President Donald Trump’s tweet, in which he threatened to veto Congress’ $1.3 trillion funding bill over immigration and border wall issues may well have been a nod to constituents who are not happy with what the huge bill does in regard to immigration.
“The omnibus spending bill is a disgrace,” Mark Krikorian wrote in the conservative National Review online magazine Friday. Krikorian is executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a hard-line immigration group.
“The bottom line is this: There are no immigration-related provisions in the omnibus that are consistent with what President Trump and congressional Republicans told the American people they would do when they were sent to Washington,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), complained in a statement released Thursday. FAIR takes a similar hard-line position.
So what does the bill do for immigration?
Perhaps the biggest blow to the Trump immigration agenda is the funding, or lack of it, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The administration had asked for 1,000 new ICE agents. It is getting about 10 percent of that, according to Vox, and they are not the immigration agents who arrest undocumented immigrants. Instead, the hires are support staff who work for a different part of ICE. Without the additional personnel, ICE will not be able to expand its rate of detentions.
Also, the bill provides no new detention space. On the contrary, Krikorian said, it “funds less detention space than is currently being used.”
Last year’s omnibus bill allotted enough money for ICE to hold 39,324 immigrants in detention at any one time. But ICE routinely overran that number.
That led Congress to issue a rebuke in an explanatory note in the bill signed Friday: “ICE is directed to manage its resources in a way that ensures it will not exceed the annualized rate of funding for the fiscal year.”
The bill increases the daily cap, but not substantially, to 40,520, leading Krikorian to conclude, “In effect, the (Republican-dominated) House of Representatives voted to continue a policy of catch-and-release, where illegal aliens, as under (former President Barack) Obama, are apprehended and then let go into the U.S.”
DACA and border wall
The 2,200-page bill makes no mention of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and given temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established under Obama. Trump ended the program last September, giving Congress a six-month deadline to find a legislative solution.
But because the courts have intervened, those who are currently in the DACA program can continue to renew in two-year increments at least until DACA gets its day in court.
The bill does mention the wall but does not authorize building it.
The administration had requested $1.6 billion for border fortification in the fiscal 2018 budget. Congress gave it $1.375 billion, but the money has strings attached. It is allocated for levee and pedestrian fencing in the Rio Grande Valley, replacement of secondary fencing in San Diego, and additional pedestrian fencing.
“Repairs, drones and pedestrian fencing,” Stein writes, but “no wall construction.”
In fact, the omnibus specifically prohibits the Trump administration from building any of the new wall designs it commissioned and had built as prototypes last year. The bill specifies that the funding be used for “operationally effective designs” as defined in a bill Trump signed last year.
Another immigration issue that does not appear in the omnibus is that of sanctuary jurisdictions — cities, counties and states that choose not to help federal immigration agents. There is no mention of withholding federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, which is something their opponents advocate.
“The idea of sanctuary cities is deeply unpopular, and yet measures that would have restricted funds to them … were stricken from the bill,” Krikorian wrote.
On Thursday, the Trump administration claimed the omnibus as good for its immigration agenda.
“Generally speaking, we think this is a very, very good immigration package,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters.