The text of the funding bill was released last night/this morning, and lawmakers are expected to vote on the 1,169-page measure as early as this evening. The bill is disappointing in many respects, but if it had been as advertised earlier, it might have been tolerable.
But my fears that senators Durbin and Leahy would trick the Republican conferees (none of whom knows the first thing about immigration policy) were realized. Standing out among the many distasteful provisions are two poison pills that I hope the Republican committee members either didn’t know about or didn’t understand.
The first regards the fence. I’m not fence-first guy, but physical barriers really are needed on some parts of the border, and the president has been flexible on this in the face of implacable Democratic opposition. Thus the news that the Dems agreed to $1.375 billion for the construction of “primary pedestrian fencing” (i.e., high barriers, not the low ones intended simply to stop vehicles, in places where there’s none now) seemed like a win.
It’s not. That’s because the bill allows the fencing to be built only in the Rio Grande Valley Sector in South Texas. It’s surely needed there, but real barriers are also needed elsewhere, such as the parts of the Arizona or New Mexico borders where there’s only vehicle fencing.
But the Democrats had a reason for this limitation. The bill states:
Prior to use of any funds made available by this Act for the construction of physical barriers within the city limits of any city or census designated place…Department of Homeland Security and the local elected officials of such a city or census designated place shall confer and seek to reach mutual agreement regarding the design and alignment of physical barriers within that city or the census designated place.
In other words, local governments would have an effective veto over whether barriers would be constructed. And which party controls all local government in South Texas? Go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait. Rio Grande City is the least Democratic community in the area, and even there voters supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than three to one.
Add to that the bill’s prohibition on border barriers in a range of public parks and spaces — such as the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Historical Park, or the National Butterfly Center — and the 55 miles of new fencing supposedly provided for in the bill might never get built at all.
The second poison pill is even worse. Section 224 states:
None of the funds provided by this act…may be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to place in detention, remove, refer for a decision whether to initiate removal proceedings, or initiate removal proceedings against a sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child.
In other words, this would mean that ICE cannot detain or remove anyone who has effectively any relationship with an “unaccompanied” minor — either because they’re sponsors, in the same household as sponsors, or even just “potential sponsors” (or in the household of potential sponsors!) of such a child.
There’s already a huge incentive to bring a child with you if you’re planning to infiltrate the border, because kids can’t be held more than 20 days, according to the Flores agreement, and we don’t separate parents from kids, so if you sneak across with a kid in tow, you’re released into the U.S.
The new provision would create an incentive for illegal aliens already here to order up kids from Central America as human shields against deportation. After all, 80 percent of the sponsors of unaccompanied children are in the country illegally in the first place — usually parents or other relatives paying criminal gangs to bring the kids to the U.S., knowing that the likelihood that they’ll be repatriated is virtually nil.
One of the members of the conference committee supposedly writing the funding bill, Tom Graves (R-Ga.), refused to sign the report because he wasn’t permitted even to see the text until shortly after midnight this morning, and was given an hour to read the whole thing and decide.
This is no way to run a government. The president should make clear his earlier willingness to sign the package was based on the summaries that had circulated, not this specific language. The responsible thing to do now would be to pass a continuing resolution (extend spending at current levels) for a week or so, to avoid another partial government shutdown but give lawmakers time to actually go over the thing carefully and pull out the poison pills.