A small victory on immigration
By Rep. Lou Barletta
Op-ed in the Washington Times
In a rare instance when a tie score was really a win, the 4-4 Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal immigrants represented a victory for the rule of law. The deadlocked court means the merits will finally be addressed while the president has been blocked from bestowing legal residency upon an entire class of people. Without question, this is good news. But the celebrations should be muted, as there are many other disastrous Obama policies still in place, with many more illegal immigration problems still to be addressed.
What the court has blocked is Mr. Obama’s expansion of his existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, along with the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) policy. Under the DACA expansion announced in 2014, legal presence was granted to illegal immigrants claiming to have been present in the United States since before they turned 16, and who claimed continuous residency since 2010, among other criteria. DACA also included work authorization. Under DAPA, legal presence was granted to people who had lived in the country since 2010 and were parents of citizens or legal residents. Both of these programs were challenged by 26 states in United States v. Texas and are now on hold pending the lower court’s decision.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, other Obama policies excusing and rewarding unlawful entry and residency in the United States are still in force. The underlying DACA policy, announced two years earlier in 2012, is still in effect and includes those claiming continuous presence dating all the way from 2007. A bigger concern is Mr. Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program, replacing the successful Secure Communities policy, which exempts nearly 90 percent of all illegal immigrants and allows an unacceptable number of criminal illegal immigrants to remain in the country. Similarly, Mr. Obama’s immigration authorities released more than 86,000 criminal illegal immigrants back into American communities between 2013 and 2015, including murderers and rapists. There can be no doubt that while the Supreme Court ruling was a welcome suspension of DAPA and expanded DACA, the surviving Obama policies are still harmful to the rule of law and public safety.
The very first piece of legislation I ever introduced in Congress was to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” — those municipalities that refuse to honor immigration laws or cooperate with immigration authorities. As we have seen, this willful disregard for the law can have deadly effects. July 1 marked the one-year anniversary of the San Francisco murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant, a seven-time felon who had been deported five times. We experienced a similar case in Hazleton, Pa., in 2006, in which 29-year-old father of three Derek Kichline was killed by an illegal immigrant who had been released from custody in New York City at least six times. In Philadelphia, the new mayor has reestablished the city’s sanctuary city policies, laying out the welcome mat for illegal immigrants in Pennsylvania’s largest city. These are not some far-flung enclaves; rather such localities number more than 300 and reach every corner of the country. Congress should withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities until they abandon their policies that benefit the lawless over the law-abiding.
While much of the attention on immigration policy is focused on our southern border, it is imperative that we pay attention to our interior. Nearly half of the people who are currently illegally present in the United States did not cross a traditional border: They arrived on a visa, the visa expired, and they never went home. Recent data suggests that well more than half of the new illegal arrivals also traveled on a visa and were not typical border-crossers. Failure to police such visa overstays is the reason I point out that if your state is home to an international airport, then you effectively live in a border state. To combat this, we must finally implement a biometric exit system so we have an accurate accounting of who has left the country and who has illegally stayed.
The rise of ISIS and the ever-increasing threat of global Islamic terrorism make heightening our vigilance all the more urgent. The 9/11 Commission Report taught us that aspiring terrorists want two things most of all: to enter this country legally and to be able to stay here. With this in mind, it is outrageously irresponsible to continue the refugee program as it currently exists, and wildly reckless to expand it. In my view, until we can adequately identify and screen people applying for refugee status, we ought to suspend the entire program until the security flaws are repaired. That said, the Visa Waiver Program we offer to citizens of 38 countries carries severe risks as well. Permitting visa-less entry into the United States for 90 days is a tempting opening for terrorists to exploit. No other country on Earth has been as welcoming to immigrants and refugees as we have, but there is no cause for us to be negligent in the process.
With all of the national security risks that come with our illegal immigration problems, there are also costs to American employment and wages. Admitting wave after wave of illegal workers consumes jobs and depresses income, as illegal arrivals compete for positions that are already scarce. In many ways, strongly opposing illegal immigration is a decidedly pro-immigrant stance, because it protects those who obey the law and does not reward the lawbreakers.
To be sure, there was cause to applaud what amounts to a victory in the Supreme Court as we continue to fight the Obama administration on immigration policy. Celebrants would do well to remember that the battle is not over, neither on that front nor countless others.
• Lou Barletta is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
Read the op-ed on the Washington Times website here.