After updating constituents about trade issues and Iran, U.S. Senator James Lankford took questions from the audience during his stop in Marietta Friday afternoon. When asked about the current bills he’s working on, he talked about his work in committee on a bill to help reduce the length of government shutdowns, and he then answered a question about immigration issues.

Lankford said while government shutdowns are nothing new, the most recent shutdown of 35 days was the longest ever experienced. He said this creates undue harm on the American people and federal employees in particular. 

“We lose money every time we do a government shutdown,” Lankford said. “The folks that work for the federal government — it’s really tough on their families. They always get paid (once the shutdown is over) but during the process they’re not getting paid, and they’re missing paychecks. It’s just destabilizing.”

Lankford said while there will always be disagreements in Congress over budget issues, the American people and federal government workers should not be harmed in the process.

“If you get to the end of the fiscal year and an appropriations bill is not done, you do what’s called a continuing resolution,” Lankford said, adding this means that basically the government would spend the same amount as the year before on any particular budget item. “It just freezes the spending so it keeps going. So federal workers don’t feel anything, and the American people don’t feel anything.”

Under a recent bill that passed through committee with bipartisan support, however, Congress members and their staff, along with the White House Office of Management and Budget, would lose all travel privileges.

“So there’s no official travel that happens and the House and Senate are in session every day in what’s called a mandatory quorum call,” Lankford said. “So weekdays and weekends, we’re in session.”

Lankford said this would keep all Congress members and staff in Washington D.C. until the work is done. The only thing they could move on would be appropriations bills, and everyone would be there every day. 

Lankford pointed out simply stopping Congressional salaries would not be effective motivation for the numerous millionaires in Congress.

“No budget, no pay has no effect on them at all. They don’t think about that,” Lankford said. “What does make a difference is loss of time. If you lose time, that’s a valuable commodity.”

He said this particular piece of legislation needs to go through two committees, but the first passed with “overwhelming bipartisan support.” He said they are working through the process of getting it through the second committee, and everyone hopes to get it resolved soon.

An audience member then asked about the current immigration situation and Lankford said the biggest issue has to do with the Flores Settlement Agreement. 

“The Flores Settlement says if you are a minor and you cross the border then you can only be detained for 20 days. After 20 days you have to be released into the least restrictive environment,” Lankford said. “And what the court has determined that is basically you’re released into the country under the guidance of a supervisor somewhere in the country.”

He said this explains why there are so many minors coming into the country and why such a large percentage of them are 17.

“Almost every young man that crosses the border says he’s 17 because they know the rules are different if you’re 17,” Lankford said, adding these young men can claim they do not have any passport, paperwork, or any other form of identification and the United States is hard pressed to prove they are older than they claim. 

Lankford said these minors are then released to their sponsor, and it is suspected that many sponsors are here illegally themselves because sponsors cannot be legally asked if they are legal residents. He said the minor is then given a court date two to three years in the future, but they do not show up to court. 

He then gave a solution to allow more people to come to the country legally.

“We have over half a million people legally cross the border every day,” Lankford said. “I don’t mind people coming here to work, I just want them to come here legally. Right now we actually have 1.5 million more job openings in America than we actually have people looking for a job because our economy has spiked so much. This has never happened in the past 50 years that we’ve been keeping records on this.”

He said one solution actually comes from Vice President Mike Pence during his time in the House of Representatives. Employment companies would be allowed to bring in international workers more easily if they could not find a local candidate to fill a position.

“In their international offices they can go through the interview process, go through the paperwork, go through the processing — do it the right way,” Lankford said. “They can say we’ve got this person here internationally who can do the work because you cannot fill it locally.”