Undocumented immigrants who apply for President Obama’s latest executive action on immigration relief could be using fraudulent documents and may have links to terrorism, a Republican congressman claimed during a sometimes-heated debate with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. At the House Committee on Homeland Security hearing Tuesday, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), an anti-immigration stalwart, remarked that terrorists could be shielded from deportation after embedding themselves in the country.
Invoking the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack to point out that terrorists could bypass immigration laws to get into and stay in the country, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) said, “Following the 9/11 Commission report the commission staff issued a report on terrorist travel that made connections between enforcement of our immigration laws and national security. On page 98 of that report, it describes how terrorists would benefit from any form of amnesty. The report recognized that terrorists in the ’90s, as well as the September 11th hijackers needed to find a way to stay in or embed themselves in the United States if their operational plans were to come to fruition. This tells us what we all know, that terrorists want two things: they want to get into this country and then they want to stay here.”
Barletta added, “Mr. Secretary, does the president’s executive actions facilitate just that by not heeding the advice of the 9/11 commission and its staff? How can this administration justify its executive actions on immigration when it directly contradicts their findings?”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also raised the topic of terrorism during the hearing. But rather than talking about executive action, he referenced a case in which two individuals associated with the Kurdish Working Party (PKK) were released by an immigration judge to seek asylum in Canada. “Doesn’t that beg a lot of questions about what you’re doing in deporting criminals?,” he said. “These people have terrorist ties and I’m getting tired of the ties.” The PKK is on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, but in recent times, the organization has been fighting against the terror organization, the Islamic State (or ISIS).
President Obama’s executive action program is an exercise of what is known as “prosecutorial discretion,” meaning the government has limited resources and should use those resources to target those individuals that most threaten public safety, such as terrorists. As the Department of Justice explained in a memo, it only “has the resources to remove fewer than 400,000 such aliens each year,” even though there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. So the initiative focuses energy on terrorists.
To that end, the Obama administration developed the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and expanded his existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to prioritize those individuals that it described as “felons, not families.” Those eligible for the program include parents of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children and others who have been in the country since 2010. As Johnson said Tuesday, “The reality is that given our limited resources, these people are not priorities for removal. It’s time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable. This is simple common sense.”
Rather than providing blanket deportation reprieve to some category of immigrants, each immigrant must apply individually and go through extensive vetting. During the hearing, Johnson emphasized that immigrants who want to apply for the executive action would have to undergo criminal background checks. “We made clear that those convicted of crimes, criminal street gang members, and national security threats, are also priorities for removal,” Johnson said.
Obama’s executive action excludes individuals who are “suspected of gang involvement and terrorism, recent unlawful entrants, and certain other immigration law violators.” Individuals without legal status must have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 2010 and they cannot have any other factors “that would render a grant of deferred action inappropriate,” American Immigration Council reported.
But with every new immigration proposal, some Republicans have persisted in tapping into the fear that immigrants could potentially be terrorists. Before the Senate introduced its comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, Republican lawmakers tried to use the Boston Marathon bomber’s immigration status to try and derail immigration reform. Even during election season, Republicans used international terror scares to gin up fear over U.S. border security.