The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a series of “press releases” panning various bipartisan immigration amendments Thursday, on the same day senators made moves to debate elements of a framework that provides permanent protections for certain undocumented immigrants and secures the border.
Ultimately on Thursday, the Senate failed to pass any amendments to move forward on immigration. Senators neither approved bipartisan proposals nor the framework set forth by the Trump administration that included “four pillars” to change the immigration system.
The open debate on the Senate floor comes months after the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provided temporary work authorization and deportation relief for immigrants who came to the country as children and became undocumented or entered the country without inspection. In September 2017, President Donald Trump called on Congress to pass a bill granting permanent protections for these young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
Published prior to the Senate votes, the five DHS press releases all strongly criticized the immigration system and called for strong border security measures. One press release panned an immigration proposal put out by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mike Rounds (R-ND), and Susan Collins (R-ME) as an amendment that “destroys” the ability of Homeland Security that could create “amnesty” for “illegal aliens” and “criminals.” Another press release claimed that kids and families “are flooding the border” because of legal loopholes that allow them to be reunited with family members while waiting for their court proceedings. Others called for a border wall to “make America safe again,” an end to family migration and the “reckless” diversity visa lottery, and the elimination of so-called sanctuary cities, again, to “make America safe again.” A press release published Wednesday said another immigration proposal from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) would “increase illegal immigration” and “give a pathway to citizenship to convicted alien felons.”
All the press releases contain numerous inaccuracies and half-truths about the citizenship process. Criminals, for example, can never apply for citizenship in part because immigrants applying for the naturalization process have to answer dozens of questions about their background including whether they’ve ever been convicted of crimes. Those forms also require people to provide documentation of any arrests. Lying on these forms could be punishable by a prison sentence.
The press statements were not well received by people familiar with the DHS agency. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who also proposed his own bill that failed to get enough votes during open debate on Thursday, released his own statement criticizing the DHS press statement.
“It’s highly unusual — I’ve never seen something like that before — I think it’s highly unhelpful,” a former DHS official told ThinkProgress on background. “The other parts… that raised a lot of questions in my mind: there’s no attribution. Normally, a press release when we put it out, we say ‘it’s a statement from the Secretary [of Homeland Security].'”
The former DHS official questioned the utility of publishing a press releases that read like a “screed” based on the length alone and the lack of attribution, especially since the DHS agency itself has a legislative affairs staff “whose job is to communicate” concerns about congressional bills, amendments, and other pieces of legislation. The individual also expressed surprise and frustration over the citation of old reports to support a claim made by the White House over potential diversity visa fraud.
“Making this public serves no good purpose,” the former official said. “If DHS has concerns, then they should communicate that through the normal legislative channels — not by a press release.”
“Press releases — unless something is put into quotations in the release — are supposed to be about fact,” the individual lamented. “This is full of accusations [and] opinions that are cited as quotes. It’s one thing for the Secretary or the head of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] to say, ‘it eviscerates the authority of the Department of Homeland Security,’ but to put that down as fact doesn’t meet the normal standard of being in a press release.”
The former DHS official also expressed disappointment over how the president had “moved the goalpost. This was supposed to be about finding a solution to DACA.”
In January, the president told a group of lawmakers that he was willing to sign whatever they put in front of him and “take the heat” to pass a bipartisan framework. Instead, the Trump administration has doubled down hard on its harsh rhetoric against immigrants with one senior administration official characterizing Graham as “a problem” during a White House background call Thursday.
As of Thursday, many more DACA recipients are left without a permanent solution. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would end debate on immigration reform on Friday.