The Department of Homeland Security did not vet a controversial immigration proposal as claimed by the U.S. senator who drafted the law and instead backs an effort by a GOP congressman who wants it repealed.
A representative from the office of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., told WND he spoke this week with DHS officials who said that, contrary to assertions by Sen. Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah, no one in the department reviewed his proposal to protect religious groups from a federal law forbidding them from knowingly transporting, concealing, harboring or shielding an illegal immigrant, before it was signed into law earlier this month.
Last week, Bennett said his proposal – which was tacked on as an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill – had been vetted by DHS, as well as the House and Senate judiciary committees.
But Will Adams, a spokesman in Tancredo’s office, said not only did DHS officials deny reviewing Bennett’s provision, “they found out about it only when it was inserted in the conference report, and even then by a member of the minority (Democratic) staff.”
Also, Adams said, once the legislation was “sent around” to various legislative affairs and other departments within DHS, “they unanimously said this was a bad idea, for many of the same reasons” the provision was opposed by Tancredo.
In defending his proposal, Bennett said it only protects churches from liability and does not prevent federal immigration authorities from apprehending illegal migrants. He said he drafted his provision on advice he received from lawyers for the Mormon Church, considered a dominant political force in his home state of Utah.
Tancredo, meanwhile, challenged the provision, saying it could be used by terrorists posing as immigrants.
“A religious organization could actively conceal a terrorist who is an illegal alien, transporting him across the country and providing him with food and housing, and never break the law,” Tancredo said last week, adding the provision “creates a loophole large enough to drive a truck bomb through it.”
Bennett’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment, nor did Homeland Security officials.
A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, however, confirmed the panel had reviewed Bennett’s provision. But he could not recall to WND whether or not the committee signed off on it. A message was left with the Senate Judiciary Committee but as of press time it had not been returned.
In a letter to Bennett this week, Tancredo acknowledged DHS and “the Justice Department were concerned about the national security implications of your rider.”
“Contrary to what we heard from your staff, DHS tells me that they were not asked to consult on your amendment and actually only found out about it from staffers who worked on the agriculture conference report,” he wrote. “DHS and Justice reviewed your provision at that late point in the legislative process and made similar objections to mine.
“That the Administration, particularly the national security apparatus, is worried about the potential terrorist loophole in your legislation and may work to overturn it, confirms rather than rejects my analysis of your amendment,” said Tancredo.
He also pointed out in his letter that current U.S. law only penalizes organizations that knowingly “harbor” illegal aliens.
“The only reason any organization would need a change in the law similar to the one you authored is if that group desired to aid or abet persons they know are in the United States illegally,” he said.
The Agriculture bill containing Bennett’s amendment also appropriated $50.5 million for various Utah agricultural programs.