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The House Votes Against Common Sense and Family Unity

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Evil does its bidding in the dead of night.

Maybe that explains what happened Thursday when the House passed H.R. 5855, the fiscal year 2013 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, on a vote of 234-182. The bill included a laundry list of immigration-related amendments, but two in particular underscore the self-destructive mean-spiritedness that dominates the American immigration debate.

The first, offered by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), might as well have been called the "Let's Prevent Common Sense Immigration Enforcement Act." King's goal is to stymie the Obama administration's stated policy of prosecutorial discretion -- summarized in a June 17, 2011 memorandum by ICE director John Morton -- which prioritizes the deportation of violent criminals, egregious immigration violators and national security risks. To do that King attached an amendment to the appropriations bill that would, in effect, prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from spending tax dollars with the aim of keeping our borders secure and our communities safe.

Sadly, the joke may be on King. He and his cohorts in the House may have wasted their precious midnight oil because, while the administration has talked a good game on common sense enforcement, there is little evidence that the Morton memo is worth the paper it's written on. All across the U.S. ICE agents are still engaged in the foul task of splitting up American families and deporting the promising undocumented youth known as DREAMERS. Of the nearly 300,000 immigration cases reviewed, a paltry 1.5 percent of the immigrants in deportation proceedings were actually granted prosecutorial discretion, and even those were granted only a temporary reprieve, keeping their lives completely in limbo. In fact, in most cases immigrants are better off taking their chances before an immigration judge where at least they have a fighting shot at remaining with their loved ones or avoiding the prospect of being deported to a dangerous country.

The other amendment, tacked onto the legislation by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), would effectively derail the Obama administration's proposed "Family Unity Waiver" -- a processing tweak that will allow undocumented immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens to remain in the U.S. while the Department of Homeland Security determines whether or not denial of their green card would cause extreme hardship to their spouse or parent. The procedural fix is important to American families who face long-term separation from a loved one who, under the current rules, must travel abroad and wait many months to process their green card and waiver applications. Over the years immigrants and their families have been seriously injured, even murdered, while stuck in dangerous cities like Ciudad Juarez waiting for bureaucratic backlogs to clear.

It's hard to imagine what House members were thinking late Thursday night as they walked through the corridors of Congress to vote for H.R. 5855. No wonder they waited until America was fast asleep.