Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Authorization Act (H.R. 2406).
Chairman Goodlatte: Following enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, this country witnessed one of the largest government reorganizations in its history. Much of this was based on the trailblazing work of Jim Sensenbrenner. The Homeland Security Act included provisions transferring the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s functions to the Department of Homeland Security that were based on Mr. Sensenbrenner’s “Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act.” That legislation was passed by the House and would have abolished the INS and established separate offices to conduct immigration enforcement and provide immigration benefits.
Under the Homeland Security Act, the INS’s functions were transferred to several agencies within DHS. The Act placed responsibility over both immigration enforcement and customs enforcement in the same directorate within DHS.
In 2003, the Bush Administration submitted a DHS Reorganization Plan Modification. The plan called for the creation of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would comprise the INS’s interior enforcement functions as well as the interior enforcement functions of the Customs Service and the Federal Protective Service. Its mission would be to “[e]nforce the full range of immigration and customs laws within the interior of the United States” and to “protect specified federal buildings.” Pursuant to the Bush Administration’s plan, ICE was established and became DHS’ investigative wing. While this was all done in accordance with the Homeland Security Act, nowhere does the Act specifically create an agency tasked with interior enforcement of the immigration and customs laws.
ICE’s mission, especially on the investigative side, is hampered by its lack of statutory authority. As a critical law enforcement agency, it is past time that we formally establish ICE by authorizing it in statute.
H.R. 2406, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Authorization Act, does exactly that – it enshrines ICE’s important work in statute and facilitates the successful accomplishment of its mission.
Specifically, this bill establishes the agency and all positions and component offices including the Director, Homeland Security Investigations, Enforcement and Removal Operations, and the Office of Principal Legal Advisor.
It also clarifies that ICE’s mission is exactly what the Bush Administration intended it to be: to protect the United States by “enforcing the full range of immigration and customs laws within the interior of the United States.”
While H.R. 2406 seeks to maintain ICE’s current operating structure, the bill does make needed adjustments to the duties of each component. Notably, H.R. 2406 places primary investigative jurisdiction over transnational criminal gangs, weapons prosecutions, and non-national security related visa overstays with Enforcement and Removal Operations. These changes will provide for more efficiency in terms of ultimate removals from the United States while simultaneously allowing special agents within Homeland Security Investigations to focus on larger-scale national security, fraud, and customs investigations.
The current agency structure limits ERO’s investigative authority and provides ERO with no access to certain essential DHS databases. To support the agency in its mission, H.R. 2406 provides ERO with such access to ensure that both HSI and ERO may benefit from crucial databases for the processing and retention of evidence.
H.R. 2406 also statutorily authorizes the recently established Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office or VOICE. Tasked with keeping victims and their families informed about the status of criminal aliens and providing resources for victims’ services, this office will play a crucial role within the agency.
This bill cannot fully anticipate the future needs of the agency and thus authorizes the establishment of new offices, executive associate directors, and officers as needed to carry out the agencies’ duties. H.R. 2406 does not permit the creation of any “public advocate” office within ICE to advocate for illegal aliens—an office for which Congress has prohibited in multiple appropriations bills.
H.R. 2406 provides long-awaited statutory authority for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and gives it a structure designed to carry out its functions.
In addition, H.R. 2406 gives U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the resources that it needs. By providing additional officers, trial attorneys, as well as equipment and weapons, this bill will ensure that the agency is equipped with the necessary manpower, expertise, and tools to carry out the mission and stay safe in the process.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Authorization Act is an important aspect of an overall DHS reauthorization bill and is crucial for ICE at this juncture. I urge my colleagues to support the bill.