The House Judiciary Committee is taking up a bill this week that would make felons out of the vast majority of undocumented immigrants overnight.
The bill would repeal the president’s November 20 immigration directives, which would give 5 million parents and DREAMers temporary legal protection and work authorization; make illegal presence a crime rather than a civil offense; and overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States, which rightfully struck down much of S.B.1070, Arizona’s law that put state and local enforcement of immigration on steroids. Taken together, all the bill’s provisions amount to a strategy for comprehensive mass deportation.
The House Judiciary Committee’s current focus on making life as difficult as possible for unauthorized immigrants — including stand-alone bills to make the government’s E-Verify system mandatory for all employers, to make it more difficult for those fleeing violence and persecution to gain asylum, and to strip important protections from child refugees — smacks of the discredited “self-deportation” strategy pursued by states like Arizona, with S.B. 1070, and candidates like Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
But the bill dubbed the Michael J. Davis, Jr. in Honor Of State And Local Law Enforcement Act goes far beyond simply self-deportation. This comprehensive enforcement measure — a reboot of the SAFE Act from 2013 — is as far from actual comprehensive immigration reform as possible. Whereas the comprehensive reform plan passed by the Senate in 2013 would have put the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country on a pathway to citizenship while making strategic investments in our border security and fixing our legal immigration system, this bill would, among other provisions:
- Turn the civil penalty of being in the country without authorization into a criminal one, making felons out of the vast majority of the undocumented population overnight. (Secs. 315 and 316)
- Make immigration agents out of all state and local law enforcement officials (Sec. 102), opening the door to the types of racial profiling problems that stood at the heart of bills like Arizona’s S.B. 1070.
- Overturn state TRUST Acts,passed by states like California to limit the damages from excessive immigration enforcement on otherwise law-abiding immigrants. (Secs. 114 and 115)
- Reinstate the problematic Secure Communities program that had been ended with the DHS directives, and pump it full of steroids: DHS would be required to detain any immigrant picked up by states and localities, rather than having the discretion to consider the merits of the individual’s case. (Sec. 108)
- Remove the possibility of any affirmative relief, such as deferred action or withholding of removal, for many immigrants, even when they have compelling reasons, such as family unity, to remain in the country (Secs. 201 and 603).
Just over a year ago House Speaker John Boehner (R-IL) floated a set of Republican standards for immigration reform that would have created a pathway to legal status for many of the same people that this bill would criminalize. But this type of reform is nowhere in sight. Instead, the mass deportation bill at hand would place the 5 million potential beneficiaries back in the deportation queue, and increase the criminal penalties on all other undocumented immigrants.
Philip E. Wolgin is the Associate Director for Immigration at the Center for American Progress