House Republicans Drop Mandate to Prioritize Removing Criminal Aliens Over Others

Last week, when discussing the Trump administration’s secret memo requiring “enforcement action” against “all removable aliens” who immigration agents encounter, I pointed out that every year since 2008, the House Appropriations Committee has included a provision in its version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that requires the department to “prioritize the identification and removal of aliens convicted of a crime by the severity of that crime.”

I also noted that this provision was strangely left out of the “omnibus” funding bill enacted into law this May, which packaged funding for all departments in a single bill. But I chalked that up to an oversight due to the irregular process of putting together the large bill and predicted that the provision would reappear in the individual appropriations bill for 2018. I was wrong. The new House appropriations bill for DHS contains no requirement for prioritization. Now the Trump administration’s illogical non-prioritization policies will receive the tacit consent of the committee.

Remember that this provision has been included no matter which party controlled the House for almost a decade—really for as long as DHS has carried out major deportation operations. The first bill to contain this language was 2008 to fund the department for 2009 written by House Democrats and signed by President Bush. Here’s 2010 written by House Democrats and signed by President Obama. In 2011, House Republicans funded the government with a series of continuing resolutions—which essentially maintain the earlier funding bills’ status quo.

In 2012, 2013, 2014, however, Republicans wrote the bills and President Obama signed them with the requirement to prioritize criminal aliens based on the severity of their crime. Then in March 2015, the House of Representatives entered a bitter fight to stop President Obama’s proposed program to give work permits to certain non-criminal unauthorized immigrants who were parents of U.S. children (DAPA). In so doing, it nearly shut down the department. Yet the Republican funding bill for 2015 still included explicit language requiring prioritization. It did again in 2016.

Republicans wrote and passed all of these bills. Then in May 2017, after relying on continuing resolutions through part of the year, they enacted the 2017 omnibus appropriations bill—the big package I referenced at the beginning—which dropped this language. They did this despite the fact that the 2017 House standalone committee bill for DHS still had the restriction, which is why I figured it must have been an oversight. Sadly, it was not. The new House committee DHS funding bill drops the language, freeing the Trump administration from even the appearance of a conflict with Congress over its new policies.

President Trump’s executive order laying out his priorities for immigration enforcement explicitly prioritizes those who were never convicted of a crime. This would have directly contradicted the congressional mandate, so the committee staff appears to have just quietly removed it.

To be clear, this is not just a bad move because it will result in peaceful people being deported from the country that is their home, but because it will result in serious criminals not being deported. Every moment that DHS wastes on workers and families is a moment that it is not focused on criminals. That will not make us safer. The only reason that anyone would think that it would is if they think that unauthorized immigrants are more prone to commit serious crimes against Americans than the U.S.-born—a belief that is demonstrably false.

Hopefully, members of the House who still believe in prioritization offer amendments to correct this mistake.