Heritage Foundation and FAIR: House Border Security Bill Adopts Senate Amnesty Language

House Republican Leadership will not be voting on the Senate's immigration bill, opting instead to tackle the issue in five smaller legislative chunks.

One of the five immigration bills (H.R. 1417) is the lower chamber's border security legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) and includes co-sponsors like Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), and Henry Cuellar (D-TX).

The Heritage Foundation and the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are both critical of McCaul's bill. Heritage notes it "calls for misguided border security metrics and potentially opens the door for amnesty." 

FAIR denounced the bill, saying, "It is important to note that, like the Senate amnesty bill, H.R. 1417 does not require that DHS actually obtain situational awareness or operational control of any part of the border. It only requires DHS to submit a plan for doing so."

As part of its analysis, Heritage warned the bill could become the House's version of the upper chamber's Corker-Hoeven amendment in word and deed. The Senate immigration bill (S.744) was disparaged by conservatives for giving too much power to the DHS Secretary to waive security requirements on the border. FAIR explains how H.R. 1417 "adopts definitions from the Senate amnesty bill that have loopholes" and vague definitions inherently giving "the Secretary of Homeland Security broad discretion." :

Assessment of Situational Awareness and Operational Control. Section 2 requires DHS to submit annual reports to Congress “that assess and describe the state of situational awareness and operational control.” (p.3) The annual reports must include an identification of “high traffic areas” (one presumes this means along the border) and the “illegal border crossing effectiveness rate” for each border sector along both the northern and southern borders. (p.3) Ninety days after DHS submits its first status report, GAO must report to Congress “regarding the verification of data and methodology” DHS used to determine high traffic areas and the effectiveness rate.

H.R. 1417 adopts the Senate immigration bill's version of “effectiveness rate,” defining it as the number of “apprehensions and turn backs” divided by “the number of apprehensions, turn backs, and got aways," FAIR says. The House bill, also adopts the Senate bill's definitions of operational control, situational awareness, and effectiveness rate. The definition of a high traffic are, however, is particularly vague, and therefore can only be defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security, FAIR cautions:

H.R. 1417 defines “high traffic areas” as sectors of the (land) border “that have the most illicit cross-border activity, informed through situational awareness.” This vague definition indicates that the Secretary of Homeland Security will have the discretion to define and then identify these areas. Again, this discretion may lead to political manipulation of DHS reports to Congress.

The Heritage Foundation attacked McCaul's bill, saying, "The nation’s border security challenges does not require complicated but meaningless metrics." Instead, the Washington D.C. conservative think tank suggests implementing measures that would not require new legislation. These measures would include: constructing appropriate border security infrastructure to both inhibit illegal border activity and encourage cross-border commerce, and Ensuring that Customs and Border Protection has the technology it needs to identify illegal border crossings.


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