Republicans and immigration enforcement hawks are denouncing the Obama administration’s newly announced policy of selective deportation. The policy would have the government evaluate each person currently in deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis using multiple criteria which were outlined in a memo issued by ICE director John Morton in June. Many undocumented immigrants without criminal records would be allowed to indefinitely stay in the United States and apply for work permits.
House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith (Texas) told the New York Times, “The Obama administration has again made clear its plan to grant backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants.” Smith has sponsored legislation that would remove the administration’s capacity to exercise discretion when choosing who to deport for the duration of Obama’s current term.
In a statement, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, whose state passed an immigration enforcement law of unprecedented stringency in 2010, issued a statement saying, “The Obama administration cannot get its amnesty schemes through Congress, so now it has resorted to implementing its plans via executive fiat.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a prominent restrictionist organization which was influential in pressuring Senate Republicans to kill the 2007 immigration reform effort under President Bush, issued a statement calling the new policy an “administrative amnesty and a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration policy without approval by Congress.”
FAIR, which has been deemed a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists (including its founder, John Tanton, whom FAIR has distanced itself from), has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of various attempts at “amnesty.” In the past year, Morton’s memo and the Obama-supported attempt by Senate Democrats to pass the DREAM Act during the lame-duck session were both decried as amnesty. Dan Stein, president of FAIR, has argued that the Hispanic Caucus voted for the Affordable Care Act only because of a promise of “mass amnesty” by Obama.
As promised, U.S. House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced on Tuesday a bill, titled the HALT Act, which would suspend the Obama administration’s ability to exercise discretion in prosecuting deportation cases. Smith was motivated to introduce the bill by a widely-discussed memo from Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton instructing officials to carefully weigh a number of factors, including criminal record, length of stay and age of the immigrant, when deciding whether to deport someone. Republicans called the memo a “stealth DREAM Act.”
It appears that Smith was not always so strongly opposed to discretion on the part of the executive branch when it comes to deportations. An editorial in the New York Times points out:
Back in 1999, Mr. Smith was one of several members of Congress who wrote the attorney general and the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, arguing that “unfair” deportations had caused “unjustifiable hardship” for otherwise law-abiding immigrants who had jobs and families and close citizen relatives. “True hardship cases call for the exercise of discretion,” the letter said. Hard to explain the change, although hypocrisy and rank opportunism seem likely.
In fact, the letter (PDF) called not just for discretion in non-criminal deportation cases but also cases where the crime committed had occurred when the immigrant in question was underage:
Cases of apparent extreme hardship have caused concern. Some cases may involve removal proceedings against legal permanent residents who came to the United States when they were very young, and many years ago committed a single crime at the lower end of the `aggravated felony’ spectrum, but have been law-abiding ever since, obtained and held jobs and remained self-sufficient, and started families in the United States. Although they did not become citizens, immediate family members are citizens.
The letter was also signed by other Republicans now considered immigration conservatives: then-congressman and current Georgia governor Nathan Deal, who earlier this year pushed for and signed that state’s new stringent immigration law; former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who endorsed a law similar to Georgia’s in his campaign for governor last year; and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, author of a 2006 federal immigration reform bill that drew massive protests from immigrant and Hispanic rights supporters across the country.
UPDATE: Rep. Smith has posted a response below similar to his letter to the editor of the New York Times published on Wednesday, stressing that the 1999 letter referred to discretion in the case of “legal – not illegal – immigrants who committed a single minor crime but have been a law abiding resident ever since.” He claims that President Obama is now abusing this power, which is why he has introduced the HALT Act.
On Wednesday, a U.S. House subcommittee will discuss a bill filed by chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that would require the use of E-Verify, the federal program that verifies if a worker is authorized to work in the U.S. #
The House Subcommittee on Immigration and Policy Enforcement will address Smith’s “Legal Workforce Act,” which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make the use of E-verify mandatory and permanent. #
While 26 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, 7 million individuals work illegally in the United States. On top of all the challenges Americans face today, it is inexcusable that Americans and legal workers have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs. #
Fortunately, there is a tool available to preserve jobs for legal workers: E-Verify. But the program is voluntary. Congress has the opportunity to expand E-Verify — including making it mandatory — so more job opportunities are made available to unemployed Americans. #
Tyler Moran, policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, said that if mandatory E-verify is implemented without broader immigration reform it will force some workers into the cash economy outside of our tax system, ship agricultural jobs overseas and force between 3 and 4 million American workers to stand in a government line to correct their records or lose their jobs, and that 770, 000 people will likely lose their jobs because of government database errors in E-Verify. #
Craig J. Regelbrugge, vice president for government relations and research at the American Nursery & Landscape Association said that mandatory E-Verify without broader solutions would have the largest impact on the agriculture and seasonal employment sectors of the economy, resulting in economic dislocation, production declines, fewer jobs and more imports. #
Moran added that Arizona is the best forecast of what mandatory E-Verify would look like without a legalization program. Implemented in January 2008, there are three significant outcomes from that Arizona law: Undocumented workers did not go home and most have moved into the cash economy; employers are coaching workers about how to get around the photo screening tool, the only mechanism to address ID theft; and half of employers are not using E-Verify for new hires despite penalties that could result in the loss of their business license. #
Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act, a decision that deepens the debate between between supporters and detractors of mandatory state and federal E-Verify programs. #
In Florida, GOP legislators this year filed immigration-enforcement bills that included state-level mandated E-Verify. The bills sparked widespread opposition and many organizations — including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — said they would harm the state’s image and economy. #
The proposed bill did not pass in the Florida legislative session. #
While the new-look Texas Legislature has grabbed the spotlight with an unprecedented attack on state spending, taking place behind the scenes and on smaller stages is a familiar struggle over redistricting.
Politico reported Monday on a conflict between U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) and Joe Barton (R-Ennis) over how many of Texas’ four new congressional districts should be drawn to favor Republicans, and how many should favor Democrats. Texas’ population gain in the past decade has been heavily driven by growth in the number of Hispanic residents, who tend to vote Democratic. Meanwhile, the GOP tsunami last fall swept Republicans Ciro Rodriguez (R-San Antonio) and Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) into districts that would probably require some tinkering in order to be considered ‘safe’ for the incumbents in more typical election years.
According to Politico, Smith is taking a more pragmatic approach to map-drawing, attempting to make deals to create two GOP-leaning districts and two Democratic-leaning districts. On the other hand, Barton is pushing for either three or four of the new districts to favor Republicans.
An anonymous “Republican insider” told Politico that Texas Republicans are taking Smith’s side of the argument — though anonymous Democratic sources said Barton is getting support from Gov. Rick Perry.
The Democrats also said, according to the story: “Perry has also considered the idea of skipping Justice Department review of the new congressional map and going directly to federal court for approval, Democrats added. Nearly all Voting Rights Act-mandated reviews are first conducted by the Justice Department, although Perry wants to avoid that step with the [Barack] Obama administration.”
If that is indeed Perry’s plan, it might not work. An expert on Voting Rights Act preclearance told the Texas Independent in late March that the state would probably not find any extra sympathy in front of a three-judge D.C. panel than it would from Department of Justice staffers.
“The legal standard used by the federal court is identical to the legal standard used by the DOJ,” he said.
Additionally, “the D.C. court is very deferential to the Justice Department, by and large,” Hebert said. “Because the DOJ reviews about 20,000 voting changes a year, and the D.C. court gets very few a year, they rely very heavily on the expertise of the DOJ.”
“I’ve often found that when a challenge is in the D.C. court, the court looks to the Justice Department for a great deal of guidance,” he said.
Today, the Rio Grande Guardian reported that the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) is suing Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry in a South Texas court, alleging “that the population numbers being used for the State’s 2011 redistricting process “severely undercounts Latinos.””
According to MALC’s petition, posted by the Guardian, “The creation of redistricting plans for Texas election districts using the defective 2010 census data discriminates against Latino voters and is not legally enforceable.”
MALC’s attorney Jose Garza told the Guardian, “There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps, tens of thousands for sure, of individuals who were simply not counted. The Legislature is making no accommodation for that. They are using 2010 Census as if it were perfect.”
As the Texas Tribune notes, attorney Mike Hull – whose clients include the conservative Texans for Lawsuit Reform — filed a suit earlier this year in a North Texas court, “saying in that filing that non-citizens shouldn’t be counted in drawing political districts and saying that their inclusion dilutes the relative voting strength of some citizens.”
According to the Tribune, “The suits, at this point, are mainly about where the inevitable redistricting lawsuits will be heard. MALC’s going for South Texas. Hull, who hasn’t named his actual clients, is going for North.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) said yesterday that a congressional proposal to allow states to declare bankruptcy is an attack on public employees and unions and counterproductive.
Speaking at House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the Role of Public Employee Pensions in Contributing to State Insolvency Conyers said that it is wrong to have states file for bankruptcy in order to get out of collective bargaining agreements and pension funding commitments.
“Let’s face it. This effort to have states file for bankruptcy is simply a blatant attack on public sector employees and unions,” Conyers said. “More than an attack on public employees and unions, if undertaken, states’ filing for bankruptcy would do more harm than good in compromising its bonds ratings, which could result in higher interest rates for municipal bonds and reduce states’ availability of credit. Now doesn’t Congress have more important concerns to deal with? Rather than wasting time on this proposal, we should be devoting our resources to the real problems Americans are facing, namely joblessness and home foreclosures.”
The state of Michigan has been ranked 27th most likely to file for bankruptcy.
The proposed bankruptcy rule change is drawing bipartisan opposition.
At the hearing yesterday Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said he had constitutional and policy concerns with the idea.
Even if Congress could enact a state bankruptcy chapter, it is also highly unlikely that any state would ever take advantage of it. The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures have announced that states do not want bankruptcy relief and would not use it.
States currently have ways to put their fiscal houses in order. Even the governors of traditionally union-friendly states already have taken steps to reduce state spending and reform their public employee pension systems.
Somos Republicans, a Latino group from the Southwest, wrote an open letter to the future House GOP leadership on Tuesday asking it to reconsider putting Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in charge of the House subcommittee on immigration and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in charge of the House Judiciary Committee.
The group argues that King and Smith’s anti-illegal immigration rhetoric and policy ideas, which include a proposal to end birthright citizenship for the American-born children of illegal immigrants, would alienate Latino voters and ruin the Republican party’s chances of defeating President Obama in 2012.
DeeDee Blase, the Somos Repubicans founder, explains:
Though it is constitutionally impossible that a mere Congressional “statute” will decide who gets to be a citizen, we believe that this insensitive and constant assailment on our Hispanic Community may push Hispanics further into the Independent, Libertarian or Democrat Party. Moreover, Hispanic voters were crucial in electing seven new Republican Hispanics to Congress and two new Republican Hispanic governors. However, Hispanics also vehemently and strongly rejected those Republicans that utilized harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and opted for a Democrat, as it occurred in the West Coast, Colorado and Nevada.
It is our sincere belief that if representatives Smith and King were to become the Chairs of the House Judiciary and Subcommittee on Immigration, and if they indeed continue such insensitive rhetoric towards Hispanics, the conditions for a Republican presidential candidate to garner the necessary Electoral College Delegates to win the 2012 presidency will not be possible. Most of those states with the highest number of Electoral College delegates reside in highly populated Hispanic states such as California, Texas, Florida and New York.
It’s tough to pin down exactly what determines Latino voting patterns — given, of course, that Latinos aren’t a unified voting bloc. But polls indicate some broad trends among Latino voters, such as general support for immigration reform and opposition to immigration crackdowns like Arizona’s SB 1070.
More specifically, nearly 80 percent of Latino voters said they opposed changes to the Constitution to alter birthright citizenship laws, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey released Oct. 28. Another 18 percent of Latinos overall said they supported changes to birthright citizenship. The number was slightly higher among Latino Republicans, 23 percent of whom said they supported changes to the 14th Amendment.
Beyond Latino voters, there is a near certainty that an effort to change birthright citizenship requirements would fail in the Senate or, at the very least, would be vetoed by Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has expressed opposition to the idea.
Even if it were to pass, some Republicans have said ending birthright citizenship would hurt the GOP. After the 14th Amendment became a hot topic in the Senate in early August, two Bush administration officials called the idea of changing the amendment “offensive” and said doing so would harm the party’s legacy and turn off minorities.
(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ryanjreilly)