As prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon. Our business today is to consider two items. The first I’ll discuss is H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023.
The situation at our southern border can be described with one word: chaos. It’s a national security and humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions.
The present state of affairs cannot stand. For more than two years, we have watched as operational control of our border has been lost to reckless policy decisions. The Democrats’ open border agenda started with halting border wall construction. That was followed by the reinstatement of catch and release, termination of “Remain in Mexico,” and measures that tied the hands of law enforcement.
Under President Biden, we have experienced some of the largest waves of illegal border crossings in recorded history, exceeding 1.7 million in 2021, 2.3 million in 2022, and 1.2 million so far in 2023, according to CBP’s own numbers.
These numbers only scratch the surface of the grim realities faced. A porous border is anything but kind or compassionate. It has empowered drug cartels and human traffickers. It has allowed fentanyl and illicit drugs to flow into our communities. And it has become a path utilized by terror suspects to try and sneak into our homeland.
This broken system is endangering lives and U.S. security. Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to act and begin to repair the damage done by the radical posturing and inaction of the Biden Administration.
Unlike the previous majority, House Republicans are committed to prioritizing the needs of the American people over the wish-lists of extreme open-border activists. In this very room over the past four years, House Republicans pleaded with the Administration and House Democrats to finally acknowledge the humanitarian and security crisis at the border. Time and again they denied or downplayed it.
The facts speak for themselves. The tragedy and horror are too significant for even open-border advocates to dismiss.
Today, House Republicans are taking action to secure our border and stop the surge of illegal immigration through consideration of H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023. This bill is a complete rejection of President Biden’s border policies and purposeful inaction.
It includes important reforms to combat fraud and abuse in the asylum process, prevents the catch and release of aliens into American communities, and establishes new penalties for visa overstays.
H.R. 2 also provides the resources and direction necessary to secure the border once and for all. It immediately resumes construction of the border wall, which President Biden unilaterally halted on his first day in office, and adds more physical barriers and tactical infrastructure along the border. Importantly, this bill gives our dedicated Border Patrol agents the resources, equipment, and manpower to meet their mission and gain operational control.
Together, these measures will go a long way to secure our southern border and end the reign of horror that the cartels are perpetrating against vulnerable populations. We have a constitutional obligation to secure our border and keep Americans safe. H.R. 2 will help us uphold that commitment.
Our second measure for today is H.R. 1163, the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress acted to expand unemployment insurance benefits to ensure that the millions of Americans who were suddenly thrown out of work or were furloughed could continue to support themselves. Eight hundred and seventy-eight billion dollars, both Federal and State, was spent on unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Unfortunately, with spending that large, fraud inevitably followed.
While it is unclear how much of that eight hundred and seventy-eight billion dollars was fraudulently paid out, estimates range from as low as sixty billion dollars to as high as four hundred billion dollars.
H.R. 1163 will allow States to recover fraudulent overpayments of Federal and State pandemic unemployment compensation and, as an incentive, allows States to keep twenty-five percent of what they recover.
It is essential that Congress take steps to ensure that fraudulent overpayments are recovered. Hardworking American taxpayers expect that the government will be good stewards of every tax dollar, and those who have fraudulently obtained funds from the unemployment insurance program through criminal activity must not profit from their bad deeds.
One final point: I know my friends on the other side of the aisle have expressed concerns that H.R. 1163 will lead to a wave of states going after otherwise innocent individuals who inadvertently received more than they should. States have the ability to use case-by-case individual waivers to grant relief to innocent individuals who may have accidentally received more than they should have for this exact reason. What we are concerned with today is fraud, and with targeting those specific bad actors who have damaged the program integrity of the unemployment insurance system. It is those criminals and fraudsters at whom H.R. 1163 is aimed.