Opponents of the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill have repeatedly criticized it as bearing uncomfortable similarities to the legislation that created Obamacare — both in the secretive process that produced the legislation and in the fact that many of the details are not written clearly in the bill but are left to the relevant Cabinet secretary to decide. In at least one respect, however, the comparison falls short.
As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney has pointed out, the Obama administration went to great lengths to placate (read: buy off) the myriad lobbyists and special-interest groups that have a stake in the health-care industry. The Gang of Eight has certainly copied that approach, even going so far as to let the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce essentially write significant portions of the bill. A number of liberal immigration-activist groups, such as the National Council of La Raza, would be eligible to receive millions in taxpayer funding to “advise” illegal immigrants applying for legal status under the bill.
However, while Big Labor, Big Business, and a parade of other interest groups have seats at the table, the group whose primary responsibility is to enforce immigration law has been excluded. The National ICE Council, the union representing more than 7,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and employees, requested a meeting with the White House more than three months ago, but has yet to receive an invitation. ICE’s president, Chris Crane, has met twice with Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), but their first meeting occurred only the day before the Gang of Eight unveiled its proposal. Days later, Crane was reportedly ejected from a press conference after attempting to ask Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) a question.
It is fairly obvious why the Gang of Eight and its supporters, including the White House, are not eager to hear what the immigration-enforcement community has to say. Chris Crane is a vocal opponent of the Gang of Eight’s approach, and has repeatedly expressed concern about immigration enforcement under the Obama administration. A group of ICE agents is suing the administration
in federal court over its “deferred action” immigration policy, initiated via executive order, which the agents claim has frustrated their ability to enforce the law and has thus devastated employee morale. (The judge in the case has already indicated
he is likely to side with the plaintiffs.)
In June 2012, in response to this executive order, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Janet Napolitano directed immigration officers not to initiate deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements — that they were brought here illegally as children, are currently enrolled in college or are members of the military, and have not been convicted of a serious crime.
ICE agents claim the new policy is routinely, and sometimes gleefully, abused. Illegal immigrants who claim “deferred action” status must be taken at their word; even if they have been arrested, or are known to be members of a criminal gang, they must be released without charge. One of the plaintiffs in the ICE lawsuit was assaulted by an illegal immigrant in the course of arresting him on a domestic-violence charge, but was told by superiors to release the immigrant without charge — a decision that was “based on the President’s new immigration policies,” according to court documents.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) and House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) have written a letter to President Obama urging his administration to meet with members of the National ICE Council. Meanwhile, Crane and his colleagues are not alone. Last week, Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 immigration officers and adjudicators, added his name to a letter signed by Crane and several dozen other leading law-enforcement officials expressing “deep concern” over the Gang of Eight’s plan. Palinkas also released a lengthy statement echoing Crane’s concerns about administration policy and saying the Gang’s proposal would merely exacerbate existing problems.
To be sure, the legislation has little to offer those who consider border security and the enforcement of immigration law to be top priorities. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected nearly every proposed amendment to the bill that would have meaningfully strengthened its border-security provisions. Nearly all of the (meager) enforcement measures the bill does include can simply be waived or altered as the DHS secretary sees fit. And given that the Obama administration is currently using its executive authority to prevent the enforcement of the law as written, that will almost certainly continue if the Gang’s bill becomes law, critics argue.
“Our union has been telling America and Congress that ICE and DHS officials are ignoring public safety, the agency’s law-enforcement mission, and the laws enacted by Congress — carrying out their own personal, political agendas,” Crane told members of the House Judiciary Committee last week. He cited the recent scandal surrounding the IRS targeting of conservative political groups as another example of the federal bureaucracy’s acting as if it is above the law.
Sessions, a leading opponent of the Gang of Eight legislation, said President Obama’s decision to meet with a group of illegal immigrants last week, while continuing to ignore the officers charged with enforcing immigration law, “says it all” about the administration’s attitude.
“Any reform of our immigration system will fail as long as this administration continues to demonstrate such disregard for duly enacted law and those tasked with enforcing it,” he said.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.