On June 18, 2018 Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was pleased to let us all know he had taken a baby step away from the Trumpian child separation policy at the US – Mexico border:
“Senator Heller doesn’t support separating children from their families, and he believes that this issue highlights just how broken our immigration system is and why Congress must act to fix it.” [LVRJ]
As of August 9, 2018 Time reports there are still 559 migrant children (of an original 2,551) who have not yet been reunited with their parents. 386 parents have already been deported. There are 26 parents for which the government says it has no information at all. The authorities say they’ve heard from 299 parents in the previous week. As of August 9, 2018 the Trump mis-administration still had no plan in place to reunite children with their parents.
Then, on August 10th NPR reports:
“More than 360 immigrant children in U.S. custody are still separated from parents who were deported by the U.S. government. About 200 immigrant children are still without their parents for other reasons. This afternoon, the government presented its plan to San Diego federal judge Dana Sabraw about how to reunify deported parents with their children. Part of that plan includes a heavy lift for the ACLU, which brought the case to reunify the families.”
Wait a minute. Why is the “heavy lift” assigned to the American Civil Liberties Union? Simple, the administration wanted to make the ACLU assume the burden of proof that the parents really wanted their children back. The ACLU responded:
“…they say that the parents who have been deported were either confused or in some cases coerced, tricked into agreeing to deportation because they believed that meant they’d be reunified with their kids. And the ACLU has consistently pointed to the fact that, you know, in large part, the government has really – they’ve had to have been ordered for most of this to be able to act. The government really hasn’t done much willingly. But the ACLU is also privately acknowledging at this point that they also need to talk to these parents individually. And they recognize that they’re going to be part of this solution to reunify these parents.” [NPR]
Focus: The administration officials haven’t done much. They’ve had to be forced to do what little they have done, and now they want the burden shifted to the attorneys for the plaintiffs… I haven’t been to law school, however, this sounds more than a little like the southbound product of my ever faithful metaphorical northbound bull.
Meanwhile back on July 25, 2018 Senator Heller spoke on the Senate Floor about the separation policy:
Heller said on the Senate floor today that he’d heard concerns from more than 3,500 constituents over the family separations. Thousands of children, some still in diapers, have been separated from their family members as a result of the Trump policy.
“My constituents have spoken to families split apart at the borders and some are being held in Southern Nevada,” he said. “And they are, frankly, asking for help. So being reunified with their children is their top priority.” [LVSun]
It doesn’t seem to have been a top priority for the administration. August 10th was also the day the federal authorities finally announced they had a “plan,” or at least the outline of a plan. [MJ] That would be one day after it was reported that ICE withheld phone numbers of deported parents from the ACLU attorneys. [HuffPo]
We have three touch points here, and for the sake of clarity let’s note that on the first touch point, June 18th, Senator Heller is his usual vague self — the policy is bad and Congress should fix it. Nothing more specific is on offer. By the second touch point, July 25th, Senator Heller has signed on to some legislation which purports to “solve the problem.” It doesn’t address the general issue of immigration reform, and frankly does little beyond repeat the protections of the Constitution already in place — children should not be separated from parents during the administrative and/or legal review of their cases. Finally, the court ordered plan (or at least the outline of the government’s plan, by August 10th obviates the need for Senator Heller’s showcase bit of legislative co-sponsorship. Courts have ordered what the Senate couldn’t get around to doing, i.e. ordering the administration not to separate children and parents, and not to remove them (especially out of the country) during the adjudication of their cases.
Return with us now to another touch point. It is June 27, 2013 and the US Senate has just passed a compromise Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. The measure included:
The Gang of Eight bill would essentially revamp every corner of U.S. immigration law, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, with several security benchmarks that have to be met before they can obtain a green card. The measure would not only increases security along the border, but requires a mandatory workplace verification system for employers, trying to ensure no jobs are given to immigrants who are not authorized to work in the United States. It also includes a new visa program for lesser-skilled workers – the product of negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions. And it shifts the country’s immigration policies away from a family-based system to one that is focused on more on work skills.
Sound familiar? The 2013 bill had many of the features still under consideration today, and Senator Heller was a “yes” vote on the comprehensive bill on June 27, 2013. Thus it seems fair to ask, if the Senator held a favorable view of the 2013 bill then why has he not encouraged, sponsored, co-sponsored, or promoted an updated version since? Instead, Heller charges that comprehensive immigration reform isn’t possible because Democrats don’t want immigrants to work. [TP]
In an audio recording of a March 2 speech, obtained by Politico and released Friday, Heller claimed that no progress can be made on immigration reform for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “Republicans want illegal immigrants to work but not vote. Democrats want them not to work, but to vote. Think about that for a minute,” he told the audience. “That’s why we can’t come together on a solution for this.”
This statement is demonstrably false.
Well, we could “think about that for a minute,” and reach the same conclusion. Senator Heller is playing to the Trumpian audience. The statement is, in fact, demonstrably false; but useful as part of a dog-whistle/bull horn/fire siren stump speech to the faithful.
Here is where the incumbent Senator gets himself entangled in his own rhetoric. It’s hard to generate sympathy for his protestations concerning the Zero Tolerance/Maximum Pain policy of separating parents and children at the southern border when it’s noted he’s perfectly willing to play the “immigrants as the ignorant tools of corrupt Democrats” card.
It’s also difficult to find any reason for a round of applause for his co-sponsorship of a fairly narrow, and decidedly right wing 2018 version of immigration policy reform, when doesn’t come all that close to what he was willing to support in 2013. The hard sad fact is that comprehensive immigration reform bills passed the Senate in 2006 and 2013 and failed to find sufficient support among House Republicans to pass them. [Politifact]
We could come to a solution on this if we ignored (or replaced) Senators such as Dean Heller who wish to beat their drums while continuing to blow on their dog whistles, and elected members of the US Congress who would be willing to take up the issue as it was addressed in 2006 and 2013 — and DO something.