Border Bill Emerging as Major Tea Party Versus Establishment Bout
A flurry of legislative activity to address the border crisis is emerging as a major showdown between Tea Partiers and establishment politicians.
Conservatives want to take the fight directly to President Barack Obama, whose executive amnesty policies they say is the primary cause of the problem. Leading the charge on the right are Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and Ted Cruz (R-TX), the wily Tea Party freshman.
The political establishment, on the other hand, prefers a legislated fix to a 2008 anti-human trafficking law, which they cite as a key cause of the problem. The top players on the establishment’s team are Speaker John Boehner, his working group’s head Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX).
Both sides are pulling deep into their benches to fight this battle, and conservatives are framing it as an epic bout that will show lawmakers' true colors—much like the battle to defund Obamacare that Cruz championed last fall.
Already in 2014, 57,000 illegal alien children from Central America currently in U.S. government custody have flooded across the southern border.
Early in the debate over how to respond to the influx, the Obama administration cited the 2008 law as the major impediment to addressing the deluge, conveniently placing the onus on legislation enacted under President George W. Bush.
“The Obama administration says the law is partly responsible for tying its hands in dealing with the current influx of children,” the New York Times’ Washington, D.C., editor Carl Hulse wrote in a July 7 piece. Hulse quoted Bush spokesman Tony Fratto as having praised that law, and Obama White House spokesman Josh Earnest calling for changes to it.
The law quickly morphed into the main point of debate surrounding potential fixes to the crisis. Boehner’s working group, Cornyn alongside his Texas colleague Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, and now House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)—began drafting pieces of legislation aimed at changing that 2008 law.
Other lawmakers, like Cruz, Sessions, and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), are pushing for a GOP-wide effort to crack down on President Barack Obama’s lawlessness rather than letting the media, the White House, and Congress blame Bush for this problem. Specifically, Cruz and Sessions say there should be an effort to dismantle Obama’s various executive orders that command immigration officers to not enforce the law, including especially the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Vitter, meanwhile, has introduced his own bill that aims to curb the flow of illegal immigration rather than just deal with the illegal aliens once they’re here.
It's now well-established that the 2008 law is being abused, partly by the children streaming across the border and partly by Obama, who has declined to use flexibility under it to secure the border, and even Cruz supports amending the law to address the problem.
But anti-amnesty advocates like Cruz, Sessions, and various groups like Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), argue the 2008 law is a distraction from the larger issue.
The argument leading anti-amnesty conservatives like Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) make is that while Congress should change the 2008 law to make it easier to deport the illegal alien children, the root of the problem is not what to do with them once they’re here. It’s that the illegal alien children believe – correctly – that they stand only a small chance of being deported if they make it across the border.
“Congress can play a role, but the president has to help send a signal and start enforcing the law,” Grassley told Breitbart News. “Congress’ role must first be to revise the 2008 trafficking law which was intended to deal specifically with child trafficking. Nobody knew at the time that the Obama administration policies would contribute to this massive influx of undocumented people. But now we have to ensure that recent entrants are returned to their home countries in a humane manner. The bottom line is that we can’t have the laws of our country based on the actions of human traffickers and smugglers.”
Amid the mad-dash to introduce legislation, there are few bills that match these criteria set forth by anti-amnesty leaders, including Sessions in his letter to every member of Congress earlier this week. Sessions calls for an end to Obama’s executive non-enforcement orders that he says incentivize a continued high flow of illegal immigration. Most call for a secured border to further help curb the the flow of illegal immigration—though any language from House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Mike McCaul’s border bill, which is included in Boehner’s working group's bill, won’t actually secure the border; it will only require the administration to offer a plan.
Sessions predicts there will be more lawlessness from Obama—specifically more executive amnesty—if the president isn’t stopped. That will mean, Sessions argues, the border crisis will only get worse as more prospective illegal aliens from foreign countries will seek Obama’s amnesty if only they can make it to America.
“The president is reportedly going to go ‘big and bold’ with his amnesty orders,” a Sessions aide said. “It is essential that Congress do everything it can to stop him from doing so. As Senator Sessions said, these new amnesty directives would effectively nullify our immigration laws and further dissolve our borders – creating an even bigger immigration crisis.”
As the general direction of what the Boehner working group and Cornyn-Cuellar bills would do became publicly available on Tuesday, President Obama—the very next day—seemed to prove Sessions’ larger point that if Republican leadership in Congress doesn’t stand up to him on executive amnesty, he’ll go for more. Obama told Congressional Hispanic Caucus members on Wednesday that he is going to use executive power to grant amnesty to more illegal aliens than ever before later this year, saying he will be “as great and big and bold as he can be” according to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).