Virtually every key House Republican, from Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) on down, has vowed to oppose a conference committee with the Senate’s immigration bill passed last year. And lawmakers working to craft legislation to address the tens of thousands of children streaming across the southern U.S. border say it won’t touch citizenship for illegal aliens, increased visas, or any other topics than border security.
But a key veteran of the immigration wars on Capitol Hill is warning that legislation to amend a 2008 law being cited for cumbersome, years-long deportations would theoretically open the door to a conference committee on the controversial amnesty bill.
Proposals to strengthen the law, including one introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cueller (D-TX), “opens up whatever bill this is in to a conference with the Senate Gang of Eight bill,” said Rosemary Jenks, the legislative director for NumbersUSA, a group that opposes amnesty as well as increased legal immigration.
“Our proposal would improve the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, treating all unaccompanied minors equally and ensuring Due Process under the law in a timely, fair manner,” Cornyn, who voted against the Gang of Eight bill last year and has usually demonstrated a fairly strong anti-amnesty record, said in a statement about the bill he and Cueller introduced Tuesday.
The 2008 law has dominated discussions about legislative remedies to the border crisis, in which 57,000 unaccompanied children have been smuggled into the U.S. so far this year, resulting in frequent abuse and a significant number of deaths.
According Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a member of a working group appointed by Boehner to study which traveled to Guatemala and Honduras over the weekend to investigate, the law’s role in worsening the crisis was universally cited by U.S. military and State Department officials on the front lines of the crisis, as well as the presidents of both countries.
But Jenks and other key immigration hawks say the issue has turned into something of a distraction from more foundational issues like President Obama’s leniency with illegal aliens, including a 2012 order not to deport individuals who came across the border illegally as minors in most circumstances.
“Cornyn, like so many other Republicans, has been distracted by this shiny object, which is the 2008 anti-trafficking law,” Jenks said in a phone interview. “It is just ridiculous to assume that changing this law that affects less than 20 percent of all the illegals coming across the border right now is going to fix the problem.”
“If it goes through the House first, it will be conferenced in the Senate,” Jenks said. “Think about what that means. I cannot imagine why people don’t get this. McCain and Graham and Schumer are talking in the pages of the New York Times about how they will attach part or all of their bill to whatever comes through on this….This is why the whole idea that you can do targeted policy changes is ludicrous.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a sponsor of the Gang of Eight bill, told the Times the legislative address to the border crisis is “a way to start securing the border in line with the Senate bill. If you could use this as an opportunity to beef up the border, I think it makes future immigration reform more likely.”
Daniel Horowitz of the conservative group Madison Project agrees with Jenks: Republicans in Congress need to focus on Obama’s executive orders gone wild.
“When you are trying to put out a fire, you train the hose on the source of the inferno, which in this case, is Obama’s lawlessness and DACA,” Horowitz said. “The 2008 trafficking law is a shiny object that clearly had nothing to do with causing the crisis and is only notionally problematic in stopping it.”
Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell told Breitbart News that the plan is aimed at solving the border crisis. On Cornyn’s behalf, Mitchell blamed the problem partly on the president’s non-enforcement orders including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive amnesty–and said the goal should be in the long term to stop the president from doing so with more illegal aliens, as President Obama says he’s going to do.
“This legislation is a roadmap towards a solution to the border crisis created at least in part by the President’s own failure to enforce the law,” Mitchell said in an email. “If we don’t move swiftly to address the situation without a doubt the President will again brazenly go around Congress and unilaterally change existing law, turning the situation from bad to worse for Texans along the border.”
Cornyn’s office added that in addition to the border crisis being Obama’s fault through his non-enforcement directives, an internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo leaked to Breitbart Texas’ Brandon Darby attributes part of the problem to how illegal alien minors are not “immediately repatriated” back to their home countries. That issue, they say, dates back to the 2008 law.
All these deliberations are ongoing as Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) says there shouldn’t be any new spending or legislation unless the president uses his current powers to stop more executive amnesty.
“Certainly, DACA and the President’s other numerous unlawful policies must be terminated,” Sessions wrote in a letter his office hand-delivered to every member of Congress on Monday. “But as a first step, Congress must not acquiesce to spending more taxpayer dollars until the President unequivocally rescinds his threat of more illegal executive action.”