The Spending Bill Won't Solve the Border Crisis — It Will Make It Worse

By Jessica M. Vaughan on February 15, 2019

Last night, Congress overwhelmingly passed a spending bill to keep the government open, which President Trump signed today. We should all be disturbed at the number and nature of problematic provisions in the bill that will only make the border crisis even worse. Unfortunately, that is what happens when congressional negotiators allow their fellow lawmakers and the president just one day to read a 1,160-page bill that was drafted behind closed doors, probably in order to hide such provisions.

As I told Breitbart yesterday:

I think it makes things worse. I was prepared to grudgingly accept it based on the summaries of it that were distributed on Monday and Tuesday, but we all kept saying, "We really have to read it first," but nobody had time to read it. ... As it turns out — surprise — there are a lot of landmines in this bill. It is too big to be passing in such a rush. It's not necessary.

Some conservative pundits consider these "landmines" (such as protections from deportation and visa increases) to be a fair price to pay for President Trump to get $1.4 billion for wall construction in Texas. Unfortunately, they are mistaken. As it turns out, the bill limits construction to "pedestrian fencing", to be put up only in certain areas of the Rio Grande Valley.

More significantly, the bill appears to give what is essentially veto power over the project to local officials in the Rio Grande Valley, who are overwhelmingly Democrats who are hostile to the president. The language seems to say that if local officials do not reach an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security on the "design and alignment" of the fence, then they can block it from being built. Further, many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries along the Rio Grande, which are hotspots for human smuggling, will be off-limits for barrier construction.

It gets worse. Not only could the wall be thwarted where it is needed most, other provisions in the spending bill actually will make the border crisis even worse by amplifying incentives for illegal immigration. As I also told Breitbart:

One provision is that the bill increases funding for the resettlement of newly arrived family illegal immigrants, and kids as well, and increases what they call "alternatives to detention" [ATD], which is basically catch-and-release with a monitor and with a check-in. For those that don't immediately abscond and take off, the ones who remain in the program thinking that they'll just sort of milk the asylum process for a while, and then abscond when they're ordered removed.

As my colleague Matt Sussis wrote, the bill slashes the number of ICE detention beds and instead expands ATD participants from 82,000 to 100,000. The truth is, in the immigration context, the only alternative to detention is fugitives — people who skip out on their proceedings. According to ICE, about three out of ten illegal migrants who are released on ATD promptly cut off their ankle monitors and disappear into the country. Only about half of ATD cases actually complete their hearings, and many abscond at that point. ATD only works if ICE is given the resources and mandate to locate, detain, and remove those who abscond — but that's costly too. Better to prevent entry in the first place, or make more use of detention, as it is cheaper in the long run for ICE, and also for the communities that can avoid having to absorb the new illegal arrivals.

In addition, the bill creates a strong incentive for parents to keep paying criminal smuggling organizations to bring minors across the border illegally. It has a section that essentially prohibits ICE from initiating deportation of any sponsors, potential sponsors — or even people who share a household with sponsors or potential sponsors — of unaccompanied minors. Eighty percent of these sponsors are in the country illegally, but this bill creates a de facto force field of protection over them and everyone in their households.

Even on the off-chance that wall is built, such provisions only increase the number of migrants who want to be caught by Border Patrol, so that they can state a claim for asylum, legitimate or not, and have the chance to live here for an indefinite period, even if they never intend to actually pursue the claim.

This bill follows the pattern of nearly every other congressional "deal" on immigration: protections for illegal migrants first, promises of enforcement to come later, and no immigration relief for Americans.