Chairman Goodlatte:  Today the House Judiciary Committee will mark up its first immigration bill. Over the past six months, the Committee has convened numerous hearings on immigration and introduced several pieces of legislation that address many of the issues plaguing our immigration system. We have, and will continue, to take a step by step approach to immigration reform, thoroughly examining each piece in detail. Today’s markup is important to the immigration debate and the future enforcement of our laws, but it’s important to note that it’s one component of the larger process. There are still many issues left to address.

In 1986, Americans were promised vigorous interior enforcement but that promise was never kept. Today, nearly 30 years later, this Committee is marking up an immigration bill which delivers the robust interior enforcement that Americans demand. It is a fulfillment of our longstanding promise to the American people.

Successful immigration reform must address effective interior enforcement. This is an integral piece of the puzzle. We can’t just be fixated on securing the border, which undoubtedly is an issue of paramount concern. We must also focus on what to do with aliens who make it past the border and legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas.

As many members of the law enforcement community have told us, any real immigration reform effort must guarantee that our laws will be enforced within the U.S., so that future generations do not have to once again grapple with these issues.

H.R. 2278, the immigration enforcement bill introduced by Trey Gowdy, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, decisively strengthens federal immigration enforcement.

The primary reason why our immigration system is broken today is because the present and past administrations have largely ignored the enforcement of our immigration laws.  If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, we cannot allow the President to continue shutting down federal immigration enforcement efforts unilaterally.  The SAFE Act will not permit that to happen.

Any enforcement provisions Congress passes are subject to implementation by the current Administration, which fails to enforce the laws already on the books. DHS has released thousands of illegal and criminal immigrant detainees while providing ever-changing numbers to Congress regarding the same. DHS is forbidding ICE officers from enforcing the laws they are bound to uphold. One federal judge has already ruled DHS’s actions are likely in violation of federal law. DHS is placing whole classes of unlawful immigrants in enforcement free zones in violation of congressional intent. DHS claims to be removing more aliens than any other administration, but has to generate bogus numbers in order to do so.

The American people have little trust that an administration which has not enforced the law in the past will do so in the future. Real immigration reform needs to have mechanisms to ensure that the President cannot simply turn off the switch on immigration enforcement.

Mr. Gowdy’s bill contains such a mechanism. Not only does the bill strengthen immigration enforcement by giving the Federal government the tools it needs to enforce our laws but it also ensures that where the federal government fails to act, states can pick up the slack.

The SAFE Act provides states and localities with specific congressional authorization to assist in the enforcement of Federal immigration law.  States and localities can also enact and enforce their own immigration laws as long as they are consistent with federal law.  The SAFE Act shows how to avoid the mistakes of the past with regard to immigration law enforcement, especially the 1986 immigration law.

The bill expands the types of serious criminal activity for which we can remove aliens, including criminal gang membership, drunk driving, manslaughter, rape, and failure to register as a sex offender. The bill would help people like Jamiel Shaw, whose son was a star high-school football player gunned down by an illegal alien gang member. The bill would do so by enabling DHS to deport alien gang members.

Additionally, as Chris Crane, the head of the ICE Union indicated, the SAFE Act lives up to its name and provides much needed assistance to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers carry out their jobs of enforcing federal immigration laws while keeping them safe.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill actually weakens interior enforcement in many areas or is simply ineffectual. The Senate bill allows aggravated felons who are currently subject to mandatory detention to be released in the care of advocacy organizations. The Senate bill directs DHS to ignore criminal convictions under state laws for crimes such as human smuggling, harboring, trafficking, and gang crimes when adjudicating applications for legalization.

The SAFE Act provides a robust interior enforcement strategy that will maintain the integrity of our immigration system for the long term.

I will be offering a manager’s amendment to strengthen and clarify some of the provisions in this bill. Most importantly, my amendment is designed to ensure that liberal federal judges cannot undermine the ability of states and localities to assist with the enforcement of immigration laws. And it provides that illegal immigrants convicted of DUIs will be detained so that they cannot continue to imperil innocent lives.

This legislation is being considered through an open process in which members will have the opportunity to fully vet it and offer improvements through amendments.  We welcome all ideas and suggestions to improve our immigration system. To be clear, the Committee is engaged in a step-by-step process to methodically look at each piece of immigration reform in detail. We also intend to look at proposals to reform our legal immigration laws and to address the millions of individuals currently living unlawfully in the U.S.

Today we review a game-changing piece of legislation, and I thank Mr. Gowdy for introducing it.