PLAYER PROFILE

Mike Lee

Republican U.S. Senator from Utah | Member of Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration

In 2015, five years after winning election to the U.S. Senate from Utah, Mike Lee was named the most conservative U.S. senator by a BYU study. But the Republican has shown signs of bipartisanship when it comes to immigration, having co-authored with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer in 2011 a proposal to include dairy workers in an agricultural visa program. Lee was also an original member of 2013’s so-called “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators that aimed to find common ground on immigration and develop a comprehensive immigration reform bill. 

Ultimately, Lee left the Gang of Eight, stating that he thought immigration reform would be better achieved “issue-by-issue.” He argued that the pathway to citizenship they proposed would only incentivize illegal immigration if they did not first enact separate measures to secure the border, improve the E-Verify system, and streamline the backlogged legal immigration system. He ultimately voted against the bill, which passed the Senate but stalled in the Republican-held House.

Still, Lee has continued to work across the aisle on immigration. In February 2019, he teamed up with then-Senator Kamala Harris to reintroduce the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, a measure to eliminate per-country caps on green cards. Under the current system, which was first outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, no country can receive more than 7 percent of the family- and employment-sponsored green cards available in any given year, a limitation that has led to decades-long waitlists in high-demand and high-population countries like China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. Lee and Harris proposed to eliminate the country cap for employment-based visas and raise the country cap for family-sponsored visas from 7 percent to 15 percent. 

The bill received broad bipartisan support, and companion legislation introduced in the House passed both chambers of Congress. But at the last minute, a disagreement emerged when the House refused to sign off on an amendment Lee introduced in the Senate to bar any member of the Chinese military or Chinese Communist Party. Without further action, the bill expired at the end of the 116th Congress. 

Though Lee has been a strong supporter of President Trump’s border wall, he opposed the president’s 2019 emergency declaration that sought to divert military funds for construction of the wall. “Congress has been ceding far too much power to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said.

Despite these glimpses of bipartisanship and resistance to Trump policy, Lee frustrated Democrats in December 2020 when he attempted to block a Senate bill that would lead to the creation of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, D.C. In a Senate floor speech, Lee said he opposed the museum in the interest of “national unity and inclusion,” contending that “hyphenated” identities result in the “balkanization of our national community.”

“It sharpens all those hyphens into so many knives and daggers,” Lee said. “It has turned our college campuses into grievance pageants and loose Orwellian mobs to cancel anyone daring to express an original thought.”

SOURCES:

Lee’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    “Securing the border is key and must be put in place to prevent further widespread illegal immigration before beginning any legalization process,” Lee said in 2013. His 2010 senate campaign platform argued for increased border funding, infrastructure, and personnel.

  • Border Wall

    "I support President Trump and his desire to build a fence along the southern border," said Lee in 2019. However, Lee and fellow Utah Senator Mitt Romney opposed Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border after learning that the emergency funding for the wall would be diverted from military infrastructure projects at a Utah air force base.

  • Detention

    Lee supported Senator Ted Cruz’s Protect Parents and Kids Act, which sought to end family separations on the border.

  • Immigration Courts

    Lee’s support for Senator Cruz’s Protect Parents and Kids Act also extended to the issue of immgration courts, as the bill also provided funding for additional immigration judges to expedite processing of asylum claims.

  • Undocumented Population

    Lee opposed passing the DREAM Act in 2010, saying, "I don't believe we should be offering any benefit to people who come here in violation of our laws.” His 2010 campaign website’s immigration platform included an argument against birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. In 2013, Lee eventually opposed the Gang of Eight bill on the grounds that a pathway to citizenship would incentivize illegal immigration if they did not first enact separate measures to secure the border, improve the E-Verify system, and streamline the backlogged legal immigration system.

  • ICE

    In 2018, Lee co-sponsored a resolution with 19 fellow Republican Senators denouncing calls to abolish ICE.

  • DACA

    Lee applauded the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA in 2017, calling the program “an illegal abuse of executive power.” He emphasized his belief in finding a legislative resolution for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, saying, “A balance between compassion and deterring future illegal immigration can be found.”

  • Asylum

    Lee supports the Trump administration’s implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the remain-in-Mexico policy, whereby asylum seekers who cross the southern border are returned to Mexico to await their court date in the U.S.

  • Central America Policy

    No statement found.

  • Visas

    “Making certain types of legal immigration more efficient diminishes the incentive for some to come here illegally or overstay their visas,” said Lee in 2011. Lee has a history of cooperating across the aisle on visa reforms. In 2011, he introduced a proposal to include dairy workers and shepherds in a year-round agricultural visa program, and in 2012 proposed a new visa category for foreign real estate investors. He has also repeatedly introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, a measure to eliminate country caps for employment-based visas and raise the per-country cap on family-sponsored visas from 7 percent to 15 percent. The current system limits any country from receiving more than 7 percent of green cards issued in a single year, which has led to long waitlists in countries like China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.