Congress Loses Focus on Illegal Immigration

Last week, Congress tried—and failed—to act on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Senate failed to reach the necessary 60 votes on four proposals, two from Republicans and two from Democrats, and three of which offered varying degrees of amnesty for DACA recipients and other illegal immigrant populations.

There was a troubling synonymy among all of the proposals, both left and right. Rather than starting from the factual premise that illegal immigrants are just that—people who have violated the law—Democrats, Republicans and even President Trump are attempting to turn citizenship into an entitlement, rather than a closely-held privilege.

This was overwhelmingly evident in the proposal put forward by Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the Senate last week, with support from fellow Democrat Angus King of Maine, plus Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.).

The Schumer amendment didn’t just legalize 3 million “Dreamers,” it ensured a path to citizenship for their 6 million parents, raised the age application for DACA to 43 (so much for DACA “kids”) and, through an overly broad waiver process, effectively gave citizenship to criminal aliens.

But it gets worse. The Schumer amendment actually halted enforcement of immigration laws for illegal aliens who aren’t even in the country yet. According to the terms of the proposal, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be forced into an enforcement “holiday” for all aliens who arrive before June 2018—essentially inviting a border rush of illegal immigrants and raising an untold number of security concerns.

DHS, rightly appalled by the Schumer amendment, said the proposal was tantamount to the “end of immigration enforcement in America.”

The most discouraging part of the bipartisan Schumer amendment was how well it performed on the Senate floor. Despite failing to garner the necessary 60 votes, the proposal still tied for the highest number of votes that any of the four proposals received. Democrats supported it unanimously, as did eight Republicans.

For those who take American sovereignty and the rule of law seriously, the strong performance of the Schumer amendment should raise all kinds of red flags. The terms of the proposal are bad, but what it represents is far more insidious.

The terms of the debate have now shifted. No longer do we start with the fact of illegality—that is, how we deal with aliens who have broken our laws. Rather, the starting point for debate is now an attitude of entitlement; that lawbreakers, present and future, are deserving of legal protection, up to the point of citizenship.

As a policy matter, immigration is unique in this way. In no other policy arena do we begin with the presumption that known lawbreakers are free from accountability.

For example, in the criminal justice system, a teenager found with any amount of marijuana can go to jail for up to a year for a first offense. Washing someone’s hair without a license in Michigan can result in a $500 fine and 90 days in jail (longer for multiple offenses). In Idaho, regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency fined the Sackett family $75,000 a day for modifying their own property without a permit.

But for those who break our immigration laws, there are very few consequences. Not only that, we provide for illegal immigrants financially, grant citizenship to any child born here and Members of Congress now consistently argue that the status of illegal aliens should take priority over the needs of American citizens.

Our immigration debate has taken the rule of law and flipped it on its head. We cannot have a rational immigration debate until the correct balance is restored.

Future immigration policies need to start from this factual premise: DACA recipients are here illegally. Though the left will howl about fairness and exploit one or two DACA recipient valedictorians in front of the news cameras, it doesn’t change the fact that they are here in violation of the law.

Second, the DACA program itself is illegal. President Obama instituted the program unilaterally, in violation of the constitutional balance of powers and well outside the scope of his own authority. The courts have recognized this. Indeed, even the 9th Circuit, which is currently challenging President Trump’s wind-down of DACA, is only doing so on the basis of process, rather than the merits of the program itself. It’s telling that even the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, widely seen as the most liberal circuit in the country, cannot come up with a legal justification that allows DACA to continue.

Restoring rule of law to the immigration debate is necessary to change the debate from one centered on entitlement to one focused on actually solving the problem.

And that problem is a big one. Our borders aren’t secure enough to prevent illegal immigration, and our policies have actually encouraged it. Our interior enforcement is blatantly mocked by cities and states that flout the law but still demand federal dollars to support illegal populations. Those immigrants who do try to follow the law and come here legally are stuck for years in a labyrinthine web of nonsensical standards.

Yet none of the proposals considered in the Senate last week addressed any of these issues (the only exception being Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey’s amendment to end federal funding to sanctuary cities). Rather, each proposal sought to make illegal immigrants an entitled class, deserving of all the rights and benefits afforded to American citizens; indeed, deserving of that share of ruling the country that citizenship affords.

Congress isn’t going to solve the problem if they cannot first identify what it is. As the House and Senate continue to contend with DACA, it is imperative that future proposals focus on the problem of illegality and its consequences, rather than on creating a class of non-citizens entitled to more rights than those of us who live here legally.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.