Pro-Migrant Democrats Denounce Lamar Smith's Bill Limiting Obama's Discretion

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While I hold the Obama administration responsible for the increasing violence being done to migrant communities (exemplified by the last post I just wrote), it's important to be clear who our friends and enemies are. There is a good contingent of pro-migrant Democrats in Congress that have stood with our communities through these difficult times.

I just received a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL-4) which I will paste below that lists some of the pro-migrant Democrats that are standing with us, and also point to a threat coming from the number two enemy of migrant communities, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX-21). With everything that's happening it's tempting to ignore it, but I know for a fact that this is precisely the sort of bill that the Obama administration fears if they provide our community with any sort of administrative relief.
It's important to be clear. If this bill, the HALT Act, passes, then our ask that Obama provide migrant communities administrative relief become moot. Unlike Rep. Smith's E-Verify bill, the HALT Act is so transparently partisan that I don't expect it to be much of a threat, but it's still important to state my objection to it, and to let others know who our friends and enemies are:

Democrats Denounce Rep. Smith's Anti-Obama Immigration Bill

Judiciary Chair's HALT Act Would Limit President Obama's Immigration Enforcement Powers

(Washington, DC) - Pro-immigrant Democratic Members of Congress gathered for a press conference today to denounce a new bill filed by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), that would restrict the immigration enforcement powers of President Obama for the remainder of his term. It would prevent the President from prioritizing criminals, terrorists, and other threats for deportation over non-criminal immigrants with deep roots in U.S. society.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (IL) was joined by ten other Democrats -- Reps. Xavier Becerra (CA), Howard Berman (CA), Judy Chu (CA), Yvette Clarke (NY), Lloyd Doggett (TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Barbara Lee (CA), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Mike Quigley (IL), and Maxine Waters (CA) -- who said they would call on the House Democratic Caucus to stand with them in opposing Rep. Smith's bill.

Known as the HALT Act ("Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation" Act), the bill would suspend until January 21, 2013 the powers of this president to deprioritize certain deportations in order to prioritize the removal of convicted, serious criminals and other threats.

Rep. Gutierrez said at the press conference that the HALT Act bill "is petty partisan politics at its worst and trivializes the immigration issue -- an issue where families and lives are literally in the balance -- and it turns the immigration issue into a game of political 'gotcha.'"

The powers the HALT Act would restrict are the same prosecutorial powers that Rep. Smith and others have called on previous presidents to use to prevent the deportation of law-abiding immigrants. Congressman Gutierrez used a red pen to highlight sections of a 1999 letter signed by Rep. Smith, which Rep. Gutierrez had blown up on a poster board and which was distributed at the press conference. The New York Times, in an editorial Wednesday, said Rep. Smith's changed position on the use of prosecutorial discretion was "Hard to explain...although hypocrisy and rank opportunism seem likely."

The following are Rep. Gutierrez' remarks at the press conference as prepared for delivery:

Thank you for joining us and thank you to my colleagues who have joined me to take a stand against the HALT Act, which was formally introduced into this Congress on Tuesday by Representative Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and a companion bill will be introduced in the Senate by Senator David Vitter.

The HALT Act -- which stands for "Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation" -- is a direct attack on the integrity and legal judgment of this President of the United States. It is petty partisan politics at its worst and trivializes the immigration issue -- an issue where families and lives are literally in the balance -- and it turns the immigration issue into a game of political "gotcha."

When Americans demand leadership on immigration -- like on so many vexing issues facing the country -- what House Republicans give them is partisan tricks to fan the flames of division, sharpen the lines between the parties, and delay or derail any real progress towards solutions.

Let me explain what I mean.

The HALT Act suspends until January 21, 2013, the ability of this President to target immigration enforcement at the worst violent criminals, drug dealers, and threats to our nation. It limits the President's arsenal of enforcement tools and says that our immigration agents must deport every deportable immigrant they find regardless of the circumstances of their case and regardless of which other immigrants we would not be able to deport because we are wasting our time, money, court dockets, and detention beds on the law-abiding immigrants we just happened to find.

But it is not that Lamar Smith thinks these types of powers should not be used by Presidents of the United States. It is just this President he doesn't like.

The powers would be restored to the law after January 21, 2013, the day after the next inauguration. So this President, the Editor of the Harvard Law Review and Professor of Constitutional Law, is deemed not legally competent to wield these powers on behalf of the American people. The Party that demands to see his birth certificate and openly wonders what religion he is, now says this particular President cannot be trusted with the tools to target immigration enforcement at criminals and gangsters.

And how do I know that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee thinks these are powers that the President has and could -- and should -- exercise as part of immigration enforcement? Because in 1999, Lamar Smith wrote to the Attorney General at the time, Janet Reno, and the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, asking them to use more prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases.

The letter, signed by 29 Republicans and Democrats -- some of whom are standing here today -- reads in part...

"We write to you because many people feel you have the discretion to alleviate some of the hardships [of our immigration system] and we wish to solicit your views on why you have been unwilling to exercise such authority..."

It continues,

"The principle of prosecutorial discretion is well established...True hardship calls for the exercise of such discretion..."

Let me highlight those sections... and Lamar Smith's signature... and if you need a copy, here is the number of Lamar Smith's press secretary who released it to the media.

I have traveled the country over the past three months visiting 27 cities and talking to U.S. citizens whose family members face deportation. I have talked to DREAM Act students who were raised in the U.S. and came here at such a young age that they know no other country, but who face deportation and a life of uncertainty. I have heard the hardship.

I know that the President has the powers that Lamar Smith wanted a previous President to use and I want this President to use those powers more often.

But it is not simply a matter of hardship or compassion. That may be persuasive to you and me, but does not move the so-called law and order proponents on the other side of the aisle.

This is a matter of law and order and Lamar Smith is on the wrong side.

John Morton, the head of ICE, told Congress last year that his agency has the capacity to deport 390,000 to 400,000 immigrants. Homeland Security is already filling up that quota with deportations, whether people are criminals or not -- and this Administration lifts up the fact that it is deporting more men, women, and children than any other in recent history -- about 392,000 people.

But think about it. If our capacity to move people through the system is about 400,000 people and we are at that capacity now, then every time we choose to deport a DREAM Act student or rip a mother from her U.S. citizen child, we are using up a slot that could be used to deport a felon. Every court date we schedule to adjudicate a case against a father of two U.S. citizens with 15 or 20 years of contributions to this country is a deportation slot for a criminal or gangbanger we can't use.

Lamar Smith is saying the Obama Administration should deport everyone they find -- even though the ultimate goal of deporting 11 million men, women, and children is a fairy tale every bit as fantastic as the new Harry Potter movie.

The Republicans are saying "deport 'em all" and don't bother starting with the thugs, get the maids, the moms and the babies too.

Well, the President and we Democrats say we should deport the people who threaten peace and property and who have proven by their actions that they cannot and should not be part of our society. We should make them the priority and use our capacity to deport people to get them out and keep them out.

And the Republicans say that this President cannot be trusted to make such judgments or set such priorities -- as Commander in Chief -- about who is a priority and who is not. That is petty partisan politics at its worst.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on July 15, 2011 1:45 PM.

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