WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 13, 2019) – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) spoke on the Senate floor today after voting against the confirmation of Chad Wolf to serve as Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy, and Planning at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Wolf is widely expected to be appointed Acting DHS Secretary after his confirmation as Undersecretary.
“President Trump has played politics with the lives of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and refugees," said Heinrich. "Now the Senate has confirmed someone who will simply rubberstamp the continued failures of this administration. I will never stop fighting for policies that respect the dignity of immigrants, recognize the real needs of our vibrant border communities, and live up to our true American values."
Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Earlier today, we were asked to vote on the confirmation of Chad Wolf to serve as the undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans at the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Wolf has been serving in that role on an "acting" basis since February.
Because of the way the Trump administration functions-or fails to function-what we were really being asked to do was to confirm Mr. Wolf to a position so the president can then promote him to Acting DHS Secretary.
This comes on top of most appointed positions at the agency going unfilled or only filled with similarly temporary "acting" roles.
Wow, talk about dysfunction.
But before we all throw our hands up in the air and simply add this vote to the growing list of broken norms and incompetent actions on the part of the Trump White House, I would like us to consider what is at stake in this particular case.
And I would beg us to take seriously the human toll that has been incurred because of this administration's willful chaos at the Department of Homeland Security.
The Department of Homeland Security is the nation's third-largest federal agency, behind only the Pentagon and the VA.
The agency oversees disaster relief, transportation safety, counterterrorism, and immigration and border security.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Mr. Wolf is the favored pick of senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller to take over as Acting Homeland Security Secretary.
That should tell us almost everything we need to know.
Stephen Miller has been the lead architect of the White House's immoral and anti-immigrant policies over the last three years.
The Senate should have taken this vote as a reason to examine how the administration has spent the last three years flouting our nation's laws and American values through its intentional chaos at the Department of Homeland Security.
We should do our jobs and give an honest accounting of this administration's inhumane and frankly ineffective policies.
Policies, it should be said, that Mr. Wolf has been right in the middle of each step of the way.
But instead, the Senate voted to confirm Mr. Wolf in this sham process to a position we aren't even sure he will serve.
This is shameful.
Now that the Senate has confirmed Mr. Wolf to the undersecretary position, and as we anticipate President Trump moving him into the Acting Secretary role, I would ask my colleagues to please consider his record.
We know that Mr. Wolf played a central role in authoring and implementing the family separation policy.
We don't fully understand how much he did to implement President Trump's other harmful immigration policies because the Department of Homeland Security has stonewalled and refused to provide key documents to the Senate on his tenure before we took the vote this morning.
But given his major role with Secretary Nielsen, it seems safe to assume that Mr. Wolf was involved in many of the administration's policy failures.
Under these policies, thousands of children as young as infants and toddlers arriving at our nation's southern border have been separated from their families.
We have seen migrant families and children held in appalling, overcrowded, prison-like immigrant detention facilities like those in Clint, Texas.
The Trump administration has also throttled major ports of entry where refugees present themselves for asylum as dictated by current U.S. law.
This has resulted in huge groups going instead to remote and more dangerous stretches of the border.
We have tragically seen that result in the deaths of several children in New Mexico near some of our remote ports of entry that lack even the most basic medical infrastructure.
We have seen President Trump play politics with the lives of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers-mothers, fathers, and children who are desperately seeking refuge and the prospect of a better life in this country.
We have seen the president even go so far as shutting down the government and stealing billions of dollars of congressionally appropriated funds from the military to pay for his wasteful and candidly ineffective border wall.
Finally, President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program-or DACA-has thrown Dreamers across the country deep into fear and uncertainty.
The stakes of that decision have been shown in oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week.
Dreamers are among our best and brightest students, teachers, and veterans.
They only know this nation as their home.
Today, I am meeting with a Dreamer named Samuel who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Samuel came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was eleven years old.
He has called Las Cruces his hometown for the last 13 years.
As a DACA recipient, Samuel was able to study accounting at New Mexico State University and help provide for his family.
Dreamers like Samuel want to give back to their communities and the only nation they know as home.
They are American in every way except on paper.
Because of President Trump, Dreamers like Samuel face a deeply fearful future.
Whenever we debate immigration, it becomes personal for me.
That's because like almost all of us in this nation of immigrants, my family's story in America began with a search for a better life.
My father came to the United States with his family from Germany as a young boy.
They were fleeing the government of a racist, populist dictator who was first elected democratically and then used race and scapegoating to cement his grip on power.
I always wonder how different my own life would be if America had turned my father away, or broken up his family.
This is not some abstract question for the mothers, fathers, and children who are desperately seeking refuge and the prospect of a better life in America today.
I know that so many Americans watching this administration's immigration policies know in their hearts what America truly stands for, as a nation built by many generations of immigrants like my father.
That includes local officials, first responders, and volunteers in communities like Deming, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, who over the last year provided shelter, food and help to asylum seekers who had nowhere else to turn.
It includes the thousands of Americans who marched in the streets to demand an end to family separation.
And it includes the millions of Americans who want our leaders in Washington to finally affirm the incredible value that immigrants provide to our country.
I want all of you to know that I stand with you.
You are on the right and just side of history.
I will keep calling on us to hold this administration accountable to our American values.
And I will keep calling on Congress to uphold our end of the bargain and finally act to reform our broken immigration system.
That should start with passing the Dream Act.
We also need to address the root causes of migration from Central America, including extreme poverty, criminal gangs, and violence.
We must make smart investments in real border security and economic development in our border communities.
And we need to provide the necessary medical and humanitarian resources to our border region, particularly for the rugged, backcountry terrain we have in my state.
I will never stop fighting for policies that respect the dignity of immigrants, recognize the real needs of our vibrant border communities, and live up to our true American values.
Unfortunately, I don't think we will ever have a productive path forward on any of these urgent matters with this president and his administration.
That is true no matter who President Trump ultimately shuffles into the role of Acting Homeland Security Secretary.
But it is especially true if the president chooses Chad Wolf.
When Senator Rosen questioned Mr. Wolf in the Homeland Security Committee about the role he played in family separation and other cruel immigration policies, Mr. Wolf said:
"My job wasn't to determine if it was the right or wrong policy."
In other words, he was just following orders.
I think it's clear that the Trump administration has shown an appalling disregard for basic human dignity.
And now the Senate has confirmed someone who will simply rubberstamp the continued failures of this administration.
I should also say that the current pending vote on the floor is for a judicial nominee, Steven Menashi, who has also played a role in the administration's shameful immigration policies.
As a counsel in the Trump administration, Mr. Menashi has acknowledged that he advised Stephen Miller on immigration policy.
He has a long record of opposing the civil rights of people of color, women, LGBTQ Americans, and immigrants.
As the general counsel at the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos, he played a leading role in trying to deny debt relief to students and veterans defrauded by for-profit colleges.
I can't believe that we as a Senate can allow these types of appointments to keep going forward.
We should not let this go on.
This is not who we are as a country.
This is not the America I know and love.