EASTON — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris hosted a town hall at the Easton firehouse Wednesday night, Aug. 6, covering a wide range of topics.
Harris, R-Md.-1st, said that for the past six years, Congress has been focused on the economy.
Harris said he also has been warning that the U.S. should be careful not to get into some sort of foreign policy disaster. He said now, the U.S. is in multiple foreign policy disasters — Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the South China Sea.
“Throughout the globe, we have foreign policy problems, and I will tell you, my impression is because we are no longer perceived as a trusted leader in the world, and that’s a problem,” he said.
Harris used the annexation of Crimea by Russia as an example.
The U.S. — along with the United Kingdom, Russia and Ukraine — is signatory to a 1994 agreement called the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in which each nation agreed to protect the Ukrainian sovereign territorial borders if Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.
“They gave them up. They destroyed them. They’re without nuclear weapons now. And yet when Russia invaded Crimea, we didn’t do anything,” he said. “That’s not a trusted leader. That’s not someone who the world thinks they can shake hands with and will be protected when they get into trouble.”
Another example Harris used was the July 20 deadline on which the U.S. was supposed to have a deal with Iran halting the Middle East nation's development of nuclear weapons. That deadline passed and no agreement was struck, yet there have been no increases in sanctions or punishment for Iran, “not wanting to come to the table and work at it,” Harris said.
“Some concepts are relatively simple: When a bad actor behaves badly, there has to be a negative repercussion, and there are no negative repercussions for a lot of the bad actors in the world right now,” he said. “That doesn’t end well.”
On the energy front, Harris said “things are good.” He said the U.S. is on track to become the leading producer of oil in the world in the next 10 years.
Harris said that could potentially be done through energy savings and converting energy needs into natural gas needs, and the U.S. could become oil self-sufficient within 10 years. But to do that, the U.S. is going to have to partner with Canada on the Keystone XL Pipeline, he said.
Immigration, however, is a much different story than the good tidings of energy, according to Harris.
He said the last two presidential administrations have had an “unwillingness to enforce our immigration law.” He said the laws need to be enforced before Congress can find ways to fix them.
Harris said the U.S. needs transient labor. But, he said the laborers need to remain transient, so that when the economy and unemployment rate aren’t good, transient laborers aren’t clogging up the American job market.
He said that in 2012, President Barack Obama gave the OK to give work permits to illegal immigrant children every two years and allow them to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
“And now the president, we hear, is actually going to extend that to the parents of the people who brought these children here,” Harris said.
“That’s potentially 4 or 5 million more people competing with Americans for work. That’s not the way the immigration law is supposed to be. Our immigration law is supposed to supplement our workforce when we need it, not substitute for American workers, and that’s the problem,” he said.
What’s happening now is immigrants coming across the borders claiming they’re being trafficked — something that’s worthy of asylum, Harris said. But, most aren’t being trafficked, he said, and are instead smuggled in by people paid by relatives and parents who already live in the U.S.
The U.S. immigration system is designed for 100 to 200 children a month, but now 10,000 a month are illegally immigrating to the U.S., he said, causing a backlog of one-and-a-half to five years before children can have their required hearing before an immigration judge.
Harris said the children should get a hearing within two weeks “and if the person doesn’t have good evidence that they have been trafficked here, they will be sent back home.”
“I think that’s the only way to stop the flood across the borders right now, is we have to send a clear message to these (immigrants’) parents,” he said.
An anonymous question on a note card from a member of the audience addressed the immigration issue, asking Harris, “What plan for immigration will Congress and the president agree to?” Another audience member directly asked why House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring an immigration reform bill passed in the Senate months ago to a vote in the House of Representatives.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill from the Senate would mean “tens of millions of work permits to people who are either here illegally” or will enter because of that, Harris said.
“I just don’t think that’s good policy decision,” he said.
Harris said the House has decided that it won’t have discussions about immigration until Obama agrees to secure the border, and that Obama won’t discuss it until citizenship for immigrants is made a possibility.