who made this happen. Until then, let me just say that it is hard for me to express how much I am looking forward to passing this bill later today.