WASHINGTON—The deal is on the table.
President Donald Trump, on Sunday night, sent his immigration priorities to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Trump said his reforms must be included in any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Trump rescinded the DACA program on Sept. 5 and gave Congress six months to figure out a permanent fix. DACA was introduced through an executive order by President Barack Obama in 2012 as a temporary measure that gave recipients renewable, two-year work authorization and deportation immunity.
“Now, let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship—it’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said at the time.
In return for granting some type of legal status to the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients, Trump has outlined his priorities for border security and interior enforcement, as well as the introduction of a merit-based immigration system.
“These priorities are essential to mitigate the legal and economic consequences of grants of status to DACA recipients,” said Marc Short, executive legislative director, on an Oct. 8 press call. “They fulfill the president’s promise to advance immigration reform that puts the needs of American workers first.”
Schumer and Pelosi were quick to respond after receiving the priorities, saying in a joint statement that the proposal failed to make any compromises, and the wall was “explicitly ruled out of negotiations” during their meeting with Trump on Sept. 13.
“We told the president at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the DREAM Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” the statement said. “If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Trump said the following reforms are needed to fix the problems identified by law enforcement and officials within the immigration system. “They identified dangerous loopholes, outdated laws, and easily exploited vulnerabilities in our immigration system—current policies that are harming our country and our communities,” he said.
The 1,997-mile southwest border dominates most conversation about border security. Trump is adamant that a wall be built and has included it as a central tenet of his proposed reform.
“We are recommending the construction of a border wall along the southern border, which will be an invaluable tool to deter human trafficking, drug trafficking, and the spread of deadly cartel violence,” said Ron Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, on Oct. 8. “The success of border walls are undeniable from the perspective of the operators.”
Yuma, Arizona, shares a 126-mile border with Mexico, and in 2005, it was besieged with illicit border crossings.
“For three years, Yuma battled entrenched smuggling groups for control of the border,” says a Border Patrol video on YouTube. “Mass incursions often left agents outnumbered 50 to 1. Agents were assaulted with rocks and weapons daily.”
In 2005, more than 2,700 vehicles, loaded with migrants and drugs, crossed the Colorado River and open deserts, according to the video. Apprehensions increased to more than 138,000.
Following the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Yuma tripled manpower and added mobile surveillance, as well as fencing and vehicle barriers.
Yuma went from 5.2 miles of fencing prior to 2006, to 63 miles, and has subsequently seen an 83 percent decrease in border apprehensions. By 2009, Yuma sector apprehensions fell to about 7,000 and have remained steady since.
The Secure Fence Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006 and, in part, directed that about 700 miles of double-layer fencing be constructed along the southwest border, along with sensors, lighting, and other tactical tools.
Notably, Schumer voted in support of the act, as did then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Nationwide, the number of apprehensions of illegal border crossers on the southwest border have decreased 54 percent (to 153,117 individuals) between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31, year over year.
“While we saw a historic drop in illegal immigration in the early months of this administration, we’ve also seen a troubling trend in the increase of unaccompanied alien children exploiting legal loopholes to gain entry and automatically released into the country,” Vitiello said.
Currently, unaccompanied minors—children under 18—cross the border illegally and seek out Border Patrol so that they can get processed and sent to the Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for resettlement in the United States.
If the children are from Mexico, Border Patrol has the authority to turn them straight back to their home country. However, the vast majority of minors are from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and Border Patrol cannot turn them back to Mexico—even if they admit to being a member of a violent gang like MS-13.
Border Patrol has to allow them into the United States and must process them through ORR and the court system (which has its own problems—most notably, a backlog of almost 600,000 cases). It takes an average of 682 days to complete a single immigration case.
Trump is asking for Congress to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a Clinton-era settlement of a class-action lawsuit that requires the release of unaccompanied minors into American communities instead of detention, pending removal.
“Legislation must include reforms to allow for the quick and safe return of illegal alien minors to their home country,” Vitiello said.
Instead, the ORR places the unaccompanied minor with a sponsor, who is often a parent or relative who is in the country illegally. There is no follow-up to ensure the minor attends their obligatory court hearing that will determine their immigration status—whether they can stay in the United States, qualify as a refugee, or be granted some other legal status.
In the two-year period ending September 2016, only 24 percent out of the 35,713 completed cases resulted in the minor being given a legal status, such as asylum or a special green card for juveniles, according to a study by Center for Immigration Studies fellow Joseph Kolb.
Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Tom Homan said a review of recent numbers shows that more than half of families that are ordered to immigration court don’t show up—which means they receive an order of removal in absentia.
“Even those that are there and receive orders in person, most become immigration fugitives and fail to comply with those orders—more than 85 percent,” Homan said.
Currently, there are nearly 1 million aliens with final orders of removal across the country, according to the administration.
Homan expressed his frustration at the lack of integrity in the immigration system. “There are no consequences for sneaking past the border, overstaying a visa, skipping immigration court, or even committing additional crimes while in the country illegally,” he said.
Vitiello said the asylum program is a magnet for illegal immigration and is also in dire need of reform.
“Many Americans would be surprised to know that being released into the interior of the country as an illegal immigrant is as simple as filing an asylum petition,” Vitiello said.
Having more immigration judges, more detention space, and more ICE attorneys would begin to solve the problem, he said.
“We need to make sure we’re swiftly removing illegal immigrants apprehended at both the northern and southern borders,” Vitiello said.
The administration is taking steps to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, but wants Congress to legislate against them.
Sanctuary policies shield criminal aliens from immigration officials by disallowing local and state law enforcement from communicating with ICE, and local jails from holding an inmate for up to 48 hours longer in order to transfer them to ICE custody. Instead, in many jurisdictions with sanctuary policies, jails release them back into communities.
“Sanctuary policies … are also attracting more people to come here illegally—all at the expense of public safety,” Homan said. “There is absolutely no justification for releasing a public safety threat back into the public when they are in the U.S. in violation of federal law.”
Homan said the recidivism rate is as high as 75 percent, with more than half reoffending within the first year of being released from prison.
Last week, Homan slammed California’s new sanctuary bill, warning it will force ICE to conduct “at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites.”
Homan said the bill—signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 5—will hamper ICE operations in California “by nearly eliminating all cooperation and communication with our law enforcement partners in the state.”
“[This] will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community,” Homan said in a statement on Oct. 6.
California is the first state to pass such sweeping legislation that shields illegal aliens from immigration enforcement, although at least 300 cities and counties across the country have similar policies.
High-profile murders committed by illegal aliens have not convinced state politicians to do away with sanctuary policies.
Kate Steinle, 32, was fatally shot in San Francisco in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez was detained for an outstanding drug warrant in March 2015. An ICE detainer request to local authorities was refused, and Lopez-Sanchez was released. He killed Steinle with a stolen gun in July 2015.
In 2008, 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw II was shot and killed in Los Angeles by an illegal immigrant who had just been released from jail.
Proponents for sanctuary policies say that the policies promote trust in immigrant communities and, therefore, immigrants will come forward to report crimes—purportedly making the community safer.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions countered that view, saying in Miami recently that no evidence supports the claim.
“To the contrary, Chicago has consistently had one of the lowest murder investigation clearance rates in the country,” Sessions said, adding that a suspect is identified in only one of every four murders.
“Far from making Chicago safer, these policies likely make cooperation with law enforcement more difficult. If there are no real consequences for the criminal, no witness will risk their life to report the crime. That means criminals walk free and victims suffer in silence,” he said on Aug. 16.
Some countries refuse or delay the return of their own citizens, and several take close to a year to issue travel documents for the repatriation of a criminal, according to a 2011 ICE document.
Some of the most difficult countries for repatriating criminals include Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, and China.
“While we have made significant progress this year on reducing the number of countries that refuse to take their citizens back, we also need to fix our laws to detain dangerous criminals whose home countries won’t take them back,” Homan said.
ICE has the power to detain a removable alien indefinitely if they are “specially dangerous,” according to a 2001 directive from DHS. But many have to be released after six months, in accordance with the earlier Supreme Court ruling in the 2001 case Zadvydas v. Davis.
Homan gave an example of a Somali national who had been ordered removed from the United States to Somalia by an immigration judge in 2011. But, because of the Zadvydas ruling, ICE was forced to release him from custody, due to the unlikelihood he could be removed from the country within a reasonable amount of time.
The Somali was recently charged with attacking a policeman and pedestrians in Edmonton, Canada.
In fiscal year 2017, 1,666 criminal illegal aliens have been released from ICE custody because of the Zadvydas ruling, according to the administration.
Trump’s reform asks Congress to fix the Zadvydas loophole and to allow ICE to retain custody of illegal aliens whose home countries will not accept their repatriation.
Visa overstays account for roughly 40 percent of all illegal immigration in the United States. In fiscal year 2016, 628,000 aliens overstayed their visas, according to the administration.
“The president’s request for more ICE officers is absolutely essential to cracking down on these overstays—the driving force behind illegal immigration,” Homan said.
Trump’s plan asks to strengthen the removal process and impose tougher penalties on overstayers.
In fiscal year 2017, ICE received approximately 1.4 million leads on potential nonimmigrant visa violators, according to Homan. Only 4,023 of those were removed.
Almost 750,000 employers have enrolled in e-verify, said USCIS chief Lee Francis Cissna, but the program should be mandatory.
“The failure to enforce our immigration laws has produced lower wages and higher unemployment for American workers,” the proposed reform states.
Trump wants Congress to change the current priority of extended family-based chain migration to skills-based immigration.
In his proposal, Trump says chain migration does not serve the national interest.
“Decades of low-skilled immigration has suppressed wages, fueled unemployment, and strained federal resources,” the proposal states.
Trump wants to limit family migration to spouses and minor children, and eliminate the visa lottery.
His proposal suggests introducing a points-based system for the awarding of green cards (lawful permanent residency) based on factors that allow individuals to successfully assimilate and support themselves financially, including education level, English ability, and job skills.
Trump’s plan seeks to hire an additional 370 immigration judges, 1,000 ICE attorneys, 10,000 ICE officers, and 300 federal prosecutors.
“Immigration reform must create more jobs, higher wages, and greater security for Americans—now and for future generations,” Trump said. “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”