tv Republican Natl Lawyers Assn. Holds Policy Conference - Part 2 CSPAN October 8, 2021 4:42pm-5:22pm EDT
so our next speaker has a little bit of insight to doj. i was fascinated by reid's comments -- i overlap with reid at doj and also when i was working for secretary devos. we worked on a lot of stuff together. matt, i've decided to change the title of this program, prerogative this to doj has its challenges. but in any event, it was fascinating to hear reid's perspective. i'm going to take it -- i had the opportunity to work with matt closely when he was chief of staff and acting ag, and tremendously honored that he
elected to come and speak to us kind of in his new role in working on a lot of issues. but in particular to address immigration. i will hand the introduction over to craig burkhart who has kind of done everything for the national lawyers association top to bottom, one of the first guys i talked to when i joined the rnla, not to say you're older than me. he is a partner at barnes and thornberg. with that, craig. >> i'm craig burkhart and i'm one of the several past presidents of the republican national association, and for those of you who might be watching us, we invite to you join us. the republican national lawyers association is the national entity around which republican lawyers gather to promote the rule of law and republican principles and you can learn more at www.rnla.org.
well, most people don't practice immigration law. it's a very complex federal statute which governors this practice. it was passed by congress and through the years has been revised from time to time. the republican national lawyers association to make appropriate revisions and follow the law. what we see about things discussed here earlier today lead us to ask a couple of questions. number one, is that statute being followed? or maybe even referenced by the current administration with respect to immigration law and the handling of the crisis on our southern border and other areas. these are reasonable questions based on what we see.
we have the absolute perfect person to talk to us today about those questions and many other things. matthew whitaker is the former acting united states attorney general for the united states of america. in 2018 and 2019 during the trump administration. before that he was the u.s. attorney for the southern district of iowa. and has a lot of great opportunities. he's with the graves garrett law firm. i give you right now matthew whitaker. >> good morning, everyone. i'm glad to join you today as my fellow republican attorneys. i know that we are mighty and so many of us do important things all over this country, so thank you for being here.
this morning was supposed to be a two-person presentation on immigration policy. what we did right in the previous administration and what you're seeing play out on your television screens every day. and joining me was going to be gene hamilton, who anyone who knows gene knows he's forgotten more about immigration law and policy than i ever knew. but he was not able to make it up from georgia. he's watching on c-span and he promised he will text me and tell me what i need to correct. i know some of you can do it as well. it was an honor of a lifetime to be once at the department of justice as the united states attorney for the southern district of iowa in the bush administration. i never thought i would come back to the department of justice.
when i was approached to come back, no, let somebody else do that. it's an important job but i did it for 5 1/2 years. i enjoyed it but i think i'll do some other things. as the administration was chugging along it was determined general sessions needed a different chief of staff and i was approached by friends who told me not only i should do it but i had to do it. i moved back to washington, d.c. as they say, the rest is history except usually chiefs of star don't become the acting attorney general. in of you who were around at the time, it was a slight controversy when the president put me in as acting attorney general and all i did was the right thing for the right reason every day until bill barr took over in 2019 and i went out and went back to what i was doing. that being said i want to talk
about where we're at right now on immigration and contrast that to where we were. we had the border under control, i'll make a bold statement, in the trump administration. illegal immigration had been reduced to a trickle. we were effectively using title 42 emergency regulations because of covid to turn people around and prevent covid positive people at the border. we had the remain in mexico policy in place and we were supporting the men and women of law enforcement instead of taking away their tools, we were giving them more and, by the way, we were building a wall preventing folks from just walking across at various points in our southern border. where are we at now?
it's very hard because no one will actually say this but it's pretty clear if you can get to our southern border via commercial flight, it appears, or other transportation, we let you in. the obama policy was also very clear, policy was also very clear and i think we're going back to that which is essentially if you come to our southern border, if you file an asylum claim we will in six months give you a visa and you can work through your asylum claim is adjudicated. for those of you who have been through you know it takes a long time purposely because these people after six months qualify to live and remain and work in the united states. we obviously change that. we changed that with the remain in mexico policy that said that's great, you can file your asylum claim and while you wait to be adjudicated you'll stay in
mexico which is a safe third country, and that worked. we reduced the -- remember asylum claims only at 15% at best are granted. that's mean 85% at best aren't qualified for asylum. and i think that 15% is generous in the way that works and this is where i would rely heavily on my former colleague to talk specifically about the things we changed policy wise. essentially if you come to the united states and want to immigrate you have to be able to support yourself and not immediately go on public assistance. there were some weird court cases. we're talking about immigration court and the immigration court is run by the department of
justice. in ior which is a department inside the department of justice. and essentially the supreme court of the immigration courts is the attorney general of the united states. so you could take a case, which we took several cases especially during general sessions tenure. and i see gene has already texted me so probably something i'm going to have to correct here. the attorney general was essentially able to take it on appeal and write an opinion that in some cases changed the law. and i'll give you one example we changed the law on private acts of violence. so if you were someone in a third country, maybe in the northern triangle, guatemala, honduras, el salvador and you were the victim of spousal abuse, that didn't
necessarily -- i mean the law was that essentially qualified you to seek asylum in the united states. we took that case, reviewed it, and said, well, that doesn't make a lot of sense. obviously if you're being persecuted for your political views, if you're a country, we essentially put the law back where it was. and i think in every example of those types of cases we took on appeal we put the law back to only reason and common sense but where congress has intended. because remember even though our immigration system is broken, we are the most generous country in the world. we admit over a million people a year to permanent residence status in our country. no country anywhere in the modern world admits that many people to permanent residential
status. but we should also make sure who we bring in is serving the national interest, and it's what we need as a country. again, i don't think this is controversial. i'm going to say what's obvious is i think as the united states of america we should be thoughtful and allow the people to immigrate into our country the ones that will help our country the most. we should be taking the best and brightest from around the world, not just necessarily anybody that wants to present at our southern border. so that being said let's see what gene has to say because this is kind of fun to do this in realtime. let's see, enter my pass code and gene is saying, great job. okay so we didn't plan that but i think he's trying to help me
understand. what have we seen on our southern border? what we're seeing is border patrol agents trying to do their job. a country is sovereign because you have borders and keep those who want in safe and those who you don't want out. essentially they're just clerks, right? they try to not allow people, they employ a tool given to them, horses. one viral picture that has been described as something that it's not, it was described as border patrol agents on horseback whipping immigrants to keep them from coming into our country. we all know that's inconsistent with what actually the picture showed which was a border patrol agent using a horse, a tool to, you know, block someone illegally entering our country
unregulated. there was no whipping. it was the reins they used to control the horse, and what was the biden administration response to that? we're going to ban horses at our border by our cbp. so essentially you've taken trained horse men and women whose job is to use horses and rugged terrain, difficult terrain that you should use horses and now they can't use horses. we're now defending our border with our hands tied behind our back literally and figuratively. so now you also see a camp of haitian refugees that i can't wait to hear how they arrived at that place, but thousands, tens of thousands of haitians encamped at our southern border. and what were we doing?
did we turn these people away? did we use our title 42 regulations to say because of covid we can't allow anybody? no, we have essentially a process that appears based on last night's video that we processed almost two thirds of these folks and released them into our country. and you know why? because we sent a few pack. my understanding is we sent a few single males back under our authorities. and why did we -- and haiti said they didn't want anymore back. they wouldn't take their own citizens back. and so we said, okay, we'll allow them all to come into our country on a notice to appear. and this is -- again, i say these things and i think about how we had it working. we had the remain in mexico policy. the mexican government was working. the mexican government actually had our military at our border
preventing the people from coming across as well. total cooperation. donald trump knows how to negotiate and he negotiated well with the mexicans. and it was working. it was orderly. it was, again, serving the national interest so that low skilled, low education people were not just walking across our border and living in our country. but we know what this policy is for. we know why they're doing it. they're doing it because of this bill that is pending in congress right now, which they attempted to grant amnesty to anyone that was here illegally in our country. a recent estimate actually said it was 22 million not 11 million people in our country right now that would have been granted a path to citizenship. and again, there's a way to deal with this. and you know what the way to deal with it is? and this is a secret so don't tell anybody outside this room.
congress can pass a law that actually the people who vote for members of congress could be told what they're going to do and then vote on that. and then if the american people want to grant 22 million people amnesty, we could do that because that's the way the system works. and those of us who disagree with that policy could campaign against that and the politicians who stand for that. but instead this administration is trying to do everything by executive fiat, and they're trying to let as many people in the country as soon as possible, an expectation that congress barely controlled by the slimmest majorities will grant amnesty to 22 million approximately, an ever increasing number of people that are coming through our southern border. we cannot do this. this cannot stand. we cannot -- we cannot stand for these policy, and we must stand against what we know is wrong.
and this is not because we're not generous. this is not because we're not thoughtful. it is because, again, we're a sovereign country and we as citizens should be able to decide through our representatives in this republic who is admitted to the united states and who's not. but, again, i say this everywhere i can go, this is a moment in time and this is the only real political thing i'm going to say this, not a fact thing. we're at a time where two parties, the democrats and republicans, for our first time in our nation's history disagree as to what the future of our country should be. that's the inflection point that we're all at. and as republicans i assume i'm dealing with republicans in this room because you're the republican lawyers national association.
as republicans i think fundamentally in our essence we stand for strong borders, smart immigration system that serves the national interest and rule of law. and prosecutorial discretion which is essentially what gave us daca, the prosecutorial discretion is not exercised to the detriment of our national interest. it's someone that's exercised prosecutorial discretion, that is what you prioritize, but you can't ignore an entire class, and that's what an illegal border crossing is. the first time you illegally cross the border that's a misdemeanor. the second time and third time is a felony, but this administration doesn't seem to care.
this administration only cares about admitting as many people to this country as possible. so i'm going to turn it back over to our moderate. that's kind of where we were and where we're going. and again, i wish gene was here because he could fill in -- like i'm doing the rocks in the jar. he would be the sand that fills in the gaps in those rocks. line up for questions to ask matt. i think matt is happy to ask a question not only on immigration, but we certainly spent a rather contentious time at the doj as well. matt, actually, i wanted to also -- an entity that's working quite a bit on the immigration issue that you're affiliated with is american first legal. can you talk about kind of just what you guys are doing and what kind of lawsuits on immigration
are you guys bringing? >> i'm on the board of directors of america first legal, which is a group that is setup by, you know, several people in the past administration, and, you know, we are challenging the biden administration and together and supporting things like -- people like the state of texas and their attorney general in making sure that the laws are enforced and making sure that the rule of law is followed. and there's a lot of groups, a lot of public interest law firms out there and we're partnering with many. and america first legal has had several wins recently. one of the cases we're involved in was the remain in mexico reversal of policy that the court ordered be re-implemented. again, you know, gene, god bless him said this. he said exactly reasylum. remember i was talking about the asylum and the attorney general's appeals. he said we all work to create a
system where legitimate cases were branded, nonlegitimate cases were denied. exactly as congress had intended in the laws they had passed. and now garland the attorney general has withdrawn several of those critical a.g. decisions, and so all those loopholes are back in place. and so more people are going to qualify under really bogus asylum claims inconsistent with the laws congress has passed for that purpose. but it's one tool in the toolbox for fighting back against this administration's illegal and i'll say it illegal inconsistent with the law policies that they're trying to implement warp speed. >> questions? >> we're going right to questions. okay, that's great. >> i can go ahead and ask a couple i have. >> yeah, great.
i know i'm the only thing between you and lunch. >> what do you think the motivations are to admit the 22 to 11 million people? >> i think it's the to permanently restructure the electorate. again, this is not always true because i will tell you i interact with first generation immigrants all the time. you know, many of them are doing critical and important work, you know, sort of at a -- in the service sector and some of them come in there enthusiastic about president trump and president trump's policies, but so many of them immigrated here illegally. and that's the thing we need to remember. we have a process. and anyone that comes here illegally and jumping in front of the line inconsistent with that process. and so, you know, as people that believe in the rule of law and want the rule of law want our
lives we have to stand and point out every circumstance where this administration is not following the law and doing things inconsistent with our traditions. but, you know, what do they want? in their mind i think they believe the majority of those illegal immigrants if they were given citizenship would have been ultimately democratic voters. and i mean chuck schumer just kind of laid it out the other day if i heard him right and that is that this would essentially fill in a worker gap. you know, instead of letting the market work the way it wants, which is essentially if you don't have as many people -- and i speerpsed this in my home state of iowa with packing plants. the argument was always we need to have these illegal immigrants because we're doing jobs americans won't do. that's not true.
they're doing jobs americans won't do for that wage. i mean, i would butcher pigs for a certain price. i mean obviously my highest best use is to practice law, some would argue. but with that being said i'm an iowa kid. we hunted all the time so i can field dress, butcher a deer, a pig, and that's the way the market is supposed to work. the ag people with their seasonal workers would always say, you know, we need these people to do these jobs especially in california and the central valley. great. i mean, we can have a policy -- we can have regulations that allows these people to transit back and forth to the united states to do these jobs. but what we can't have is
completely unregulated with no knowledge who these people are or where they're coming from. excuse me. i get choked up. i'm emotional about this issue. >> matt, let me throw one and then we'll go to john. >> just to jump on what you said and i know when i was on the doj we worked on the h1v process and was going to ask your thoughts and the use or abuse of the h1v process in terms of particularly outsourcing companies pulling in stem individuals, having them come in, having the u.s. based workers who are much more highly placed workers train their own replacements and then ship them out. we did in working with steve miller and the group at the white house, we made some
regulatory changes to that that restricted that process by a cup of those other outplacement firms. and the current administration has undone all of those protections on the h1v spot. what are your thoughts on that? >> well, this is an area that i work very closely and especially the u.s. attorney the h1b visa fraud because you'd often see they'd have to say there was a shortage or point out there was a shortage in the types of workers they need. but, again, there's a very delicate balance because as you bring in highly educated highly skilled individuals from other countries you can do an arbitrage and you see it between companies and regions, where people would be listed as a technology worker in iowa for example but they'd be working on the east coast. so we have to -- again, the
system has to work and serve our national interest. and i think on h1b, that was another area i think was full of fraud. and as we try to implement policies and reviews that actually considered the things that should have been considered before those people are allowed to come in our country, you know, this administration is completely reversing it. and let's remember who we're fighting for. okay, i said i wasn't going to be political. i'm being political here. and this is the genius of donald trump, quite frankly. we're fighting for the american worker. for the american worker's wages to increase. that's nut a bad thing. and even if they're low skilled american workers, even if they're teenagers that's who their constituency is. so that i think is the balance
we have to strike and i know there's a lot of warriors out there fighting for these battles for the american worker. >> you mentioned that we have some of the more generous immigration laws compared to other countries around the world. i think that's a story that does not get told. and could you put some meat on that skeleton? >> yeah, well, it's -- there are many countries around this world developed our allied that you can't immigrate to their country. i look at japan, for example. it's very hard to immigrate if at all to become a citizen of japan. i think france and other countries, you know, have struggled with their immigration policy and a lot of -- i think it's very difficult, for
example, to immigrate to italy to become a citizen. and the question went back to why -- wii are these the policies? why are they the policies we stand for, and why are they the policies we fight against? and i think fundamentally it's because of our sovereign. it's because i guess i believe and i hope you share a strong belief with me that, you know, we are a country. we are a country with borders. and in those borders we the people -- again, in this republic we the people control the laws and therefore control who can come and who can't. and it doesn't mean we don't want people to come here. i want to be very clear. we have big hearts. we want people to come to the united states of america and have every opportunity we had. in fact, most of us would not be in this room had someone in our family not come to the united states of america under those
generous immigration laws. and so i just -- i am -- i think businesses typically bench mark things and say what are ply competitors doing. law firms bench mark every day look at your ratings or whatever else that you compare yourself to see how you're doing and all those kind of things that you look at. i think we should. i think it would be worth our time to compare our system of immigration to what other countries are doing. and, you know, again, all i'm really standing for here is the rule of law and the fact that we have representatives that are supposed to set these laws, and then the executive branch is supposed to enforce them. and as a former u.s. attorney and former senior justice official i guess is what they'd call me, i can tell you that
often democrat administrations ignore the laws that are duly passed and don't implement them. and we saw that in obama and we're seeing that right now in this biden administration and this area of law probably more than we ever have. and it's unsustainable. >> we'll just ask one more question. thank you so much for your presentation. many of us practice election law, and one of the trends we've seen at the municipal level is the attempt to grant voting rights to noncitizens. so the idea that the citizenry and the electorate could be reformed or reformatted is upon us perhaps sooner rather than later if such local initiatives were allowed. your views on those things on what maybe people in this room should do when faced with that possibility in their local municipalities. >> so it's hard to watch like california and see what they're
doing to really, quite frankly, a beautiful place through bad policies. but at the same time california has ever right in the things they control and again, the people who are the -- you know, their citizens and residents. they can implement that. obviously california has dramatically changed in the '70s and '80s through immigration, a lot of it illegal. but it's a municipality wants to say who is eligible to vote and that people vote those representatives in. again, it would be on a case by case basis but fundamentally i do believe in the people who are in charge. and what we're seeing is you can also vote with your feet. and why are texas in florida picking up so many people is the the people that can't stand places like new jersey, new
jersey, california are moving out because they don't want those types of policies. obviously those of you who have looked at this and at the federal level for example someone not only is an eligible voter but a citizen and resident. and we went through this recently with the -- every deck ailed census as to who's counted. and i think all i stand for is a rule of law together with the people ultimately being the sovereign and being in charge. and that our rights are god given and are protected, you know, by the people we elect and by the people that are in charge. and so i wouldn't support, i wouldn't vote for any candidates that would say people that aren't citizens and aren't, you know, legally here shouldn't
vote -- i mean should vote. i would support that only citizens vote. but certainly there are depending on howelligibility for elections is set, i would say people who don't support should vote or should move. >> thank you. and with that thank you matthew whittaker from the republican national lawyers association. >> let me make an announcement. we have a hard stop at 11:45. i've going to read what lisa gives me because this one is underlined. everyone needs to quickly leave the ballroom and take their personal belongings so they can setup for lunch. lunch will start at 12:15. so make sure you get your stuff. they're resetting the room right now.
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