WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Democratic controlled Senate is poised to pass a broad-ranging bill that would legalize illegal immigrants but House Republicans are saying not so fast. They are entering new testimony into the debate with a two-part hearing that began today that will look at the need for legal immigration as well as examine President Obama’s record on border security and enforcement.
The chief of the union that represents agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee that ICE agents cannot arrest and enact deportation proceedings until most illegal immigrants have three misdemeanor convictions.
A former chief of deportations in the Bush administration testified to Congress on Tuesday that had President Obama’s non-deportation policies been in effect before 9/11 a number of the hijackers would have been allowed to remain in the country even if they had been detained before the attacks.
“Most Americans would be surprised to know that immigration agents are regularly prohibited from enforcing the two most fundamental sections of United States immigration law,” said Chris Crane, president of National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council. “According to ICE policy, in most cases, immigration agents can no longer arrest persons solely for entering the United States illegally.”
Mr. Obama’s first four years were characterized by record deportations of aliens with criminal records, but far fewer rank-and-file illegal immigrants. The current administration has directed agents to arrest individuals with serious criminal histories while creating a new program for illegal immigrant young adults brought here by their parents to give them official legal status.
The President’s moves have the support of immigrant-rights advocates but incurred the opposition of others wanting to see a clampdown on illegal immigration.
The Judiciary Committee is hearing from eight witnesses, including San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote address at Democratic National Convention last year, and former ICE Director Julie Myers Wood, who ran the agency for the last few years of the Bush administration.
Mr. Castro believes there is bipartisan momentum for getting a bill done, and defends the Obama administration’s record. “In Texas, we know firsthand that this administration has put more boots on the ground along the border than at any time in our history, which has led to unprecedented success in removing dangerous individuals with criminal records,” he said in his prepared testimony.
But Ms. Wood says the focus on criminals “poses a potentially serious threat to our system. It sends a message to those that seek to cause harm: if they can come in the United States illegally, but not immediately commit any additional crimes, they are likely to be left alone. Left alone to plan, take steps, cause harm,” she said.
Wood said the administration policy would have overlooked “individuals like several of the 9/11 hijackers, who ‘merely’ lied to obtain state identification documents or on their visa applications.”
Four Republican senators are working with four Democratic senators on legislation to legalize illegal immigrants. But House Republicans aren’t as willing to make concessions to those who seem intent on making the road to legal citizenship easier for those who came to this country illegally.