Statements and Speeches

“Mr. President, here in Congress we do a lot of oversight focused on what is going wrong in government. That oversight is critically important work. But I think it’s also important to stop and recognize where things are going right. So following in the footsteps of my former colleague and Delawarean Ted Kaufman, I’ve begun coming to the floor periodically to showcase the work of exemplary federal employees. People who have gone above and beyond to achieve the mission of solving problems and giving U.S. taxpayers something to be proud of.

“I’ve decided to focus this effort on the men and women at the Department of Homeland Security. The Department suffers from low morale but is filled with men and women who do important work for our country in the face of great adversity and – sometimes – great danger.

“Today, I want to talk for the next several minutes about Ramiro Garza Jr., an outstanding Border Patrol officer whom I met last weekend in McAllen, Texas, while on a visit to the Mexican border in South Texas with Senators Ron Johnson and Ben Sasse.

“Some of you may remember the pictures last summer when an unprecedented surge of Central American children and families arrived at the Texas border. They were the kind of pictures we are more used to seeing from war zones abroad than here at home – hundreds upon hundreds of unaccompanied minors and mothers with young children in search of protection, turning themselves in to border agents. 

“The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, where Agent Garza works, was the epicenter of this humanitarian crisis. That is because most of the migrants were from the Northern Triangle of Central America, fleeing violence, economic desperation and a sense of hopelessness in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. These migrants had to travel some 1,500 miles through Mexico to get to the United States.

“The shortest route – though by no means an easy one – runs up the east side of Mexico to the South Texas border. Many rode on top of Mexican freight trains to get there and suffered violence at the hands of predatory gangs along the way. 

“When these children and families showed up in South Texas, they overwhelmed Border Patrol stations along the border. These stations are only supposed to hold detained migrants for a short time as they are processed for removal or detention. Usually, they deal with young men. However, last year these stations were packed with mothers and young children who were trapped there for days as our government struggled to find suitable shelters and decide what to do with them. There were no adequate meals, no clothing, no diapers. There was literally no room at times for someone to lie down.

“Faced with this human crisis, Customs and Border Protection agents sprang into action. Among their leaders was Agent Ramiro Garza. With help from his colleagues, Agent Garza went above and beyond to process the arrivals according to the law, while also responding to the human needs of these people. Agent Garza helped create an Emergency Operations Center to manage the crisis and worked to transfer unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“Perhaps most impressive, he worked with his colleagues to convert an enormous abandoned warehouse in McAllen, Texas, just a few miles from our border with Mexico, into a processing center for the detained migrants in just 18 days.

“This processing center helped greatly relieve the crowded and inadequate conditions in multiple Border Patrol stations along the border. When Senators Johnson, Sasse and I visited this past weekend the extraordinary processing center that Agent Garza helped set up, we were amazed to see a cavernous, orderly center equipped with the humanitarian necessities needed for hundreds of children and their parents. The center also had space for Central American officials to work with Customs and Border Protection to properly identify migrants, and arrange for speedier repatriation to their home countries where appropriate.

“Agent Garza was instrumental in designing the processing facility and getting it up and running quickly. Today, he is in charge of the facility. 

“This is just the latest achievement in Agent Garza’s career with the Border Patrol. Known most of his life as ‘Ram,’ Agent Garza grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. There, he attended high school and the University of Texas Pan American. He joined the Border Patrol in 1996. His first assignment was to the Brownsville Station in the Rio Grande Sector. In 2004, he was promoted to Supervisory Border Patrol Agent at the Rio Grande City station. That was followed by tours at the Rio Grande Sector’s intelligence office and at Harlingen Station.

“Agent Garza has also worked on detail here in Washington, where his duties included supporting the agency’s efforts in biometrics collection.

“And while he is helping to humanely process migrants apprehended at the border, Agent Garza also cares for his own family – his wife and their own two children.

“The Department of Homeland Security and our nation are truly blessed by Ram’s exemplary service. Agent Garza, I want to thank you for what you do each day for all of us, and for your tireless service to our nation.

“Mr. President, as we met the men and women of the Border Patrol last weekend, including Agent Garza, and heard about their work, it was hard to ignore the fact that they might not know if they’ll be getting a paycheck next month when the continuing resolution which funds the Department of Homeland Security expires on February 27th. 

“Many of them also don’t know if they will be able to obtain the technology or supplies they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible. This is not the way we would want to be treated, but it is how we are treating the men and women who work around the clock to protect our borders and keep our nation safe and secure. Those of us here in Congress can change that, and we should.

“Two of my colleagues – Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Barbara Mikulski – have introduced a clean appropriations bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. Overall, the funding provisions in their bill, S.272, which I understand both Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee agreed in December, provide $39.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year. That’s an increase of $400 million, or 1 percent, above 2014 funding. This bill would ensure that Department employees get their paychecks on time and have the resources they need to best meet the Department’s critical mission – and the security needs of our nation.

“The clean bill put forward by Senators Shaheen and Mikulski would take additional measures to secure our border and enforce our immigration laws – something I know is a priority to me and many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. In fact, most of the funding increase in the Shaheen-Mikulski bill would go to border security and immigration enforcement.

“The bill my colleagues have put forward contains a little more than $10 billion for Customs and Border Protection, an increase of approximately $118 million above last year’s enacted level. This funding level would support the largest operational force levels for the agency in its history – a total of more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents and nearly 24,000 enforcement officers.

“But if the Department of Homeland Security remains on a continuing resolution – or worse, shuts down – we just won’t be as effective as we can be in securing our borders. If Congress forces a shutdown of the Department, front-line personnel, as I mentioned, will be asked to continue to work without pay. That includes 40,000 Customs and Border Protection officers needed to keep our borders secure.

“If Congress continues to keep the Department on a continuing resolution, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement will see a shortfall of $545.7 million dollars to respond to unaccompanied minors and families with children. In addition, Customs and Border Protection won’t be able to replace or upgrade border surveillance technology, including upgrades to obsolete remote and mobile video surveillance systems in the high-risk area of the Rio Grande Valley.

“Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently said, ‘Border security is not free. The men and women of DHS need a partner in Congress to fund their efforts. Time is running out.’ I couldn’t agree more.

“In the next week or so, I pray that Congress will come together and do the right thing – support the passage of a clean, full-year appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security by February 27th. And after we’ve done that, let’s get to work on crafting a thoughtful, comprehensive, and bipartisan immigration reform law for our country. One that will better secure our borders, strengthen our economy, and reduce our budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars in the years ahead.”