The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hosted a hearing Tuesday morning titled, “Does Administrative Amnesty Harm our Efforts to Gain and Maintain Operational Control of the Border?”
The Members in attendance were Candice Miller (Subcommittee Chairwoman) of Michigan, Michael McCaul of Texas, Ben Quayle of Arizona, Scott Rigell of Virginia, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Bennie Thompson (Committee Ranking Member) of Mississippi, Henry Cuellar (Subcommittee Ranking Member) of Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, and Hansen Clarke of Michigan.
The witnesses included Chief Michael J. Fisher of the Border Patrol, Deputy Director Kumar C. Kibble of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Ruth Ellen Wasem with the Congressional Research Service.
After a long August and brief October recess filled with town hall and constituent meetings, Members of Congress, particularly Republicans, returned to Washington, D.C. determined to make progress on an issue they heard about many times in their Districts: President Obama’s Administrative Amnesty for illegal aliens.
While most of this particular issue is subject to the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee where Chairman Lamar Smith already has legislation (H.R.2497, the HALT Act) ready to address the problem, the House Homeland Security Committee, like the forgotten redheaded step child of Congress, was eager to assert authority over their border security jurisdiction. As a result, this hearing was called to order so the Majority could better understand the problem and vent their frustration.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller opened the meeting by asserting that the hearing was designed to highlight the Administration’s “more lenient” enforcement of our interior. She said the President’s actions clearly amount to an amnesty and will only encourage more illegal immigration. Furthermore, she said every amnesty and talk of amnesty has created a surge at the border. She continued by saying that if the President wants to change the law, he should first submit a proposal to Congress. Most importantly, Mrs. Miller demonstrated a clear understanding of this issue by pointing out that “every person who crosses the border illegally has committed a crime” and this current policy of acceptance is an insult to legal immigrants.
Speaking for the opposition, Ranking Member Henry Cuellar began his statement by reiterating the Administration’s talking points about how the Department of Homeland Security only has the capability to deport 400,000 illegal aliens a year and expressed support for this policy as a smart use of resources. He asked rhetorically, “why not remove a gang member before a pregnant woman.” He continued by asking the Committee to let ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) do its job and maintained that President Obama’s Administration has removed more “undocumented” aliens than any other Administration in history. Finally, he objected to the title of the hearing on grounds that the Administration’s policy was not actually an amnesty because “We [Democrats] have zero tolerance for amnesty. I do not believe in amnesty.”
It’s good to know where Mr. Cuellar stands, but apparently he doesn’t have a clue about what constitutes an amnesty. Apparently, he has been reading the Chuck Schumer playbook instead of an actual dictionary.
The next opening statement was offered by the former Committee Chairman and current Ranking Member Bennie Thompson. Mr. Thompson immediately said, “I can’t believe efficient use of funds is being called Administrative Amnesty” and called the hearing a political ploy. He then used the rest of his time taking shots at the Republicans by saying they talk tough on border security, but “rarely put their money where their mouths are” and claimed that the last real amnesty champion was President Ronald Reagan.
Truth be told, Mr. Thompson chaired the Committee for four years and did nothing to solve the problem either because spending bills move through the Appropriations Committee.
After the witness testimony and their predictable talking points, the Subcommittee moved to the question and answer period where Mrs. Miller opened the discussion by asking Deputy Director Kibble and Chief Fisher if they were involved with the formulation of the policy and if they supported the policy. Mr. Kibble said it was a collaborative effort and that it was purely a decision based on resource management while Chief Fisher supported the policy on the grounds that it provides more detention space.
In other words, the Administration lets illegal aliens go so they can round up more illegal aliens. I don’t know if that logic is based on insanity or just plain foolishness. From my point of view, it was like watching the Mad Hatter and March Hare host a tea party.
Mr. Cuellar used his question time to again defend the Administration. He asked how much it costs to remove an illegal alien and Deputy Director Kibble responded with an outrageous number saying, “roughly $10,000.” Mr. Kibble went on to say the Department was operating under 2010 Appropriations language, which prioritized the detention of criminal aliens.
Of course, I’m sure the language didn’t intend for them to release the “non-criminal” illegal aliens, a term which by itself is an oxymoron. Mr. Kibble went on to boast record breaking immigration enforcement by the current Administration.
When Ranking Member Thompson took over questioning he attempted to correct Mr. Kibble by saying the actual cost to government for removing an illegal alien is $23,000 instead of $10,000 (I have no idea where they calculate either number, but both are absurd). He then makes an assumption based on his imaginary number that it would cost $257.6 billion to eradicate the problem altogether and then pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is only $6 billion. Of course, the biggest fallacy in this line of thinking is assuming the best strategy is to physically remove every illegal alien instead of removals coupled with sound attrition through enforcement strategy.
When Congressman McCaul took over questioning, he said he understood prosecutorial discretion and the need to make the best use of limited resources, but could not understand why the Administration would allow them to “stay in the country and apply for work permits.” In other words, the illegal aliens are being rewarded for being captured. How can the United States discourage such a win-win scenario? Of course, Mr. Kibble responded that they could apply for permits, but wouldn’t necessarily be granted such permits.
Hansen Clarke of Michigan yielded his spot in the order to Sheila Jackson Lee and subsequently left the hearing. Rep. Jackson Lee opened her line of questioning by calling the hearing a “got-you” ordered by the Republican leadership. She then continued to defend President Obama and said she thought the money used in capturing illegal aliens would best be used creating jobs. She obviously has no concern about protecting existing jobs.
Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina constructively used his time to assert that every illegal alien is a criminal in some degree. He then said this policy was an Administrative decision about what laws to enforce and what laws to ignore. He pointed out that President Obama’s uncle had a DUI and has had a deportation order since 1992, yet still hasn’t been deported. Of course, Director Kibble said that case was a privileged matter that he could not discuss. Mr. Duncan ended his questioning with an understanding that not every illegal alien could be deported, but claimed “those pulled over in routine traffic stops were low hanging fruit” and there was no reason not to remove them.
After some dispute about procedure, Sheila Jackson Lee was granted an additional turn to speak. She used her time expressing support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (amnesty) and thanked Deputy Director Kibble for respecting the President’s privacy regarding his uncle.
Last but not least, Mr. Quayle used the last questions of the hearing to make some great points in defense of the Arizona law. Specifically, he said, “there is a lot here about cost” and pointed out that “Illegal aliens cost the states $113 billion a year.” He went on to say that the Administration does not help pay the states back for the deficit created by illegal entry, nor does it help solve the underlying problem. This in turn causes states like Arizona to pass their own laws, only to be sued by the same Administration that claims it wants to defend the border. He also pointed out that it was an amnesty by default and questioned Deputy Director Kibble about how his officers determine which illegal alien intends to stay long term opposed to a short term visit. Deputy Director Kibble then said it was up to the individual officer and that the illegal aliens would be processed until they found appropriate “evidence.”
Outside of good questions offer by Congressmen Miller, Quayle, and McCaul, this hearing was somewhat of a bust. It had a number of Members absent and the witnesses offered no new talking points or insight. Regardless, the ball is now in the court of the Judiciary Committee and here’s hoping we have a more constructive debate about legislative solutions like the HALT Act.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Anaylst for NumbersUSA