The Most Recent Senate Efforts at Amnesty Legislation: Too Little, Too Late

By Dan Cadman on March 7, 2018

The Senate yesterday knocked down an attempt by Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to introduce a stripped-down quid pro quo amnesty bill: a three-year extension of the dubious Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for $7.6 billion of border wall funding, also to be apportioned over a three-year span.

All it would have done is enshrine in law what was almost certainly an unconstitutional encroachment into the legislative prerogative by the Obama administration when it created DACA, in exchange for a small down payment on the costs of a border barrier.

In reaction, Flake is quoted as saying, "To put it as bluntly as possible, this is simply not something we can ignore any longer. ... We cannot completely abdicate the responsibility of Congress."

I can't fathom how not passing his bill equates to a complete abdication of congressional responsibility. The complete abdication came years ago, when Congress rolled over and played dead by not promptly reacting to DACA's overreach. Congress is completely within its rights to not pass an amnesty: It had no say in creating the ground conditions that Flake suggests require that it now be done legally.

Indeed there are many cogent reasons not to react, and to leave the imperial edict that DACA represented to dangle in the wind until it finally withers away rather than enshrine it in law and, among other things, end up rewarding the parents who had their minor children smuggled to the United States, which would be a near-certain outcome.

The failure of Flake's bill comes on the heels of the Senate's failure (or refusal) to pass four other bills previously introduced — one of which shockingly would have prospectively granted an "olly olly in come free" card to illegal aliens through June of this year.

The only bill with a shred of credibility was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee. His bill came closest to incorporating the White House's "four pillars" for immigration reform.

Unfortunately, the Grassley bill didn't pass, thanks not just to Democratic intransigence about endorsing a bill that contained any shred of substantive enforcement, but also to those in the Republican party whose views of open borders closely approximate those of the progressive wing of the Democratic party (such as Flake, whose immigration grade is "F" as rated by NumbersUSA).

But Flake's bill isn't the only one still out there. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is attempting to use the procedural strategy employed previously with the four failed measures (a "shell" bill from the House having nothing to do with immigration, to be used as a "blank slate" onto which immigration legislation can be grafted) to introduce legislation.

Thune's so-called "streamlined legislation" is very similar to Flake's in concept, and would only do two things:

  1. Act as a legislative successor to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is described but never named; and
  2. Establish the boundaries of a $25 billion border trust fund, to be used for border security measures, no more than $5 billion of which might be spent in any one year.

The inadequacy of Thune's bill is a surprise and disappointment, given that Thune is ranked reasonably well by NumbersUSA ("B-") on its congressional immigration scorecard.