|For Immediate Release
July 26, 2011
Contact: Jessica Baker, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Member Lamar Smith
Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement
Hearing on H.R. 2497, the “HALT Act”
Chairman Smith: The American people have called upon Congress to defeat several amnesty bills in recent years. Following Congress’ rejection of these attempts, the current administration now wants to grant a “backdoor amnesty” to illegal immigrants.
What had once been rumor fueled by leaked administration memos is now official Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy as of last month. The Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued two directives on the scope of DHS officers’ prosecutorial discretion that could allow millions of illegal and criminal immigrants to avoid our immigration laws.
The memos tell agency officials when to exercise “prosecutorial discretion,” such as when to defer the removal of immigrants, when not to stop, question, arrest or detain an immigrant, and when to dismiss a removal proceeding.
The directives also tell officials not to seek to remove illegal immigrants who have been present illegally for many years. Millions of illegal immigrants have been in the U.S. since the 1990s. So the ICE directives literally apply to millions of illegal immigrants.
DHS’s plan to open the door to mass administrative amnesty is a rejection of Congress’ constitutional rights and shows utter disdain towards the wishes of the American people.
Prosecutorial discretion is justifiable when used responsibly. In fact, I and others asked Clinton administration INS Commissioner Doris Meissner to issue guidelines recognizing that “[t]rue hardship cases [involving deportable legal immigrants] call for the exercise of discretion.”
Commissioner Meissner did so. But she was careful to point out that prosecutorial discretion “must be used responsibly” and that “exercising prosecutorial discretion does not lessen the INS’s commitment to enforce the immigration laws to the best of our ability. It is not an invitation to violate or ignore the law.”
Just this March, Meissner stated that “[p]rosecutorial discretion should be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and should not be used to immunize entire categories of noncitizens from immigration enforcement.”
Unfortunately, the ICE memos make clear that DHS plans not to use but to abuse these powers. If the Obama administration has its way, millions of illegal immigrants will be able to live and work legally in the United States. This unilateral decision will saddle American communities with the costs of providing education and medical care to illegal immigrants. It will also place our communities at risk by not deporting criminal immigrants.
As a result, Senator Vitter and I introduced the HALT Act. This legislation prevents the Obama administration from abusing its authority to grant a mass administrative amnesty to illegal immigrants.
The Obama administration should not pick and choose which laws it will enforce. Congress must put a halt to the administration’s backdoor amnesty.