House Passes NDAA with Immigration Riders
By Preston Huennekens | July 2019
On July 12, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020. Usually an exercise in bipartisan lawmaking, House Democrats forced through a divisive NDAA that includes multiple anti-enforcement immigration provisions.
Framing defense programming, funding and policy through the NDAA has been a staple of bipartisan lawmaking since 1961. It sets everything from service member pay increases to base construction and healthcare spending. In otherwise raucous political debates between the parties, the NDAA stands as a rare opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation. House Democrats decided to abandon that route and instead pass a bill fraught with serious issues.
The original version of the bill (before amendments) completely banned the Department of Defense (DOD) from transferring funds to construct a southern border wall. This was a primary goal of Democrats since President Trump announced in February that he intended to use some funds from DOD to construct new barriers on the border. Additionally, the bill bars DOD from housing alien children separated from their parents. This is largely symbolic since family separation ended in June 2018.
During the amendments process, progressive Democrats offered a number of extreme suggestions. House Democrats proposed more than ten immigration-related amendments to the NDAA. Two amendments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) sought to block all funding for any activity that assists with immigration enforcement, as well as ban the deployment of service members to the border to provide humanitarian support. The House voted down both amendments. Banning DOD personnel from providing humanitarian and operational support to the overstrained border patrol may play well to her Twitter followers, but would have almost certainly made conditions at the border substantially worse.
Unfortunately, the House did pass two troubling amendments to the NDAA. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) introduced an amendment that prohibits DOD from housing any aliens who are in the custody of ICE. A number of his Democratic colleagues voted against the amendment, but it ultimately passed by a vote of 213-204. This comes as the military already started to expand and convert military sites to temporarily hold aliens detained by ICE. Without space to hold detainees, ICE will have no other choice than to release these individuals, many with criminal records, onto our streets and into the interior of the country.
Further, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) offered an amendment that preserves “parole-in-place” for illegal alien family members of those serving in the military. The Obama administration invented the concept of parole-in-place in November 2013. In doing so, the Obama administration unilaterally expanded the very limited authority of the Department of Homeland Security to parole aliens outside of the country into the U.S. on a temporary and case-by-case basis under humanitarian circumstances. There exists no legal authority to grant parole to broad categories of illegal aliens. The Takano amendment sets forth a dangerous precedent by which future administrations could “parole-in-place” nearly anyone they wanted. This amendment passed without any opposition by a voice vote.
The full amended bill passed on a nearly party-line vote, 220-188, with zero Republican support and eight dissenting Democrats. For comparison, in the 115th Congress the NDAA House bill passed by a vote of 351-66.
The House will now conference with the Senate to determine the final makeup of the NDAA. The Senate passed a bipartisan and noncontroversial NDAA by a vote of 86-8. The negotiators have much to discuss, as there are a number of serious differences between the two bills, including these inflammatory immigration-related riders. Once the Senate and House agree in conference, a single bill will face votes in both chambers.