The new border security bill being rushed forward by the Republican leadership is merely political theater, says Kenneth Palinkas, head of the union representing the 12,000 federal employees at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
“H.R. 399 — Chairman [Mike] McCaul’s legislation — does nothing to preclude anyone in the world from turning themselves in at the U.S. border and obtaining automatic entry and federal benefits,” such as work permits, Palinkas wrote in a Jan. 22 letter.
The bill doesn’t challenge practices adopted since 2010 by the White House, which ensure that “almost anyone at all can call themselves an asylum-seeker and get in; it’s a global joke,” said Palinkas.
Palinkas’ letter — in which he named 18 GOP legislators who voted for the bill — is part of a grassroots campaign to reform or block the border security bill.
The bill would spends $10 billion over 10 years. But it only adds 48 miles of double-layer fencing to meet an 2008 mandate to build various fences along 700 miles of the 2,000 mile border. It also actually tears down some border fencing, which backers say is being replaced by see-through barriers that help surveillance. More significantly, say critics, it does not include any language to end President Barack Obama’s catch-and-release border policies.
Under those catch-and-release policies, Obama has largely halted repatriations, and is ordering officials to issue work permits to large numbers of illegals. For example, his officials provided temporary residency documents to nearly all of the 130,000 low-skill Central American adults and children who crossed the U.S. border in 2014. Most of the adults were allowed to get temporary work permits.
Tea party groups are also pushing to change McCaul’s bill. “We want to tighten up this bill and we don’t think adding some or all of the [previously passed] language is an unreasonable expectation,” said Kevin Broughton, a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots network.
The network is asking its supporters to lobby their legislators for a better bill. “We make it easy for them to get in touch with their legislators. … Their enthusiasm level [to stop amnesty] is at all-time high,” Broughton said.
The McCaul bill would be much improved if it included the border security bill passed last July by nearly all GOP legislators, he said. The language was developed by Rep. John Carter and Rep. Robert Adelholt.
Palinkas also called for major changes. “It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic [catch-and-release] words and get waved right on in,” he said. “We are saying to Congress: help us. Provide us the tools, mission support and resources we need to protect the Homeland, in accord with the laws and Constitution of the United States.”
However, McCaul and other GOP leaders say the bill is the toughest border security bill ever, and want to pass it during a floor vote as soon as Wednesday, Jan. 28.
They’re hoping to get as many GOP legislators as possible to vote for the bill next week so they can claim a big victory over Democratic opposition, said a Capitol Hill staffer.
That theatrical win can be used to shield GOP legislators from voters’ criticism once the GOP leaders later push bills that would allow companies to annually import hundreds of thousands of workers to compete against Americans for food-sector jobs, blue-collar jobs and non-technology professional jobs, the staffer said.
Democratic leaders will protest and complain in public, but privately will support the GOP’s cheap labor bills in exchange for getting millions of Democratic-leaning foreigners on a 10-year path to citizenship and the voting booth, said the staffer.
The McCaul bill is intended to remove the tough public opposition that is blocking the labor-for-votes swap, he said. “It is legislative Drano that is intended to clear the way for amnesty,” the Hill staffer said.
A top deputy to House Speaker John Boehner has also promised to pass an amnesty in 2015.
In December, Republican leaders passed a 2015 funding bill that allows funding for Obama’s November amnesty of 12 million illegals. The GOP leaders pushed for the funding despite overwhelming opposition from the GOP base. Sixty-seven GOP legislators voted against the amnesty funding.
Democrats are staging high-profile opposition to the McCaul bill.
But that opposition is as fake as a wrestling match, said the Hill staffer.
For example, a Jan. 22 statement by Obama’s immigration deputy blasted the McCaul bill, but it didn’t promise a veto. “H.R. 399 is unworkable, plain and simple,” said the letter from Jeh Jonson, head of the Department of Homeland Security, who did not even say he would recommend a veto.
In contrast, Obama and his aides have promised this week to veto several other draft bills, including bills on abortion, amnesty funding and an oil pipeline. The McCaul bill “is the first thing they didn’t threaten to veto,” the staffer said.
The Democratic opposition to the McCaul bill “is like when you see [World Wresting Entertainment Vince] McMahon step into the ring and pretend to have a fight with Steve Austin, when they’re just putting on a good show and they have a drink afterwards and split the profits,” the staffer said.
But GOP leaders have a lot of power over the rank-and-file. For example, committee member Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta voted for McCaul’s bill after he was allowed to add an amendment to the bill. The amendment requires the administration to file a report on border security, but doesn’t impose any penalties if officials ignore the deadline.
Barletta, who was elected on an anti-amnesty platform, explained his vote for McCaul’s bill by saying other House committee will add improvements. “In separate legislation, we look forward to the work of other committees in Congress to address issues such as interior enforcement of immigration laws,” said his statement. “We are taking the issues up one at a time, rather than in a single large bill.”
The McCaul bill was approved Jan 1. on a party-line vote.
The GOP legislators who backed the bill include Texas Reps. McCaul, Lamar Smith, Will Hurd and John Ratcliffe, Pennsylvania’s Barletta, Tom Marino and Scott Perry, Michigan’s Mike Rogers and Candace Miller, New York’s Peter King and John Katko, Georgia’s Erl Carter and Barry Loudermilk, plus South Carolina’s Jeff Duncan, Mississippi’s Steven Palazzo, Florida’s Curtis Clawson, North Carolina’s Mark Walker and Arizona’s Martha McSally.
The Democrats’ complaints about the McCaul bill also distracts public attention to the Senate GOP leaders’ failure to block 2015 funding for Obama’s amnesty. “Why are they so eager to pass a [McCaul] bill that doesn’t work, and so determined to not pass anything that might work,” said the Hill staffer.