Mar 24, 2021
Lindsey Graham Press Conference Transcript: Secure & Protect Immigration Act of 2021
Senator Lindsey Graham held a press conference on March 24, 2021 to discuss immigration at the southern border and the “Secure & Protect Act of 2021.” Read the transcript of his briefing speech here.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham: (00:00)
Speaker 2: (00:00)
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (00:02)
Okay. All right. Well, thank you very much. Today I’m going to introduce the Secure and Protect Act of 2021. I’ll talk about it in a moment. But why the Biden administration has lost control of the southern border, a time to regain control. And you have to deal with the dynamic that led to the border being overrun. This is not a seasonal event. Trump’s got nothing to do with this. This is not Trump’s fault. That’s a bunch of BS. This is policy choices that were ill-conceived, that have blown up in the Biden administration’s face.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (00:46)
Why are there so many unaccompanied minors coming to our country since January, February, now through March? One of the first things that the Biden administration did is give an exemption to Title 42 deportations for unaccompanied minors. Title 42 was created by President Trump to allow us to send back anyone coming to our border because of the concerns about COVID infection. It didn’t matter if you came as an unaccompanied child. It didn’t matter if you came as an asylum seeker, family, you name it. You were apprehended, and you were sent back because of COVID concerns.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (01:31)
One of the very first things that the Biden administration did is give an exemption for unaccompanied minors regarding Title 42. That spread like wildfire throughout Central America. The word is out that an unaccompanied child will not be sent back under Title 42. They will remain in the United States. As a result, they’ve had to build six temporary facilities. Two more are being looked at. There’s a Fox News report. I don’t know how accurate it is. Apparently, an email from border patrol officials indicating that there’s a place in Texas, Donna, Texas, pod 3-A was designed to hold 80 people. According to this email, there were 694 unaccompanied minors in that facility designed for 80, and there were two agents in charge of 694 children, an 867% increase over the capacity of pod 3-A. The numbers are stunning. You have to ask yourself what led to the rise of unaccompanied minors? The change in policy regarding Title 42.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (02:52)
What else has led to a surge in people coming to our border? The Biden administration has done away with the remaining Mexico policy. The Trump administration created a policy that if you’re applying for asylum in the United States, you would have to stay in Mexico until your court date. Thousands of people were kept in Mexico under this policy. Tens of thousands of people. What happened? When word got out that you no longer are released in the United States, you have to stay in Mexico for years to await your court date, the flow of asylum seekers almost stopped, because people are not going to pay $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 to go to Mexico for four or five years. They were paying to get the United States to be released, and they never show up. So, it’s time to take back the border, and the Secure and Protect Act would turn off the flow in my view.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (03:55)
So, what do I do? Under the Flores court decision, if a family unit is apprehended at the border claiming asylum or any other situation, the minor children can only be held 20 days, which requires you to process the family in 20 days, or break it up, or release the whole family. Working with the Trump administration a couple years ago, they told me that if you had 100 days to process families, then you could adjudicate the family unit. You would not have to let them go. You could hold them together in humane conditions, and they would be priority in terms of adjudication.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (04:42)
Under the Democratic regime, families were routinely being released into the country, because the Flores decision put the government in a box. You have to release the children. What do you do with the mom and dad or other adults? This 100 day change would allow us to adjudicate the family as a unit, and never require us to release them in the United States, where they seldom come back for the hearing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (05:13)
We have a quirk in our law. If you’re a minor child from Mexico or Canada, we have the legal authority to send you back to Mexico or Canada. But if you’re from a noncontiguous nation like the Triangle countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, there’s no authority for us to send the unaccompanied minor back. I changed that. The Secure and Protect Act allows us to send unaccompanied minors back to their home country, even if they’re not from Canada or Mexico.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (05:50)
The biggest change of all is to change the asylum standard that’s being abused. Under the current law, if you show a credible fear, that’s the initial screening standard. You are allowed to be processed and have a court hearing on asylum. With a million and a half backlog, it could take you years to get that hearing. The credible fear standard is too low, so we changed it to increase the requirement to pass the screening test to where it’s more likely than not you’re going to be harmed. 80% of the people pass the credible fear standard, but when it comes to final adjudication, the final asylum standard, only 10%. 80% pass the screening test. 10% make it through the adjudication process. So what the Secure and Protect Act does, it changes the credible fear standard to make it a higher initial screening standard, which means that there will be less people having to wait for a final determination.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (07:05)
Most asylum seekers are not coming because of fear, but because of economic distress. The asylum standard has been completely abused. It is being used by cartels and human traffickers, and they’re telling these poor folks all over Central America, “Once you get to America, claim asylum. You’re entitled to a hearing. They will release you in the United States, then you can go anywhere you want to go.” 90% of the people never show up for the hearing, and 90% of those who do show up are not allowed asylum. The asylum system is being gamed. The Secure and Protect Act will stop this.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (07:49)
So I’m hoping that there will be bipartisan support, and what we’re trying to do is basically say if you come to America, you will no longer be allowed to apply for asylum here. We want you to apply for asylum in your home country, particularly for your child. And if you show up on our border, we’re going to send you back to your home country. You can apply for asylum there, then we’ll give you a court date here. You can show up for your court date, but you won’t be released within the United States. If you’re an unaccompanied minor from the Triangle nations, you will be sent back to your country. You will not be processed here. I am convinced if this bill became law, and we had a three year timeout in accepting claims inside the United States, making sure people apply outside the country in their home country, or some international refugee center that we can set up in Mexico or someplace else, that this flow will stop literally overnight. If we don’t do that, the worst is yet to come. So, with that I’ll take some questions.
Speaker 3: (09:02)
How are you possibly going to be able to get this past the finish line? I’m sure you shopped it around a little bit. What’s been the reaction from the other side?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (09:09)
Very positive from Republicans. Deafening silence from Democrats. And the Democratic party has to admit that Trump’s not the problem here. They are. The Biden administration, by giving an exception to unaccompanied minors from being deported under Title 42, has created a flow problem that we haven’t seen before, because word is out in Central America if an unaccompanied minor gets to the United States, they’re not going to be sent back. Most of them are released into the country, and again, they never go back to their home country. Once it got out that the remaining Mexico policy has been abolished, the number of people coming to seek asylum is going through the roof. So, you’ll never change that dynamic until you change the law.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (09:58)
So I will talk to Senator Durbin here in a bit. I am for dealing realistically with the people who’ve been here for a long time. I’m for doing something with the Dream Act population, doing something for TPS folks. Count me in for trying to deal with people who’ve been here a long time, with no place else to go. The price is to control the border. We’re not going to legalize one person under these conditions. Can you imagine what would happen if the Congress actually passed the Dream Act, without addressing the underlying problems at the border? There would be a run on our border like you’ve never seen before. If it got out, “Hey, a million people just got legal status who had been here for decades,” don’t you think people throughout the world, particularly the Northern Triangle, would take that as an incentive to come? So, we cannot possibly pass any legalization legislation until we regain control of the border.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (11:00)
I’m not asking for merit-based immigration. I’m not asking for fundamental overhaul of the immigration system to do the Dream Act. I’m asking to stop the pull factors that are leading to this surge, before we even have a serious discussion about legalization.
Speaker 4: (11:21)
Senator Graham, I wanted to ask you actually about the Saudi proposal for Yemen, to solve the crisis in Yemen, and what you [crosstalk 00:11:30]-
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (11:29)
Well, I haven’t read all the details, but I appreciate it being made. I think it’s a step in the right direction, and I’ll get back with you about it. But the fact that there is a proposal is encouraging, and I want to congratulate the Biden administration for getting that to happen.
Speaker 4: (11:45)
You said you were interested in doing something again on the Dream Act, but you have reservations because of the situation at the border?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (11:50)
It’s not reservations. I’m not going to do anything on the Dream Act or any other legalization legislation I have supported in the past until we get control of the border. How do you get control of the border? You have to let unaccompanied children know that they’re going to be sent back to their homes. That the people who send them on this perilous journey, that the end result will be they will be sent back to their home country, and they can apply for legal status in their home country. You’ve got to reinstate the remaining Mexico policy. You’ve got to let asylum seekers know that you will not be processed in the United States. You will be processed outside the United States. You will not be released in the United States before your court hearing. If you don’t do those two things, there is no space to get any deal on immigration.
Speaker 5: (12:36)
How do you think President Biden has governed so far, for knowing him for so many years? And do you think what’s going on at the border right now makes it more likely President Trump might jump in and see an opening again in 2024?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (12:49)
Well, the political implications of letting the border spiral out of control are real for the Democratic party. This is one of the reasons that President Trump won in 2016. People were frustrated with having a immigration system so easily gamed. So, President Biden is in denial. I was there almost, what? Seven or eight weeks ago now? What did I tell you when I came back? I was a one man band. “This thing is going to blow up in our face. The policy changes are going to lead to a run on the border like you’ve never seen.” When I was there… Cat, when did we go? A couple of weeks ago? About a-
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (13:36)
Mid-February. I came back, and I was talking to anybody that would listen to me. “Man, this place is going to deteriorate quickly.” You know who told me that? The border patrol and customs agents. God bless them. Can you imagine what it’s like to be in charge of 694 children, packed in a room meant for 80? Can you imagine the COVID concerns that come from this? I saw it on their face. They had had control of the border. The Trump policies worked. And to a person, every one of them told me, “We’re going back to the old way of doing business, but it’ll be worse this time.” They knew what was coming, and I’ve been trying to tell people up here it is coming. Well, I was more right than I thought I would be.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (14:30)
And here’s the good news. There’s a way to fix this. All you have to do, President Biden, you don’t have to listen to me. Go to the border yourself. Talk to the people in charge of the port of entries, the border patrol, and they will tell you what you need to do to stop this flow. And if you can stop this flow, I will sit down with you and any other Democrat to see if we can deal with the Dreamers. But we can’t do that until we stop the flow.
Speaker 5: (14:56)
So President Trump, this helps him [crosstalk 00:14:59]?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (14:59)
I think it hurts the country. I don’t know the political ramifications yet. It depends how this movie ends. If they continue to blame President Trump rather than understanding this was a self-inflicted wound, then they’re going to be in trouble. You’re going to see Democrats up in 2022 have to pick between defending the indefensible, or breaking with Biden. How do you fix this? You lead. President Biden and Vice President Harris owe it to the country to go to the border and see for themselves what’s going on.
Speaker 7: (15:34)
Are you going to the border again with your colleagues on Friday?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (15:37)
Yes. Yes. I went by myself the first time. Now we need a big plane. So, everything that I talked about in mid-February about the policy changes are beginning to overwhelm the system has come true. And again, the solutions are simple, but politically difficult. If you believe in open borders, you would not do what I’m doing. If you believe in controlling the border, this would be the first thing you’d do.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (16:06)
We need to finish the wall where the wall makes sense, but people are trying to get caught. They’re not trying to come in under the fence or over the fence. They’re going to the first border patrol agent, a point of entry they can find, and they’re turning themselves in. They’re claiming asylum because now they know their claims will be processed in the United States, not Mexico. And when the DHS secretary says the border is closed, nobody believes him, because the word is out that you get to stay in the United States.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (16:40)
Six facilities have been created to hold unaccompanied minors in the last six weeks. Two more are being created. You’re on track for over a million people to come to our border, and they’re not coming to avoid detection. They’re coming to get caught. They’re coming to claim asylum and game the system, and the Biden administration has turned on the faucet. It had been turned off. And to expect an immigration bill to pass in these circumstances is just complete denial of the reality that exists in the country and at the border. If we legalize one person without doing this first, you will have multiple millions come.
Speaker 8: (17:30)
500 new immigration judges. Is that enough? Is this a starting point?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (17:35)
Okay. So, we have over a million people waiting for asylum adjudication. 500 judges will help. But when a family comes, if they are caught today, my goal is to make sure they remain in U.S. custody. They get priority in terms of adjudicating their claim. That we change the credible fear standard to be more meaningful. That they’re not separated. They’re adjudicated. We have 100 days. And if their claim is honored, they can stay. If not, they go back. My goal is to make sure that every unaccompanied minor that shows up to our border is sent back to their home country. Until you do that, we’re not going to have control of this. When they go back to their home country, we’ll set up a system that they can apply for asylum in their home country, and we can adjudicate that without them having to take this dangerous journey.
Speaker 9: (18:27)
And then one sort of off-topic. In the wake of the two mass shootings, you’ve said that you think some things can be done on gun legislation in Congress. What can be done, and is there any interest of yours also in reprising Manchin-Toomey?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (18:41)
Well, number one, the idea of banning assault weapons I don’t think has any chance of passing in the Senate, and I would encourage Senator Schumer to bring up the assault weapons ban being proposed by President Biden and let us vote on it. I think you would get a majority of senators saying that banning the weapon is not going to solve the problem. I own an AR-15. I own it responsibly. Senator Coons and I think Toomey have a bill that I could support, that if you fail a background check we need to notify the local police. There are a lot of people who’ve been judged in a court of law mentally a danger to themselves or others that are not in the current background system. Up to a million people. I would certainly try to put those folks into the system. But again, it’s a right to own a gun responsibly in this country, and I think that’s some area where we could reach agreement.
Speaker 10: (19:45)
And some Democrats have expressed that they may possibly use the filibuster as kind of a breaking point, in order to be able to get gun control measures passed. And your reaction?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (19:56)
Well, all I can say is that Democrats have used a filibuster a lot during the Trump years, and they filibustered the Cruz-Grassley proposal that would have picked up background checks and really focused on criminal misuse of firearms. So, they blamed the shooter… Liberals in this country just assumed it was a white male, and most Republicans are pretty much tired of this. That every time there’s a tragedy, that is yet another reason to say that white extremism is the biggest threat to the country, and that we need to gather up everybody’s guns. Well, it’s not going to work. It’s not working with the American people. Again, the instrumentality in question is not going to be the solution. A lot of this is mental illness that was not detected, not treated. But I would like to beef up the background system in a credible way. Yeah.
Speaker 11: (21:02)
I just want to ask how much do you think Trump and other Republicans rhetoric calling the coronavirus the Kung Flu and China Virus contributed to this rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (21:13)
Does the Spanish flu… I don’t… It came from China, the Chinese Communist Party. The biggest oppressed group in China are the Chinese. The Chinese Communist Party are horrible to their own citizens. They deny them the basic freedoms and rights that we take for granted. So, the fact that the flu, the… Excuse me… COVID-19 came from China is just a fact, and I don’t buy that. Okay. Anything else? Thank y’all. Yeah.
Speaker 12: (21:47)
President Trump seems to be speaking out a bit more after laying low recently. Is that some of the advice that you sort of gave him, to weigh in on some of these races? Or how do you think it’s going to keep going?
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (21:59)
Well, I think President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the country. He’s the leader of the party. For us to be successful in 2022, we’re going to need his help, his leadership. I’ve been encouraging him to use his power to put the best team on the field in the states that matter. You see him speaking up now more on policy. I talked to him last night. He’s very really astonished that they would let it get this bad so soon. That he thought that Biden would take a slower approach. That they would not turn on the magnets as quickly as they have to illegal immigration. And what does it say? The fact that the Democrats blame Trump says a lot about their playbook. No matter what the problem, Trump caused it. They caused this. They changed policies that were working. When they gave an exception to Title 42 deportations for unaccompanied minors, it spread like wildfire, and that’s why you have so many. When they do away with the remaining Mexico, that’s why you have more asylum seekers.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (23:09)
So, the fact that President Biden has not visited the border is pretty astonishing to me. I was there in February. I talked to the DHS secretary yesterday. I said, “My friend, I would like to have worked with you. I would like to do something for the Dreamers. But we can’t do that until we regain control of the border. And it’s got to be a real clear action, not just message.” You can’t say, “The border is closed.” The only time this is going to change is when the planes land, with the children on the plane, back in the country where they left from. The only way this ends is when the people who show up to claim asylum never get to stay in the United States for a period of time, to break this surge on the border. If you’re not willing to do those two things, then you’ll never regain control of the border, and you’ll never have a successful immigration reform legislation, because you would have to be delusional to believe that legalizing people now, under the current situation, would not lead to more illegal immigration, a run on the border like we have not seen before.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (24:28)
So, I don’t know what it is over there. I don’t know why they’re so resistant to working with people to fix this problem. But it is my view that this is becoming the most dominant issue in the 2022 election cycle. In February I said if there are no changes, immigration will be more politically potent in ’22 than it was in ’16.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (24:55)
And here’s my goal: Not to make it a political issue. To fix the problem. To do the hard things. There are people on the right that would not ever want to legalize anybody, period. Most Republicans want to make sure that we deal fairly with those who have been here a long time, but we address the underlying problems of legal immigration. That’s not an unreasonable request. There used to be Democrats who understood, to get legalization on the table, you had to address the underlying causes of illegal immigration. Those voices have been silenced. The open borders crowd is now firmly in control of immigration.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: (25:36)
Where is AOC? Why aren’t you at the border, looking at the things being reported? If you were worried about children on Trump being in bad conditions, this is worse. If you’re worried about people having COVID outbreaks, this is the biggest COVID spreader in the entire country. So, where are you? Thanks.
Speaker 3: (26:05)
Thank you, Senator.
Speaker 8: (26:05)
Thank you, Senator.