When the omnibus bill designed to end the impasse over the border wall hit Congress, its appeal seemed pretty universal. The $330 billion plan sailed through the Senate with an 83-16 vote and the House by a 300-128 margin. Not only were the Wednesday votes demonstrative of bipartisan support, it also meant that if the president decided not to sign it, Congress could simply override his veto.
That is, as an academic might like to say, problematic. Yes, President Donald Trump got some money from his border wall, but far less than he had hoped and with some serious strings attached — strings that could mean that this “compromise” looks even worse than it did at first glance.
The bill only gives the president 55 miles of border wall as opposed to the more than 200 miles he ask for, according to Fox News. This you’ve probably already heard about. However, it’s not as if the president or DHS can decide where to put the wall, as Daniel Horowitz noted at Conservative Review.
“This bill limits the president’s ability to construct ‘barriers’ to just the Rio Grande Valley sector and only bollard fencing, not concrete walls of any kind. There’s no ability to adapt,” Horowitz wrote.
“Furthermore, section 231 prohibits construction even within the RGV in five locations that are either federal or state lands. Remember, the challenge with building a wall in Texas is that, unlike in other states, the feds need to navigate issues with private lands. The first place you’d construct fencing is on public lands, which are now prohibited. The national parks along the border have gotten so bad that park rangers are scared to travel alone in them.”
But, as Horowitz noted, that doesn’t even mean the wall will ever be constructed, since the omnibus gives local officials veto power over whether they want the wall in their communities. The Rio Grande Valley Sector does indeed require a significant buildup when it comes to physical barriers. However, the border area is also home to some of Texas’ most entrenched liberals. Giving these local Democrat satraps veto power over the wall is all but a poison pill.
But wait, it gets worse. So much worse. Instead of trying to stop illegal immigration, the bill spends a cool $40 million on the Alternatives to Detention program, which aims to move asylum seekers into detention centers away from the border. As Horowitz noted, they’re almost always released.
Jessica Vaughn of the Center for Immigration Studies says this could provide yet another loophole for those trying to get into the country illegally via the asylum process.
“Most of these people have no intention of asking for asylum and know they don’t qualify for it, but are simply joining the illegal population, knowing it’s unlikely that they will be deported,” Vaughn said.
“The bill funds ‘case management’ staff to keep tabs on those who don’t abscond immediately, but no money for ICE officers to find and remove them. This is going to saddle the communities that have been forced to absorb these new arrivals with billions of dollars of future costs for schooling, health care, and other welfare services.”
And then there’s what Horowitz called “a blatant amnesty for the world’s worst cartel smugglers.”
“Section 224(a) prohibits the deportation of anyone who is sponsoring an “unaccompanied” minor illegal alien — or who says they might sponsor a UAC, or lives in a household with a UAC, or a household that potentially might sponsor a UAC,” he wrote.
“It’s truly difficult to understate the betrayal behind this provision. One of the driving factors of the invasion is the misinterpretation of the UAC law. Under current law, Central American teenagers are only treated as refugees if they are A) a victim of ‘A severe form of trafficking’ and B) have no relatives in the country. Yet almost all of them are self-trafficked by these very illegal relatives who are indeed present in the country. Rather than clamping down on this fleecing of the American people, the bill gives amnesty to the very people paying the cartels to invade us!”
Vaughn’s interpretation was even grimmer: “We can call this the MS-13 Household Protection Act of 2019,” she said.
“We know that 80 percent of the UAC sponsors are in the country illegally. The number of people this would protect would reach into the hundreds of thousands, if all of the household or potential household members are counted. ICE has estimated that 30-40 percent of the MS-13 members it has arrested in the last two years arrived as UACs.
“There is no reason to shield any of these individuals from deportation,” she continued. “After all, if the minor is living with family, they should no longer be considered unaccompanied anyway. If there are illegal aliens here who do not yet have a child here to serve as a deportation shield, this certainly is an incentive for them to make the arrangements to bring one.”
And, as the Heritage Foundation notes, the omnibus also fails to address any of the loopholes in immigration law that encourage family units to illegally immigrate and seek asylum. The same structural problems we faced when we had the family separation controversy last year still persist, and whether or not they can be effectively detained is also an issue.
While the decrease in Immigration and Customs Enforcement beds that the Democrats sought didn’t exactly happen the way it was first reported, it’s still unclear what kind of detention capacity ICE will have. As The New York Times pointed out, both parties are claiming victory and saying that detention capacity under the deal could end up being anywhere from 40,520 to 58,000, depending on who you believe.
Unfortunately, I would tend to believe the Democrats here; the deal requires a daily average of 45,724 detainees, which means ICE will have to cut its current population from 49,057 to 40,520 by the end of the year. As for the 58,000, The Times reports that number would come “through a process called reprogramming, which allows agencies to adjust their budgets to address unforeseen emergencies.” However, it would require $750 million in reprogramming, a number The Times said Democrats are calling “unprecedented.” Oh, and Democrats also control the committees in the House which would be required to move that money. In short, I wouldn’t speculate to guess where those no longer detained will end up, but my assumption is it won’t be their country of origin.
And this is just the trainwrecks resulting from the provisions that deal with illegal immigration. Trust me, there are plenty of other smash-ups elsewhere in omnibus rail system.
As the Heritage Foundation notes, the bill would keep spending levels where they were during the last omnibus, already loathed by conservatives who still actually give a whit about federal spending. There’s also a pay raise for federal employees which would have nothing to do with performance and more sneaky spending increases.
And it’s not as if there was any time to review this mess. There weren’t even 24 hours between when the 1,169-page bill dropped and when it was voted on. House rules require 72 hours for members to review a bill, but apparently the Democrats wanted this one on a fast track.
As of early Friday, it appears the White House is going to sign the compromise bill while also going through the national emergency process to try and obtain additional funding for the wall.
“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”
Perhaps the executive action will indeed secure that, although the administration can plan on it being tied up in court for some time. As for the compromise bill, Trump ostensibly has no choice; if the votes remain the same, his veto would face an override.
That all said, this is a compromise that’s a major loss for the Republicans, one that’s even worse than it seems on its face. It’s the fine print that has Democrats salivating and should have conservatives banging their heads against the table. There was a reason the Democrats were in such a rush to vote on these things, and it wasn’t just to avert a shutdown.