Fed up with countries refusing to take back their own citizens the U.S. is trying to deport, a Republican congressman on Thursday announced new legislation that could cut off those countries’ ability to travel to the U.S.
Rep. Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican, said he was spurred by China’s recent announcement that it would refuse to cooperate with deportations as retaliation for American engagement with Taiwan.
“For years, Beijing has impeded our ability to send their criminal aliens home — effectively treating our country as a dumping ground for their nationals who break American laws,” Mr. Tiffany said. “It makes no sense to continue granting visas to citizens of Communist China knowing that we may never be able to remove them should they overstay or commit crimes in our communities.”
U.S. law already gives the administration discretion to cut off visas, but presidents have been reluctant to flex the power.
Mr. Tiffany’s bill would remove some of the discretion by requiring that when the administration does impose visa sanctions, it go after both nonimmigrant visitor visas and full immigrant visas.
While China is a chief target, it is not the only offender.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement keeps a list of countries it seems “recalcitrant” in cooperating on deportations, and as of June 2020 there were a dozen countries on it, according to the Congressional Research Service: Cuba, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Burundi, Eritrea, Pakistan, India, Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan and China.
ICE has not answered repeated inquiries from The Washington Times over the last year seeking an updated list.
Under Section 243(d) of immigration law, the Homeland Security secretary has the power to trigger visa sanctions on recalcitrant countries. If the secretary sends a notice to the State Department, the secretary of state is required to impose sanctions.
But since it is a discretionary power, not all countries deemed recalcitrant are under sanctions.
The administration also can choose what sort of sanctions to level.
They can range from a full ban on all visas to restrictions on particular categories and people. One common sanction is a ban on short-term “nonimmigrant” tourism or business visas for members of a government and their families.
Mr. Tiffany’s bill would mandate suspension of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
Homeland Security officials have said that labeling a country “recalcitrant” is a bit of an art.
China, however, removed all doubt about its status earlier this summer when it announced it would no longer cooperate on deportations. That was one of the retaliatory steps Beijing announced after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to Taiwan, defying China’s wishes.
ICE’s website currently lists eight countries under visa sanctions: Cambodia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Burma, Laos, Cuba, Pakistan and China.
ICE does not detail the level of sanctions imposed on each, but notes that the sanctions on Sierra Leone and Laos used to be stiffer but have been trimmed.
When countries refuse to cooperate on deportations it can mean the U.S. government has to release illegal immigrants with serious criminal records out onto the streets.
In 2015, ICE provided statistics to Congress showing that in the previous year it had released nearly 2,500 migrants with criminal records because it was unable to get cooperation on deporting them.
Cuba, Vietnam and China were the biggest offenders in that data.
The George W. Bush administration used Section 243(d) sanctions only once, against Guyana, in 2001. The Obama administration used them against The Gambia in 2016. The Trump administration was more willing to use the power, deploying it against Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2017; against Burma and Laos in 2018; against Cuba, Ghana and Pakistan in 2019; and against Burundi, China and Ethiopia in 2020.