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McSally's DACA bill slashes new immigration, doubles down on border security

Opponents call bill a 'poison pill'

While thousands of people face the expiration of work permits and protection from deportation under DACA, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally and three other Republicans submitted a bill Wednesday that would reintroduce the temporary permit system while clamping down on legal and illegal immigration alike.

In exchange for a legislative answer to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the bill is a laundry list of hard-line policies that refocus the U.S. immigration system to the needs of businesses while increasing enforcement and penalties for migrants picked up by the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Cosponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Michael McCaul, Raul Labrador, and McSally, the "Securing America's Future Act" creates a legislative answer to the Obama-era program ended last September by Trump administration officials. It would set up a new deferred action program and work permits for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children for a three-year period, and allows them to travel overseas. 

The bill would not create "a special path to a green card," but recipients may pursue "existing paths to citizenship."

The bill would establish a "workable" agricultural guest worker program, and increases the number of available green cards for three categories of skilled workers by about 45 percent, supporters said.

At the same time, the bill would eliminate the ability of immigrants to petition to bring family members, including spouses and children into the United States, and reduces overall immigration from more than 1 million people to around 260,000 annually. 

New enforcement measures would include mandatory E-Verify, requiring employers to check that they are hiring legal workers, and a crackdown on so-called Sanctuary Cities by allowing people hurt by released immigrant to sue local officials. 

The bill would also push for cities to hold immigrants in local jails, by making changes to the 287g program, and would indemnify cities that comply.  

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Reflecting a push from President Donald Trump, the bill seeks to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, and another 5,000 officers to Customs and Border Protection, while also further encouraging a long-standing effort to use U.S. National Guard helicopter crews to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. 

By September 2022, the Border Patrol should have more than 26,370 full-time agents, according to the measure. 

The bill also requires the Homeland Security secretary to deploy technology and barriers along the U.S. border to achieve "situational awareness and operational control" of the border by September 30, 2022 and funds construction for border barriers, along with the implementation of new technology, including small unmanned aircraft, acoustic sensors, and cameras. 

And, the bill would require Air and Marine Operations, the part of CBP that controls the agency's aircraft and marine vessels, to fly at least 95,000 flight hours per year. 

Finally, the bill targets visa overstays, requiring a "full implementation" of a biometric entry-exit system, which would collect the fingerprints and iris-scans of all immigrants who come into contact with CBP officers, and would create a system to continue holding unaccompanied children and children with their families in detention facilities before they are quickly returned. 

During a press conference introducing the bill, McSally said that the legislation "finally strengthens America's borders" and moves the country toward a "merit-based immigration system."

"Our unsecured border and broken immigration system threaten our country’s safety and prosperity; no one knows this better than Arizona. As if the most recent terrorist attacks don’t stand as reason enough, sophisticated drug cartels, human traffickers, and an opioid crisis all point to the need for action," McSally said. 

"America is the most generous and welcoming nation in the world, and that will continue. But we won’t be taken advantage of any longer," she said. "This bill delivers on what the American people want and what our President has requested, and I urge my colleagues to join us and support it," McSally said. 

Among the bill's provisions is a push to add more surveillance towers to the Tucson Sector, along with improved radios for agents, "advanced unattended" surveillance sensors, small surveillance drones that could be carried into the field by agents, a rapid reaction force, along with increased flight hours for CBP aircraft. 

The bill also includes nearly $75 million for the Defense Department to deploy National Guard units along the southern border. 

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The bill comes just as McSally lays the groundwork for a run at U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake's seat, after he announced late late year that he would not seek another term in 2018.  

McSally faces not only former state legislator Kelli Ward, who received an endorsement from former White House strategist Steven Bannon, but also ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an immigration hardliner who announced Tuesday he was also running for the seat. 

Immigration rights groups decried the bill, calling the legislation an attempt to "derail" solutions for Dreamers and  a "poison pill." 

The bill follows a decision from a federal judge released Tuesday that the White House may have violated administrative procedures when it rescinded DACA last September, forcing immigration officials to continue accepting applications for renewal while a lawsuit moves forward. 

Trump created a crisis when he ended DACA in September, upending the lives of nearly 800,000 young people covered by the program. The president said that Congress had until March 5 to find a solution. 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen praised the legislation saying that it "reflects many of the policy principles and priorities identified by DHS’s frontline personnel which the Administration has advocated for this past year." 

"I look forward to working with members as they consider this and other legislation that will help us secure our borders, provide necessary enforcement authorities, and end diversity visas and extended family chain migration," said Nielsen. "Collectively, these elements are significant factors when it comes to protecting Americans and the Homeland.”

Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union called the bill an"obvious attempt by longtime anti-Dreamer lawmaker Rep. Bob Goodlatte and his allies to derail a legislative solutions for Dreamers." 

"The policies in the new legislation are a collection of hardline provisions designed to sabotage, rather than advance, the possibility of a bipartisan breakthrough. Rep. Goodlatte is far from an honest broker, as his entire career has been spent opposing and seeking to block sensible immigration policy," Praeli said. 

The ACLU noted that in 2014, Goodlatte told an audience at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that Dreamers should "be required to leave." 

In a report by the Huffington Post, Goodlatte told the crowd: "That’s what the law says and that’s how the law should be enforced," he said. 

"This bill fails to take into account that a vast majority of Americans, lawmakers, and the president himself agree that Dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship — and not at the expense of sweeping draconian policies aimed at terrorizing Dreamers’ parents, siblings, and loved ones," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. 

"The same lawmakers behind this proposal were at a White House meeting yesterday at which everyone seemed to agree that the way toward finding a solution for immigrant youth was to narrow the conversation. This proposal does the opposite, seeking instead to tack on more elements of a white nationalist wish list to derail months of progress," she said.

"The Securing America’s Future Act is nothing more than a thinly veiled poison pill, and it should be dismissed as such. We’ve been clear that the lives of immigrant youth are not bargaining chips," Hincapié said. 

Human Rights First urged Congress to reject the bill, arguing that the legislation would hurt American families and punish refugees seeking U.S. protection, while including provisions that would allow immigration officials to hold families with children in detention for longer periods of time. 

The group also said that the bill "seeks to block access to asylum" by "increasing the already strenuous credible fear screening hurdle even further." 

"Don’t be fooled by the false ‘security’ narrative touted by Representatives Goodlatte, Labrador, McCaul, and McSally. In the face of bi-partisan support for legislation addressing the plight of Dreamers, this highly partisan bill resurrects a laundry list of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee proposals that have failed to earn bipartisan support in the past," said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection for the group. "This bill would also punish vulnerable refugee families fleeing persecution for seeking asylum in the United States," she said. 

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"Sending people seeking protection from persecution to be criminally prosecuted and detained in immigration prisons for long periods of time does not secure America's future, it is the antithesis of what this country stands for. Congress should reject this bill and any other provisions that pit Dreamers against vulnerable refugee families," Acer said. 

Human Right First noted that the pass rate for asylum seekers has dropped more than 10 percent from 78.6 percent in fiscal year 2016 to 68 percent in June 2017, following a brace of executive orders from the White House targeting refugees and asylum seekers. "This drop raises serious concerns that asylum seekers with real protection claims are being turned away," said Acer. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Protestors in Tucson push for a legislative fix to DACA last year.

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