- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Liberal Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, wants to let foreign criminals stay here. And, incredibly, the House Judiciary Committee is about to give him a chance to do it.

Mr. Frank's bill, H.R. 1452, goes by the misnomer, the "Family Reunification Act." Any time a politician claims something is "for the children," you'd better be on your guard, or on immigration issues for "family reunification," watch out.

H.R. 1452 has only 32 cosponsors, mostly far-left Democrats. Mr. Frank introduced the legislation more than a year ago, and like more than 3,000 other bills this Congress, it was referred to the requisite committee and subcommittee, and there it has sat idle.

The ignored bill appeared all of a sudden on the agenda of the full House Judiciary Committee, despite the fact the subcommittee has held no hearings on the legislation. No input has been sought from the Justice Department or the Immigration and Naturalization Service. No subcommittee markup has resulted in any amendments to the bill.

Yet, the full committee is likely to act on the bill next week. It could be sent to the House floor, on to the Senate, and perhaps to the president's desk in short order. All this is taking place rather quietly.

So what does H.R. 1452 aim to do? In short, it erases the much-needed reforms Congress made in its landmark 1996 immigration reform law.

Before that, aliens who committed serious crimes, such as drug dealers, thieves, murders and robbers, would serve their time in prison. Then, they faced deportation. But minor problem the criminal immigrants never showed up for their deportation hearings, the INS couldn't find them and quickly gave up, or once ordered deported, the aliens never left the country.

In 1996, Congress required INS to take the criminal immigrants into custody at the end of their sentence. The law curbed the discretionary release of criminal aliens. It limited the easy "get out of jail free" procedure known as "Section 212(c)" relief. And it applied the new procedures to aggravated felonies committed before the 1996 law.

The 1996 law plugged a major loophole. The INS is removing criminal aliens at a record pace, the Center for Immigration Studies reported last year. "During fiscal years 1993-2000 the number of INS removals (deportations plus exclusions) more than quadrupled from 42,469 to 181,572, while removals related to criminal offenses grew 2½ times from 27,827 to 69,093. By contrast, in fiscal 1984 the agency removed only about a thousand aliens on criminal grounds."

Of course, INS has not carried out the law completely or as Congress intended. The General Accounting Office in 1999 reported that INS lacked records in its database on 36 percent of deportable criminal aliens, of whom 27 percent were later found to be deportable because of their crimes. And the Clinton INS regulations implementing the law were written to cause the most hardship and fan the liberal interest group backlash against the much-needed 1996 reforms.

Now comes Mr. Frank with legislation to undo those reforms. The professional advocates for open borders are salivating at this element of their so-called "Fix '96" propaganda campaign and political agenda.

Specifically, the bill would release many immigrant felons from INS custody. It would let criminal immigrants go free while waiting for a decision on their deportation. It would let thousands of the already removed criminal aliens back in the country so they could seek the easier cancellation of their former deportation. And the government would have more discretion to let these criminals off the hook.

Now, it doesn't take a genius to see that, just as before the law was changed, when criminal immigrants routinely disappeared and never left the country, the Frank bill would create the same scenario. Criminal aliens who face removal have too great an incentive to fade into the woodwork. The common-sense solution keeps them off the streets and gets them out of the country.

The House Judiciary Committee should subject H.R. 1452 to the laugh test. It can't pass, because coddling criminal immigrants is anything but pro-family it's pro-criminal, anti-American and anything but a laughing matter.


James R. Edwards Jr., co-author of "The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform," is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.

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