With Window For Reform Narrowing, House Members Ratchet Up Enforcement Against Immigrants

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee
CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Ever since the Senate passed its version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, House Republicans have been persistently evading a vote on immigration reform by citing, among other excuses, mistrust in the President. On Tuesday, President Obama postponed a review of the administration’s deportation policies in order to allow Congress to compromise on reform measures. But ignoring Obama’s postponement, House Republicans have for the past two days continued to blame the administration for releasing criminal immigrants out of detention centers and for being responsible for the flood of migrant children coming across the southern border.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House voted through a measure offered by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in the 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which would require increased scrutiny of DHS’ use of prosecutorial discretion to avert some deportations, including those of undocumented immigrants granted temporary legal presence under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And on Wednesday, during the mark-up of the 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee committed $2.9 billion for detention programs, an “increase of $146 million above the fiscal year 2014 level,” according to a House press release.

If the tone of these hearings are any indication, House members are not any closer to embracing reform. Instead, they are falling back on discredited anti-immigrant arguments to justify even more enforcement against immigrants.

Obama is releasing “convicted criminals.” During the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) hearing Thursday, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) criticized Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson for allowing his organization to release “convicted criminals” and cited a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an immigration-restrictionist organization, which found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “released from detention over 36,000 convicted criminal aliens that it had actually put in removal proceedings.” Prior to the hearing, the official HJC Twitter handle shared another CIS article on social media which slammed Obama for releasing those immigrants.

According to the American Immigration Council, “the overwhelming majorities of these convictions are for minor offenses and include things like tax fraud, disturbing the peace, traffic convictions, and other minor crimes that would be classified as misdemeanors for natives, but which for immigrants are often classified as felonies.”

The truth is that it doesn’t take much for an immigrant to be considered a convicted criminal. Noe Parra Manrique and Ricardo Ramos were separately pulled over by police for driving without their licenses and given misdemeanor charges. But neither Manrique (who lives in Maryland) nor Ramos (who lives in Ohio) were able to apply for driver’s licenses anyway since their states had prohibited them from doing so. And Maria Esmeralda Cornejo and Jaime Rubio-Sulficio were charged with illegally entering the country. They were both put into deportation proceedings. Both Ramos and Cornejo’s deportations have been postponed. These are just four examples of immigrants, who are considered convicted criminals.

As The Daily Beast pointed out in mid-May, CIS was founded by John Tanton, a “known anti-immigration activist,” who backed Numbers USA, which “helped kill President George W. Bush’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in 2007” and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which “helped draft Arizona’s controversial SB-1070,” an anti-immigration law that allows police to detain suspected undocumented immigrants. All three organizations successfully killed the DREAM Act in 2010.

Unaccompanied migrant children are crossing the border because of Obama’s lax enforcement policies. During Wednesday night’s House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing, Chairman John Carter (R-TX) made the point that Obama’s DACA program incentivized children to come across the border. “We’ve created this policy, and we’ve got this draw,” he said, according to Roll Call. “And it’s criminal that there are little children that are walking out in the desert because of policies we created during this administration.”

A recent report released by the immigration-restrictionist think tank Heritage Foundation made similar points, stating that the Obama administration has “implemented multiple policies that encourage illegal immigration. Its lax and increasingly nonexistent enforcement of our immigration laws has resulted in a 40 percent drop in deportations of illegal immigrants in the U.S. since 2009.”

The reality is that recent border crossers are ineligible for the DACA program since it has a cut-off date of June 15, 2012 and even the comprehensive Senate immigration bill that Democrats and the President hope to see passed into law has a cut-off date of December 31, 2011. The more probable cause is gang violence — just last year, El Salvadoran rival gangs ended a truce which had brought the number of homicides down from 12 to five per day. As Roll Call affirmed, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said last month that “intensifying violence and criminal activity in Central America are the chief drivers of the mass migration.”

According to America’s Voice, “Heritage tried to argue that Congress should forsake immigration reform altogether until Obama is no longer president” in early January. And last year, conservative leaders slammed the think tank for its “shoddy” immigration study, which was co-authored by Jason Richwine, who argued that Hispanics had lower IQ and considered controversial author Charles Murray a “childhood hero.”