By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, immigration became, once again, one of the key “policy” issues nationwide.
I use quotes because there was not much real policy to the pronouncements. Primarily there was vitriol, paranoia and outright bigotry aimed at the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be currently living in the United States.
It began with Donald Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for president, which included invectives against Mexican immigrants. “When Mexico sends its people,” he said, “they’re not sending their best . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
These comments set the tone for the entire immigration debate throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond. There was very little substance beyond building a wall, which Mexico would pay for, and deporting every last undocumented immigrant, regardless of their contributions to American society.
There hasn’t been a serious debate in Congress about reforming our immigration system since the Senate passed a comprehensive — and bipartisan — immigration reform bill in 2013, on a 68-32 vote, which the Republican-led House of Representatives summarily rejected.
President Barack Obama later signed a series of executive orders, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that allowed young people who came to the U.S. as children to remain in the country legally. Keep in mind that these are people who, by and large, know no other country. They may have been born elsewhere, but in every other sense, they are as American as anyone else.
In a border region such as San Diego, this is a serious issue with far reaching repercussions.
On July 10, U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-53) convened an Immigration Town Hall at the Sherman Heights Community Center. The conversation essentially centered around what people affected by our current immigration limbo can do to protect themselves from deportation.
Among those who are currently being subjected to deportation status are military veterans who have served honorably in our armed services. “From the founding of our country we have depended and relied on non-citizens to join our armed forces and fight our wars, and we’ve told them if you are willing to give your life for this country, we’ll let you vote,” said Nathan Fletcher, the veterans’ advocate who has announced his candidacy for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
Fletcher, a 10-year Marine Corps veteran, was under the impression that veterans cannot be deported. When immigrants are recruited, he said, they are given the promise of citizenship.
“One day of military service in a theater of war and they are eligible for citizenship,” he said. And yet over 300 veterans from 30 countries have been deported. “They have been honorably discharged, but dishonorably deported,” Fletcher said.
DACA — which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department says has over 1.4 million people enrolled — was the other major topic of discussion. The program, enacted by executive order, is still in effect, but no one really knows for how long. The problem is that President Trump could, at any time, decide to rescind the executive order and remove protections from DACA recipients.
“There’s literally nothing that Democrats can do if the president decided to deport these [recipients]. Because it was an executive order, he could simply reverse the order,” Vargas said. “Sadly, the president has the authority to deport these people if he wants to. I think it’s counterproductive.” The only thing Democrats can do, he said, is to “plead with him not to do it.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-49) strongly rebuked Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ loosened policy on civil asset forfeitures. The policy allows government agencies to permanently seize the private assets of people merely suspected of a crime, with no recourse if the case proved unfounded. “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Session said in remarks to the National District Attorneys Association.
“This is a troubling decision for the due process protections afforded to us under the Fourth Amendment as well as the growing consensus we’ve seen nationwide on this issue,” Issa said in a statement. “Criminals shouldn’t be able to keep the proceeds of their crime, but innocent Americans shouldn’t lose their right to due process, or their private property rights in order to make that happen.”
In other Issa news, members of Issa’s congressional staff — including Issa himself at least once — have complained directly to the city of Vista three times to have the 200-300 protesters who have consistently gathered across from his office removed, despite the group’s possession of a valid permit, and the protesters having been found to be in compliance with their permit. Photos of Issa standing on the roof of the building taking photos of the protesters went viral in June.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-52) has filed an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill that will block President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The amendment reads: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, enforce, or observe in any way, any directive from the president of the United States that bars or restricts the ability of a person to serve in the armed forces because such person is transgender.”
“There are already thousands of transgender Americans serving honorably and openly in our Armed Forces. There is a former member of SEAL Team 6 — the most elite military unit in history — that came out as transgender,” Peters said in a statement.
“Just as we did with the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, Congress must stand up against backwards politics, trust our military leaders, and put national security first.”