President Donald Trump has vowed to go after countries that refuse to accept their citizens under deportation orders in the United States. Legislation by a Texas congressman would give him new tools to deliver on that pledge. In an executive order signed last month, Trump directed the State and Homeland Security departments to “ensure that diplomatic efforts and negotiations with foreign states include as a condition … the acceptance by those foreign states of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States.”
Legislation by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) includes a provision available but rarely used under existing law — suspension of visas for countries that are deemed non-cooperative in accepting their citizens who have been convicted of crimes and ordered deported. The bill also would:
- Withhold foreign aid to countries that refuse to take back citizens who have been convicted of crimes and ordered deported.
- Require the Department of Homeland Security to submit a report to Congress every three months listing the uncooperative countries.
- Allow victims of crimes by illegal immigrants to sue in federal court.
“There is absolutely no reason that criminal aliens should be released back onto America’s streets, yet that is exactly what is happening by the thousands each and every year because their countries of origin refuse to take them back,” Babin said in a prepared statement.
Government data suggests it is more than a trivial problem. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials list 23 countries as “recalcitrant” when it comes to deportations. A report released in October by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) indicates that 242,772 people have final deportation orders but cannot be returned home because they come from one of those 23 countries or 62 others deemed “non-cooperative.” That is a quarter of the 953,806 illegal immigrants who had been ordered deported but remain in America.
Of the non-deportable illegal immigrants, 57,029 had been convicted of criminal offenses. And under a 2001 Supreme Court decision, ICE can hold most deportable immigrants — including those finishing prison sentences — for only six months before turning them loose. Exceptions exist only for national security and public health risks.
“Before my daughter was murdered, I had no idea how many people like me there were,” said Wendy Hartling, a Connecticut woman who lost her daughter to a murderer who had served time for an attempted murder but could not be deported because of resistance from the government in his home country of Haiti.
After Haiti objected on grounds that the citizenship of Jean Jacques could not be proven, U.S. immigration officials had no choice but to free him in January 2015 after he had completed his prison sentence. Five months later, he fatally stabbed 25-year-old Casey Chadwick in a dispute over drugs.
Historically, the federal government has been reluctant to use leverage to force compliance with deportation demands. The George W. Bush administration in 2001 threatened to deny visas allowing government officials and their families from the South American nation of Guyana to travel to the United States. The nation backed down in a deportation dispute and agreed to accept nearly all of the 112 citizens that U.S. immigration authorities wanted to boot.
But the government did not take similar action again until October when the Department of Homeland Security triggered a law forcing the State Department to revoke visas for government officials and their close relatives in the African nation of the Gambia. The United States was trying to deport nearly 2,000 Gambian citizens.
“This isn’t all on [former President Barack] Obama. It goes back to Bush, too,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for advocacy group NumbersUSA. “If Trump follows through with his promise … countries will most likely respond swiftly.”
Chmielenski added that research by his organization indicates that 384,000 people from the 23 “recalcitrant” countries obtained green cards from the United States.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, said Babin’s bill is needed. Even if Trump takes strong action, she said, a law passed by Congress would apply to future administrations. And it would have new tools with which to apply pressure, she added.
Vaughan said the Obama administration should have moved sooner and more aggressively to use the leverage it did have.
“It literally took many murders and pressure from Democrats to, late in the game, invoke it against one tiny country in Africa,” she said. “It looks like it was just a token effort to get Congress off their backs.”
Vaughan said Babin’s bill would make it clear that leverage “wasn’t put there to be window dressing; it was put there to be used.”
The prospects for Babin’s bill are unclear. He introduced it last year, but it did not get a vote in the House of Representatives. This year, 29 representatives — including Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas — have signed on as co-sponsors.
Hartling, the Connecticut woman whose daughter was murdered by Jacques, said she welcomes any legislative effort to expel dangerous criminals from other countries.
“I’m a Democrat, and I voted for Trump,” he said. “I sincerely feel he’s going to do what he said he’s going to do.”