Notable Speech: Steve Russell

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, August 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. August recess came and Congress left without passing an immigration bill.

The latest introduced legislation aimed to help immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally when they were kids, the so-called Dreamers.

EICHER: What scuttled the bill, though, wasn’t about special concessions for young people or building a wall as President Trump wants.

It was disagreement over an effort to lower legal immigration numbers. And it was a group of Republicans who mobilized against it.

REICHARD: Leading the GOP opposition was Congressman Steve Russell of Oklahoma. He’s a Christian father of five and probably best known as one of the task force commanders for the Army battalion that captured Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Russell took both parties to task for the way they’ve mishandled immigration.

EICHER: Here now—abridged to fit available space—is the latest in our occasional series, Notable Speeches, Past and Present: Congressman Steve Russell on the floor of the House in June.

STEVE RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am not an immigration expert. I do however know and love the history of our great Republic. I speak before America, not as a member of any party, but as an American, who has nearly given my life on multiple battlefields in defense of her Constitution. As such, I am disturbed at the abandonment of principle by both sides of the aisle, the acceptance of soundbites in lieu of facts and the framing of popular, even if opposing sentiments that are used to leverage political power.

And with all the critique about the use of biblical passages to support various views on immigration, how about this one from Proverbs 29:12 that can be leveled against both sides of our national government:

“If a ruler pays attention to lies, all his servants become wicked.”

Our founders were driven by the premise that all are created equal, endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Washington framed it simply but effectively, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” 

American immigration historically has largely been driven by world events. Prior to the Great Depression and World War II, annual immigration comprised .64 percent of the U.S. population with spikes as high as 1.61 percent. Immigrants expanded the country, cultivated the fields, spiked the railroads, and laid the cities across the nation. By the time we entered the First World War in 1917, fully one-third of the nation’s population had been born overseas or had a parent who was an immigrant.  

Immigration dropped sharply due to economics, fear, and war with the Great Depression and World War II, but migrant workers still came by the hundreds of thousands during the war.

An inseparable bond between agriculture and the guest worker resulted in demand for farm workers and industrial labor during the war. The U.S. government recognized this with the ‘Bracero Accord’ that allowed for these workers to come annually to meet a crisis during the war and a vibrant economic growth thereafter.

Succumbing to fears about uncapped workers in our fields and farms or on our machines at home, this Congress ended the Bracero Accord in 1964 and with the institution of new non-immigrant caps in 1965. An almost immediate spike in illegal immigration rose as seasonal workers, with no guarantee that they would make the next season’s quota, stayed instead.

Now we are here today. Only .32 percent of our population are immigrants arriving annually. That is markedly lower than when we were fighting the Civil War. And while the economic drivers are pulling immigrants to seek a better life in our country, we in turn will restrict already small percentages of our population to even smaller ones, despite the fact that our unemployment numbers are lower than our job openings for the first time in American history.

What could we do? Some low-hanging fruit would be to secure our border and provide some type of permanent residency for minors known as DACA recipients to address the immediate need. A bi-partisan majority could readily vote for such a clean measure. Then, once that is done, we can establish a “uniform naturalization rule” to address further issues.

Yet the solutions offered to us this week instead are to demonize family migration, accommodate only those with some station in life or those able to pay a million bucks to get a permanent residency and thus end the hopes of those wishing to come here legally with an already reduced system.

We have many claims floating around these august chambers. Here are some of them: Immigrants are taking our jobs. Immigrants are destroying our American way of life with chain migration. We are flooded by a wave of illegal and legal immigration unlike any time in our nation’s history.

Here is the reality. The percentage of native-born workers to fuel our construction and agricultural economies do not exist. We can either import workers or we can import our food.

In a study published in 2013, economist Michael Clemens did a 15-year analysis of data on North Carolina’s farm-labor market concluding there is virtually no supply of native, manual farm laborers in the state. In 2011, with 6,500 available farm jobs in the state, only 268 of the nearly 500,000 unemployed North Carolinians applied for these jobs.

The problem with the workforce may be even deeper than we know. In 2017, according to the CDC there were about 60 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, which is the lowest recorded rate since the government started tracking birth rates in 1909.

Americans are not flooded by immigrants. We are well below the norm historically.

Lady Liberty must continue to raise her arm and keep her torch burning brightly, rather than exchange it for a stiff arm and a middle finger. The words inscribed at her base must not say “Send me only your Physicians, your Scientists and your Nobel Laureates.” If we use our passions, anger and fear to snuff out Liberty’s flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policies, the enemies of liberty win, and what makes America exceptional will dies. Period.

We have so lost our way on immigration that we even have those across our land rejecting those fleeing tyranny. I want you to listen carefully to these statements by members of Congress in response to a refugee bill.

[Congress must] “protect the youth of America from this foreign invasion.”

And how about this one, “American Children Have First Claim to America’s Charity.”

There are many more, but these quotes were from 1939. The refugee bill was not for Muslim and Christian Syrians or Iraqi Muslims, Christians and Yizidis. It was for German and Eastern European Jews. Not only could we not allow 20,000 Jewish children to enter our country in 1939, that same Congress, with the same speech and rhetoric I am hearing in recent days in this august chamber, passed hurdle after hurdle to make it more difficult for those refugees and immigrants to enter our country. They were unfortunately successful.

Mr. Speaker, America protects her liberty and defends her shores not by punishing those who would be free. She does it by guarding liberty with her life. Americans need to sacrifice and wake up.

Patrick Henry did not say give me safety and economy or give me death! He said give me liberty.

Listen to Russell’s full speech here, and Warren Smith’s Listening In interview with Russell back in 2015 is here.  


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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