Apparent Failure of Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill 

Minneapolis’ StarTribune published an editorial criticizing the apparent failure of Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill. A similar editorial appeared in Bloomberg News. The bill also was supported by columnist George Will.[1]

The Bipartisan Bill

The bill was developed by U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (ex-Democrat & now Independent, AZ) and Thom Tillis (Rep., NC) “that would have addressed critical areas in immigration: the fate of so-called Dreamers, billions of dollars to secure the southern border, and better processing of asylum claims.” The “border-related items in the . . . bill were said to include more and better-paid Border Patrol agents, more funds for Homeland Security detention facilities and stiffer penalties for migrants who missed court hearings, along with better and faster processing of credible asylum claims.”

Reasons for Apparent Failure To Adopt This Bill

According to the StarTribune editorial, this bill “drew support from moderate lawmakers and several organizations.” But the two Senators were “unable to lock down the 60-vote supermajority needed to end the inevitable filibuster,” which prevented the inclusion of the bill in year-end appropriations legislation, all but ending any hope of immigration reform this year.”

The Bloomberg editorial notes that the proposal “aims to reduce strain on the asylum system by discouraging migrants from attempting to cross the border and expelling more of those who do.” For George Will, the bill would correct “two glaring wrongs that large American majorities recognize as such. They are the insecure southern border. And the decades-long callousness toward those called ‘dreamers.’”

This proposal “has angered immigration advocates and progressives in Congress, some of whom have already announced their opposition.” For George Will, these people ignore “the axiom that the perfect is the enemy of the good, [and who] will settle for nothing less than a ‘comprehensive’ solution to all immigration complexities.” Mr. Will also finds fault with criticism of the bill’s provisions to protect the “Dreamers” and the apparent proposed path to citizenship for the U.S.’ approximate 11 million unauthorized immigrants, two-thirds of whom have lived here for more than a decade.

There apparently was nothing in the Sinema-Tillis proposal relating to what is covered in the proposed Afghan Adjustment Act that was discussed in a prior post.[2]

Conclusion

An open invitation for comments is extended to those who are more intimately involved in this legislative conundrum.

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[1] Editorial, Another failure on immigration reform, StarTribune (Dec. 17, 2022); Bloomberg, Editorial, Congress Can’t Waste This Immigration Opportunity, Wash. Post (Dec. 15, 2022); Will, How the Tillis-Sinema immigration bill would right two glaring wrongs, Wash. Post (Dec. 11, 2022); Sotomayor, Goodwin, Sacchetti & DeChaulus, Congress working to strike last-minute immigration deals, Wash. Post (Dec. 5, 2022).

[2] See Wall Street Journal Editorial Supports Afghan Evacuees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec.13, 2022); Need To Prod Congress To Enact the Afghan Adjustment Act, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 17, 2022).

Developments in Using U.S. Immigration Law To Enforce International Human Rights

As noted in a prior post, U.S. immigration law provides at least two means of enforcing international human rights.

Removal or Deportation from the U.S. 

Foreigners can be deported or removed from the U.S. if they “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide . . . or . . . any act of torture . . . or . . . any extrajudicial killing.” (Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 sec. 5501, 118 Stat. 3638, 3740 (2004).

Responsibility for enforcing these provisions lies in the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) within the National Security Investigations Division (NSID) of the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) Directorate of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security.

This unit conducts investigations focused on foreign human rights violations by individuals in the U.S. in an effort to prevent the U.S. from becoming a safe haven to those individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights abuses from conflicts around the globe. Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 250 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE has denied more than 117 individuals from obtaining entry visas to the United States and created more than 20,000 subject records, which prevented identified human-rights violators from attempting to enter the United States. In addition, ICE successfully obtained deportation orders to physically remove more than 590 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.

Currently, ICE is pursuing more than 1,900 leads and removal cases that involve suspected human rights violators from nearly 96 different countries.

Illustrating such cases are two former Salvadoran military officers, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia,[1] and a former Guatemalan military officer, Pedro Pimentel Rios.

In 2012, an immigration judge ruled that Casanova could be deported for his role in multiple acts of killings and torture committed by the Salvadoran military, including the 1980 slayings of the four American churchwomen.

On February 6, 2014, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) heard Casanova’s appeal from this decision. The main issue was his argument that the removal order was unjustified because the U.S. tacitly had approved the aggressive tactics of the Salvadoran military. In response the ICE attorney argued that U.S. support for the Salvadoran military did not excuse Casanova’s actions and that the U.S. repeatedly had demanded that the Salvadoran military clean up its human rights record. One of the three BIA judges asked whether Casanova was “too far up the chain [of command] to control those units?” The ICE attorney said “no” as Casanova himself testified at his own trial that he kept tight control of the unit. Once the BIA issues its decision, the losing party has the right to appeal to a federal court of appeals.

On February 26, 2014, an immigration judge ordered Garcia to be removed or deported from the U.S. after a trial had determined that he had helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who killed four American churchwomen in 1980 and that he “knew or should have known” that army troops had slaughtered the villagers, including women and children, in the hamlet of El Mozote in 1981. Garcia plans to appeal to the BIA.

In July 2010, ICE charged Guatemalan Pedro Pimentel Rios with being deportable for having assisted or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings during the Dos Erres massacre in that country. In May 2011 an immigration judge, after trial, determined that he had in fact participated in extrajudicial killings in that massacre and ordered his removal to his home country. That removal occurred in July 2011.

After his return to Guatemala, he was tried by a three-judge court and found guilty of participation in the massacre and sentenced to imprisonment of 6,060 years (30 years for each of the 201 victims). This sentence was largely symbolic since Guatemalan law does not permit prison terms longer than 50 years.

U.S. Conviction and Imprisonment

Foreigners who had gained legal entry or presence in the U.S. can be criminally prosecuted for committing fraud in obtaining a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit (18 U.S.C. § 1546(a)) or committing perjury in statements to U.S. immigration officials (18 U.S.C. § 1621(2)) for failure to disclose their involvement in foreign human rights violations.

Responsibility for enforcing these provisions lies in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, which “primarily investigates and prosecutes cases against human rights violators and other international criminals . . . for genocide, torture, war crimes, and recruitment or use of child soldiers, and for immigration and naturalization fraud arising out of efforts to hide their involvement in such crimes.”

Examples of such cases are those involving former Salvadoran military officer, Innocente Orlando Montano, and two former Guatemalan military officers, Gilberto Jordan and Jorge Sosa Orantes.

Montano allegedly was involved in various human rights violations in his country, including the November 1989 murder of the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.[5] Based on his guilty plea, on August 27, 2013, the federal court in Boston, Massachusetts sentenced Inocente Orlando Montano to 21 months in prison for violating U.S. immigration laws.

In 2010, Guatemalan Gilberto Jordan was arrested in Florida for allegedly lying on naturalization forms that allowed him to become a U.S. citizen. He pleaded guilty to failing to disclose on those forms that he had participated in the 1982 killings of at least 162 countrymen in the village of Dos Erres. In September 2010 a federal judge sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment

On October 1, 2013, Jorge Sosa Orantes, a Guatemalan military officer who lead a massacre of a village in his home country, was convicted by a federal jury for making false statements and unlawfully procuring U.S. citizenship when he applied for U.S. residency in 1997 and when he obtained citizenship a decade later. On February 10, 2014, the presiding judge sentenced Sosa with a revocation of his U.S. citizenship and imprisonment for 10 years.

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[1] Garcia and Casanova jointly had been held civilly liable for torture in their country by U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), but who jointly had escaped similar civil liability under the TVPA for the torture and murder of the four American churchwomen in El Salvador.