Contemplating the SECURE Act

The latest attempt to patch a legislative amnesty quilt together

By Dan Cadman on December 12, 2017

Twice now I have reviewed what is fundamentally the same language embedded in two different pieces of immigration enforcement legislation introduced into the Congress:

  • First, as the "Border Security for America Act of 2017" introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as H.R. 3648 (my analysis can be found here);
  • Then as Sections 101 through 135 within the "Building America's Trust Act" introduced into the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), as S. 1757 (my analysis can be found here).

The language I analyzed in each case was heavily border-centric and thus, at least in my view, failed because neither one took into account the fact that nearly half of all aliens residing illegally in the United States arrived not as illegal border-crossers but legally, at least initially, and then overstayed their visas, obtained unlawful employment, and burrowed themselves in.

Because the language of both bills overlooks this singular fact — that, once out of the immediate border area, illegal aliens settle into the interior and therefore must be dealt with there — and tilts heavily in favor of border resources while ignoring the need for commensurate interior enforcement resources, in my view they are myopic and destined to failure.

Both bills also tend toward micromanagement of material and resources (right down to the Border Patrol sector level) in assigning equipment to the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP). Such legislative micromanagement is rarely a good thing because it deprives managers and supervisors the opportunity to shift resources when the operational need requires. In these cases, it also smacked of two Texas legislators going out of their way as good Santa Clauses to provide a happy holiday list to an agency that just happens to have an outsized presence in the state of Texas.

For instance, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or "UAVs") figure prominently in the list of expensive equipment to be given out, even though the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) has panned USBP's drones program for cost overruns, lack of clear mission, and vague metrics on which to measure success or failure.

In November, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued another, similar report with regard to different pieces of sophisticated equipment being accumulated by USBP: "Southwest Border Security: Border Patrol Is Deploying Surveillance Technologies but Needs to Improve Data Quality and Assess Effectiveness".

The gist of the GAO report is that the surveillance technologies are being used without a clear set of standards by which to measure effectiveness and, in some instances, even ensuring that line patrol agents are attributing their apprehensions to the right surveillance and support technology in their reporting systems — which, of course, makes it impossible to measure the functionality and utility of the equipment.

Despite the report from GAO — which is an arm of the Congress— much of this micromanaged Christmas wish list has once again found its way into the language of a third bill — the SECURE Act, which is a patchwork quilt of various legislative oddments:

  • Sen. Cornyn's Building America's Trust Act, mated together in an "odd bedfellows" arrangement with
  • Part of Sen. Tom Cotton's RAISE Act (which constitutes Title V of the SECURE Act, and is analyzed here in its standalone form) and, significantly,
  • The BRIDGE Act (which constitutes Title IV of the SECURE Act, and is analyzed here).

How ironic that this wish list of sophisticated and highly expensive technology remains embedded in legislation, even though Congress's own accountability watchdog is sending out warning signals that potentially huge pots of taxpayer money will be wasted, just as the DHS OIG did with drones. I don't suggest that some, perhaps even all, of this technology may not ultimately prove itself. But shouldn't this be as the result of incremental deployment consistent with measured outcomes, and not the result of congressional micromanagement that has the distinct smell of pork about it?

As for the RAISE Act: The chain-migration section of the Sen. Cotton's bill, now wrapped inside of the SECURE Act, is extremely important because breaking the chain of chain migration would be a significant step toward instilling integrity and common sense into our legal immigration system rather than continue to strain it with outmoded notions of extended family migration that do nothing to protect America's working class, and sometimes subject our communities to great risk of harm from crime or terrorism.

Finally we have the BRIDGE Act, which has been introduced as a standalone several times (S. 128 introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in January 2017; H.R. 396 introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.); and S. 1168 introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in May 2017). This is the portion of the SECURE Act that would grant amnesty to so-called "Dreamers", although it reaches beyond the already overly broad parameters laid out in the Obama administration's constitutionally dubious "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program.

And therein we come to the crux of it. Members of Congress, who have shown themselves incapable of doing much of anything in recent years, are falling over themselves to try to cobble together virtually anything that will buy them the combination of right, left, and center votes to get this pesky, intractable issue off of their plates so they can go home and contemplate how to get themselves out of the hole they've dug for the looming year-end budget battle for federal fiscal year 2018 (which began last October 1).

So many of our inestimable legislators have insisted that this is a must-do, as if it is America's fault that the illegal alien parents of these youth chose to smuggle them illegally across our borders, despite the great risk of physical and sexual abuse to the minors en route. If there is culpability, it is that the federal government has shown itself constitutionally (in every sense) incapable of shutting off the flow of smuggled minors and holding the parents responsible. The children have in a very real sense become hostage to the parents' expectations that they will ultimately benefit from this most outrageous act of parental irresponsibility.

One final irony with regard to Rep. McCaul's border security bill language that forms such a key portion of this phony collage of bills whose sole purpose is to buy an amnesty: In October 2013, Rep. McCaul spoke out vigorously when he introduced a similar border security bill that others attempted to tie to an amnesty. Here's Rep. McCaul on the matter in Politico:

"I am not gonna go down the road of conferencing with the Senate [comprehensive immigration reform] bill," McCaul said on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's show Wednesday. "And I told Boehner that he needs to stand up and make that very clear that we are not going to conference with the Senate on this. We're not going to conference with the Senate, period."

Where are you now on that, Rep. McCaul?