Every Democrat – and some Republicans – increased funding earlier this year for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deporting those living in the country illegally. The Biden administration has directed ICE to prioritize the deportation of immigrants in the country illegally who have committed serious felonies.
Nonetheless, an ad from a conservative group misleadingly claims that “every Senate Democrat voted against deporting criminal illegal immigrants.” The ad bases its claim on Democrats’ opposition to a Republican amendment that would have delayed passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August. The amendment called for halting the legislation while a Senate committee looked into the need to increase the ICE budget to deport a higher number of criminals in the country illegally.
The ad highlights the case of an immigrant in the country illegally who is now charged with stabbing eight people, killing two of them. The ad notes that the alleged killer “had a criminal record.” But reporting from DailyMail.com found that while the man was charged in 2019 with domestic violence, the charge was ultimately dropped.
The ad, which ran often during the Major League Baseball playoffs, comes from Citizens for Sanity, a “dark money” group (meaning its donors are not disclosed) connected to officials in former President Donald Trump’s administration. The group is behind numerous snarky ads and billboards around the country targeting Democrats on issues such as crime and immigration.
On its website, Citizens for Sanity declares that its mission “is to return common sense to America, to highlight the importance of logic and reason, and to defeat ‘wokeism’ and anti-critical thinking ideologies that have permeated every sector of our country and threaten the very freedoms that are foundational to the American Dream.”
According to an Open Secrets review of Federal Communications Commission records, “the group’s board includes three former Trump administration officials involved in the America First Legal Foundation, a group founded by former Trump White House official Stephen Miller and aimed at using the legal system to challenge President Joe Biden‘s agenda.”
The ad begins with blurred images of the aftermath of a deadly knife attack on the Las Vegas Strip in early October.
“A bloody rampage on the Vegas strip by a knife-wielding madman,” the narrator in the ad says. “Six were injured. Two died. The alleged killer was here illegally. He had a criminal record. But every Senate Democrat voted against deporting criminal illegal immigrants. Every one. How many more will die? Stop the insanity.”
Let’s start with the second part of the ad first.
Democrats’ Vote on Vote-a-Rama Amendment
As backup for the claim that “every Senate Democrat voted against deporting criminal illegal immigrants,” Citizens for Sanity points to a vote on an amendment that was part of a so-called Senate vote-a-rama in August that preceded the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation was passed via a process known as reconciliation — meaning that the bill could pass with a simple majority and would not need Republican support. As we have written before, vote-a-ramas are largely political theater in which the opposing party often proposes amendments that can be used in political ads — like this one — in the future.
The Inflation Reduction Act will invest about $386 billion in energy and climate change incentives, and another roughly $98 billion in health care expenditures. The bill also seeks to create about $322 billion worth of health care savings, in part by lowering Medicare drug costs by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices and limiting out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to $2,000 per year. It is paid for mainly from a corporate minimum tax of 15% on companies that report profits in excess of $1 billion, a measure that is expected to bring in about $313 billion over 10 years.
During a marathon 15-hour session of the Senate, Republicans offered hundreds of amendments to the IRA, most of which were defeated.
“Democrats were relatively unified in their purpose, with most attempting to preserve the sanctity of the bill by voting against even amendments that they agreed with,” according to a story in the New Republic, a left-leaning magazine. “This ensured that, even when Republicans forced them to take politically painful votes, those amendments went down, often by a 50-50 vote.”
One of those was an effort by Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee to “ensure that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sufficient resources to detain and deport a higher number of illegal aliens who have been convicted of a criminal offense in the United States.” (The ad cited a different Senate vote on an unrelated topic, but Citizens for Sanity confirmed it meant to refer to the Hagerty amendment and said the ad’s citation was being revised.)
“In fiscal year 2021, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested more than 12,000 illegal aliens with aggravated felony convictions,” Hagerty said from the Senate floor on Aug. 6. “An all-time record number of illegal border crossers entered our country last year. This is an unprecedented national security crisis. Before we spend billions of dollars on Green New Deal programs, the department should first do its core job of securing the homeland.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, a Democrat, said the delay would mean the “end of conversation, end of debate, end of any possibility of passing what we consider to be a major piece of legislation, from prescription drugs, dealing with environmental issues, and the list goes on.”
“We understand the seriousness of this challenge [criminals in the country illegally], so much so that we have already decided it is a crime, and it is a crime that can be prosecuted,” Durbin said. “And it is a crime that is investigated and enforced by an agency of the federal government which we funded just four months ago. Four months ago, we gave $8 billion to ICE for this purpose.”
Durbin was referring to an appropriations bill that passed the Senate 68-31 (with 31 Republicans opposing it, including Hagerty) and included appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, it included $8.2 billion for operations and support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the agency responsible for deporting criminals in the country illegally, according to the Congressional Research Service. That was a nearly $331 million (4.2%) increase from fiscal year 2021.
“So now we are told we need the money, but four months ago he [Hagerty] wouldn’t vote for it,” Durbin said from the floor of the Senate in opposition to Hagerty’s proposed amendment. “I think we know what we have here. We have a challenge that really is important to this motion that both parties share, but we have a political challenge with an effort to derail this measure today. Stick together and vote against this amendment.”
Democrats did stick together and defeated the amendment, with all 50 Democratic senators voting against it.
At best, one could argue the vote was against delaying passage of the IRA to have the Judiciary Committee consider increased funding for ICE to deport more criminals in the country illegally. But the ad leaves the impression that Democrats voted against “deporting criminal illegal immigrants,” period. And that’s not accurate. As Durbin noted, Democrats voted in March to increase ICE’s budget.
Biden Administration Deportation Policy
As then-acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske explained in a memo on Jan. 20, 2021, shortly after Biden took office, “Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States.” The memo directed ICE to prioritize the deportation of immigrants in the country illegally who are convicted of aggravated felonies.
According to ICE’s fiscal year 2021 annual report, “ICE’s more focused approach yielded measurable results. ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) arrested an average of 1,034 aggravated felons per month from February through September 2021, a 53 percent increase over the monthly average during CY 2016 and a 51 percent increase during CY 2017-2020. During the same period in 2021, ERO removed an average of 937 aggravated felons per month, the highest level ever recorded and the greatest public safety impact since ICE began collecting detailed criminality data. 46 percent of ICE removals from February – September 2021 were of serious criminals overall (persons convicted of felonies or aggravated felonies), compared to 17 percent during CY 2016 and 18 percent during CY 2017-2020.”
The Trump administration also prioritized the deportation of criminals in the country illegally, or as Trump put it during the campaign, “bad dudes,” but not solely those convicted of aggravated felonies. Soon after taking office, the New York Times noted, Trump issued executive orders that “offers an expansive definition of who is considered a criminal — a category of people Mr. Trump has said he would target for deportation.”
Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School, told us the Trump administration considered anyone who broke an immigration law to be a deportable criminal — so virtually anyone in the country illegally.
On the heels of Trump’s policy changes, the number of interior arrests — which can lead to deportation — rose 30% in fiscal year 2017, and rose again the following year before falling a bit in fiscal 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. But even at its peak, the number was still “far lower than during President Barack Obama’s first term in office,” Pew stated. In addition, Yale-Loehr noted, a rise in people put into immigration proceedings doesn’t mean they were immediately deported, as those cases can take years.
Regardless of the differences in policies between Democratic and Republican administrations, both parties have supported the deportation of immigrants in the country illegally who commit serious crimes.
Deadly Knife Attack
That brings us to the case highlighted at the start of the Citizens for Sanity ad, involving a Guatemalan national accused of committing a deadly stabbing attack on Oct. 6. The alleged attacker, Yoni Barrios, 32, is accused of stabbing eight people, killing two, outside of a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. He has been charged with two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder.
As the ad says, Fox News reported that Barrios is a Guatemalan national in the U.S. illegally, and that he had a criminal record in California, according to an unnamed ICE source.
However, the DailyMail.com later reported that while Barrios was charged with criminal domestic violence in 2019 in Los Angeles, he was not convicted. Prosecutors failed to bring the case to court on time, the DailyMail.com reported, citing court documents, and so a judge dismissed the case. We independently confirmed through online Los Angeles County criminal record summaries that Barrios pleaded “not guilty” to the felony charge (273.5a of the California criminal code), and that the case was “Dismissed or Not Prosecuted” on July 19, 2021, the day it was scheduled to go to trial.
“Had he been convicted, Barrios would likely have been imprisoned and deported and would not have been free to commit the senseless slaughter on the Vegas strip this week,” DailyMail.com reported.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, “Any alien who at any time after admission is convicted of a crime of domestic violence, a crime of stalking, or a crime of child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment is deportable.”
But in this case, there was no conviction. DailyMail.com said Barrios “was also prosecuted for driving dangerously and without a license in Riverside, California in 2016.” But those are both misdemeanor offenses.
Had Barrios been convicted on the felony charge, he would have fit the bill for those prioritized by the Biden administration for deportation, Yale-Loehr told us.
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