Opinion

HUENNEKENS: What’s Immigration Doing In A Defense Spending Bill?

REUTERS/Al Drago

What does immigration policy have to do with funding our military?

Quite a bit, according to House Democrats. Their version of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains immigration riders that are entirely unrelated to the traditional purpose of the NDAA.

Framing defense programming and policy through the NDAA has been a staple of bipartisan lawmaking since 1961. It provides vital funding for our nation’s soldiers, aviators, marines, and sailors for such things as pay increases, base improvements and billions of dollars in healthcare spending. The NDAA is historically passed and hailed as an exercise in bipartisanship. But this year, House Democrats decided to toss bipartisanship aside and insert multiple immigration poison pills.

In the middle of a humanitarian and national security crisis at the border, Democrats designed these amendments to bar the military from serving in support roles, as they have in past crises. Two offered by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would have blocked all funding for any activity that assists with immigration enforcement, as well as banning the deployment of service members to the border to provide humanitarian support.

Service members are currently at the border assisting the Border Patrol, not participating in immigration enforcement duties but instead providing transportation, serving meals, and lending other logistical support. Fortunately, the House voted down both of these amendments – a sound rejection of “squad” immigration priorities.

However, the powerful House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) introduced an amendment that prohibits the Defense Department from housing any illegal aliens who are in the custody of ICE. Despite a number of Democrats voting against this amendment, it passed by a vote of 213-204. This comes after the military already started to expand and convert military sites to temporarily hold aliens detained by ICE. Without space to hold detainees, ICE will have no other choice than to release these individuals onto our streets and into the interior of the country.

Most will simply disappear. 

Thompson’s amendment does nothing except cripple ICE’s ability to detain illegal aliens, many of whom have criminal records. It serves no purpose other than reaffirming the Democrats’ commitment to rejecting any kind of immigration enforcement. His amendment feeds into the Democratic narrative that they are fighting back against President Trump, when in reality they are only exacerbating the crisis at our border.

Further, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) offered an amendment that preserves “parole-in-place” for illegal alien family members of those serving in the military. The Obama administration invented the concept of parole-in-place in November 2013. In doing so, the Obama administration unilaterally expanded the very limited authority of the Department of Homeland Security to parole aliens outside of the country into the U.S. on a temporary and case-by-case basis under humanitarian circumstances. There exists no legal authority to grant parole to broad categories of illegal aliens. The Takano amendment sets forth a dangerous precedent by which future administrations could “parole-in-place” nearly anyone they wanted.

Democrats have no business trying to force immigration policy into the NDAA. There is a time and a place to debate this issue without exacerbating the national emergency at the border. Any debate regarding the funding and regulation of immigration enforcement should occur during the consideration of the DHS appropriations bill. Democrats had plenty of opportunities to address their concerns outside of the NDAA. Congress recently sent a bipartisan emergency border aid package to the president.

The NDAA is no place for immigration politics. The Senate’s bipartisan version of the NDAA passed overwhelmingly by an 86-8 vote. Having separately passed their respective versions, the House and Senate will now conference, where they negotiate a single bill that both chambers will once again vote upon.

It is imperative that legislators remove these immigration riders during the conference negotiations.

In the past, the NDAA represented a rare opportunity for otherwise-bickering Republicans and Democrats to pass non-controversial legislation. Today, that is threatened by the House Democrats’ insistence to fight President Trump’s immigration policy.

Pass a clean NDAA and keep immigration riders out of the bill.

Preston Huennekens is a government relations associate with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.