Politics & Policy

Trojan Horse

A lame House border-security bill is designed to be a vehicle for amnesty.

Believing that they won the recent shutdown fight, President Obama and the Democrats think they have momentum to browbeat the House into passing some version of the Schumer-Rubio amnesty that was approved by the Senate in June.

Representative Paul Ryan has been actively working to help the president achieve his chief goal for the second term. Many conservatives fear that Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership share Ryan’s desire to pass a bill that would legalize the present 11 million–plus illegal aliens and double future legal immigration.

But the unpopularity of the comprehensive, 1,200-page Schumer-Rubio bill has forced even pro-amnesty Republicans to reject the idea of bringing it up for a vote in the House. Instead, the House will vote on smaller, targeted measures, addressing one issue at a time.

The concern of amnesty skeptics (and the hope of amnesty pushers) is that the House will take one of the targeted bills into conference with the Senate; the negotiated result might be a tweaked version of the Schumer-Rubio bill, which would need only a handful of Republican votes, added to all the Democrats, to pass.

This isn’t hypothetical. The House Homeland Security Committee has already passed the bill that is intended as the vehicle that will head to conference, where the Senate bill will get folded into it. That Trojan-horse legislation is H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act of 2013, authored by Representative Mike McCaul (R., Texas), chairman of the committee. But the first sign of trouble comes when you note one name on the list of the bill’s original co-sponsors: Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas), a vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The McCaul–Jackson Lee bill was introduced just days before the Schumer-Rubio bill in the Senate, and the coordination shows. Much of it is virtually identical to the original border-security section of the Senate bill. It’s so close that Nancy Pelosi adopted it wholesale for her own House version of a comprehensive immigration bill.

The McCaul–Jackson Lee bill requires the secretary of Homeland Security to submit a border-security plan within six months. (Sound familiar?) It would require “operational control” of high-traffic areas of the border within two years and the rest of the border within five. And if those goals have not been achieved, the secretary will be required to submit a report explaining why.

The bill also requires DHS to submit another plan, this one on how to implement a biometric exit-tracking system for foreign visitors (so we can know who is illegally overstaying). Note that Congress has repeatedly mandated the implementation of an exit-tracking system, about every two years since 1996, to little effect. And if DHS decides such a system is “not feasible” (it is indeed feasible), then it need only submit yet another plan for “an alternative program to provide the same level of security.” In other words, the exit-tracking mandate is as meaningless as the border-control one.

And it’s not clear what policy purpose such legislation serves. The executive is already required to secure the border and ensure that foreign visitors leave when they’re supposed to. That this isn’t happening (and that much of interior immigration enforcement has also been discontinued) suggests the Obama administration won’t change its behavior in any way if this bill were to pass.

The real and obvious purpose of the McCaul–Jackson Lee bill is to provide political cover to House Republicans; while voting for a border-security bill, they’ll be able to start down the road toward amnesty.

There’s an argument that the House shouldn’t approve even good immigration legislation, to deny Speaker Boehner the opportunity to go to conference and then force his caucus to consume yet another crap sandwich. An example of such a bill is the SAFE Act, which makes a number of needed statutory changes to tighten up enforcement. Although the SAFE Act could conceivably be used as a vehicle for amnesty by conferencing it with the Senate bill, it at least has the virtue of containing essential policy reforms.

And these sensible reforms are the very reason it hasn’t been designated as the vehicle for amnesty. The SAFE Act is loathed and feared by the open-borders side; it’s possible not a single House Democrat would vote for it. If Speaker Boehner were to take the SAFE Act to conference with the Senate, either the negotiation would result in an amnesty bill with the SAFE Act provisions intact, causing many Democrats to vote no despite the presence of the amnesty, or the provisions would be abandoned, making it a lot harder to get any GOP votes for a final deal.

This is why the McCaul–Jackson Lee bill is preferred as conference bait. Its Pelosi-endorsed provisions are so ineffectual that no Democrat would consider them too high a price to pay for amnesty and doubling legal immigration. It is not too much to say that a vote for the McCaul–Jackson Lee bill is a vote for amnesty.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.


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