Congress Maintains Restrictions on Transfer of Guantanamo Detainees to U.S. |

In the last 24 hours, there have been two big developments in our efforts to protect the separation of powers:

  • First, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction that prevents President Obama’s attempt to unilaterally change our immigration laws. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who signed an amicus brief in this case, called the decision “a victory for the Constitution and the American people.”
  • Second, the U.S. Senate passed a new version of our national-defense bill with a veto-proof majority of 91 votes. That’s in addition to 370 votes in the House. This bill provides vital support for our troops and their families, and it sets national-security policies. Among other things, it explicitly prohibits the president from transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil, as he is reportedly considering doing.  

This prohibition is neither new nor contentious. In fact, these types of prohibitions were first put in place in October 2009 under a Democratic-controlled Congress. 

The president may have objected, but he signed these restrictions into law, and he has done so every year since. In fact, we have expanded these prohibitions over time.

In addition, there are prohibitions in our funding bills that prevent the administration from using taxpayer dollars to transfer detainees. These restrictions date back even further—to June 2009. The law is clear as can be on this.

The Congressional Research Service sums it up accordingly:

“Several appropriations and authorization measures enacted by Congress have barred funds from being used to effectuate the release of Guantanamo detainees into the United States. Moreover, Congress has enacted several measures barring funds from being used to transfer detainees into the United States or its territories or possessions.

“While highly critical of these provisions’ effect, President Obama’s signing statements did not allege that the restrictions on transfers to the United States represented an unconstitutional infringement upon executive authority, or claim that the executive branch was not legally bound to comply with the provisions’ requirements."

To review: On his second day in office, the president announced his intent to keep his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. Just months later, a Congress run by his own party voted to prevent him from doing that.  To this day, after years of divided government, it remains the law of the land.

The president should sign this defense bill, and then he must abide by it.