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Buried inside the spending bill that Congress quickly passed on Thursday is a provision that amounts to a back-door amnesty for thousands of illegal immigrants.
Section 224(a) of the 1,159-page bill would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from deporting or arresting a “sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child.”
That refers to the relatives of teenagers who come alone to the United States. Under former President Barack Obama, the policy of the government was to place those children with those sponsors pending the outcome of their cases in immigration court.
President Donald Trump’s administration largely continued that policy but began subjecting potential sponsors to greater scrutiny. Last year, for instance, ICE arrested 109 illegal immigrants who had come forward to take custody of teenagers apprehended near the border. About a third of those would-be sponsors had criminal records.
The spending bill that includes $1.375 billion to construct about 55 miles of border fencing effectively shuts that down and prohibits immigration enforcement against anyone connected to any of the illegal immigrant teens. Essentially, it amounts to amnesty – at least through the current fiscal year.
Immigration hawks were quick to jump on the provision and other hidden “landmines” in the spending bill.
“That’s de facto sanctuary for anyone near a UAC [Unaccompanied Alien Child],” tweeted Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “Ridiculous. 30-40% of MS-13 arrests have been UACs.”
Vaughan estimated about 80 percent of people sponsoring unaccompanied minors are, themselves, illegal immigrants.
It is unclear how many illegal immigrants would be shielded from deportation under the provision. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told Fox News on Thursday that there are about 223,000 unaccompanied children in the United States and estimated as many as a million illegal immigrants live in households with people who would qualify as sponsors or potential sponsors.
“It’s a disastrous provision,” he said.
Once placed with sponsors, the teen migrants frequently fail to show up for court appearances. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said last year that 6,000 unaccompanied minors each year fail to appear for court hearings and that some 90 percent of all removal orders issued to those youths come after their failure to appear.
But fewer than four out of 100 actually get deported, he said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in National Review that the likely result of such a prohibition would be even more Central American families sending teenagers on a dangerous, smuggler-assisted journey north to the United States.
“The new provision would create an incentive for illegal aliens already here to order up kids from Central America as human shields against deportation,” he wrote
While Trump is going to try to bypass Congress and spend $8 billion on border barriers by declaring a national emergency, if the courts block it, the language included in the bill limits fencing to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and effectively gives local officials along border the power to veto it.
The bill states: “Department of Homeland Security and the local elected officials of such a city or census designated place shall confer and seek to reach mutual agreement regarding the design and alignment of physical barriers within that city or the census designated place.”
Krikorian wrote that it is easy to predict how those officials would come down on the question of the wall.
“And which party controls all local government in South Texas?” he wrote. “Go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait. Rio Grande City is the least Democratic community in the area, and even there voters supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than three to one.”
Vaughan also noted that the bill includes $40 million for a program called Alternatives to Detention, or ATD. Democrats have pushed ATD as a more humane way to process asylum seekers than detaining them. It involves the foreigners wearing electronic monitoring devices and having to answer random telephone calls.
The funding would allow the number of participants to grow from 82,000 to 100,000.
“‘Case management’ here means meeting with them occasionally to see if they’re still working illegally at the same place,” Vaughan wrote.
Although court attendance has been high for ATD participants, Vaughan noted that few of them actually have been deported.
“ATD is costly and ineffective without additional resources or policy changes so that ICE can remove them when they (inevitably) violate the terms of ATD,” she tweeted.