Markup of H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act" (SAFE)

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Markup of H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act" (SAFE)

Opening Statements

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
for the Markup of  H.R. 2278, the "Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act" (the SAFE Act)
by the Committee on the Judiciary

    I am greatly disappointed that we are here today to consider H.R. 2278, the SAFE Act, just days after it was the subject of a contentious legislative hearing.

    This bill moves our conversation in the wrong direction and returns the immigration debate to partisan solutions that have failed in the past.

    Put simply: this bill takes a dangerous approach to a complicated problem and it will harm communities across the United States.

    Among the bill's greatest shortcomings is that it makes it a crime—potentially a felony—to be undocumented in this country.  That is not the kind of tough, but fair, solution our nation needs.

    Not surprisingly, a similar proposal considered in the past was rightly rejected.

    Another major problem with the bill is that by giving state and local law enforcement officers unprecedented authority to enforce federal immigration laws, the SAFE Act will actually make our communities less safe.

    By immediately converting all police officers into immigration agents, this bill will effectively force them to make public safety a distant second priority.

    Study after study has shown that when police officers become immigration agents, crime victims and witnesses fear to come forward.  This leaves crimes unreported and unsolved and thereby diminishes public safety.  

    And, if the states and localities decide the best way to promote public safety and community policing is to adopt policies regarding the immigration enforcement actions of our police officers, this bill denies those jurisdictions "Cops on the Beat" grants.

    Although these grants are specifically designed to promote public safety and enhance community policing, this bill would prioritize immigration enforcement over public safety in every community across our nation.

    Third, the legislation will result in widespread racial profiling and unconstitutional arrests of U.S. citizens and immigrants alike.

    How do we know this?   Because it has happened in jurisdictions across the U.S. that entered into 287(g) agreements with the Department of Homeland Security.

    We have seen it in Maricopa County, where a federal judge just ordered the Sheriff Joe Arpaio to cease his unconstitutional conduct.

    We have seen it in Alamance County, North Carolina, which had its 287(g) agreement terminated based on findings of abuse by the Department of Justice.

    So what does this bill do?  Rather than improve on current practice and require more oversight over 287(g) agreements, it grants total enforcement authority with no checks at all.

    Finally, I am very troubled by the lack of due process in this legislation.  The bill authorizes state and local governments to hold a person for 14 days based on nothing more than the belief that the person has violated immigration laws.

    And, if a state or local official issues a detainer on such a person, the detention can continue until the Department of Homeland Security assumes custody.

    The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights correctly characterizes this bill as "heavy-handed and irresponsible."

    In closing, the premise of the SAFE Act is that we can enforce our way out of the problem created by an immigration system that has been broken for decades.  

    But we have tried this before and it has failed before.

    Just eight years ago, this committee considered H.R. 4437, a very similar bill that sparked a firestorm of public outrage.

    Just like the SAFE Act, H.R. 4437 turned millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight, turned local police into feared immigration agents, and trampled due process.

    At that time, I said that the bill "is so heinous and extreme that Democrats on this committee agree that this bill cannot be fixed.  It is a nonstarter."

    It gives me no pleasure to say the same words about the bill before us today.