A Tale of Two Chambers

U.S. Capitol

Both chambers of Congress are now working toward enacting much needed reforms to our nation’s broken immigration system.  However, while the Senate continues to move forward on a sweeping, comprehensive, and bipartisan immigration reform bill, the House looks to be taking a decidedly different approach.  Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act“ (HR 2278), piecemeal legislation that is not only highly partisan but that would ultimately fail to provide Americans with the 21st century immigration system they deserve.

A Spring of Hope
The Senate bill (S.744) is a bipartisan piece of legislation, crafted after months of careful negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, and offers an opportunity to restore the rule of law and fix our broken immigration system.  The bill includes compromises, yet  leaders from business, labor, faith, and civil rights communities are encouraged by the forward movement on the legislation.  The Senate had a strong, bipartisan vote to begin debate on the legislation and demonstrated that they understand, as do the American people, that 2013 is the year of immigration reform.  They recognize that reform helps American families, workers, our security and our economy.  Plus, as the Congressional Budget Office has now made clear, they understand that S.744 would greatly reduce the federal budget deficit over the next two decades.

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The Winter of Despair
Unfortunately, the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee have opted instead to advance draconian measures, beginning with yesterday’s approval of the fundamentally flawed bill, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (HR 2278).” The bill relies on an enforcement-only approach that has already been discredited but that some Republicans in the House are now trying to resurrect. The bill that was approved by the committee contains provisions that would turn local law enforcement officers into immigration agents, would encourage racial profiling, and would allow local governments to create and enforce new criminal penalties for undocumented individuals present in the country.

As encouraging as it is to see Republicans and Democrats working together in the Senate to pass meaningful reform, it is equally discouraging to see the lack of cooperation in the House. While Democrats in the Senate actively tried to secure affirmative votes from Republicans during markup of S.744, Republicans in the House have only pushed Democrats away from the table. Despite it being clear that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee could not support the SAFE Act, Republicans nevertheless moved forward with markup of the bill.  In fact, they doubled down by offering amendments that would make the bill significantly worse—and impossible for Democrats to support.

The Manager’s Amendment, offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.), contained provisions that will limit the power of federal courts to hold local governments accountable for immigration enforcement abuses, as occurred with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  The Manager’s Amendment also contained a provision that makes being undocumented in the U.S. a federal misdemeanor.  As Ranking Member of the Immigration Subcommittee Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) stated, it would “turn millions into criminals over night.”

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), sought to eliminate birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents. Not only do the American people oppose the denial of birthright citizenship to these children, but the Supreme Court has also time and time again affirmed the citizenship rights of children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents. This amendment was so terrible that Rep. King was forced to withdraw it lacking support even from much of his own party.

The SAFE Act is not a building block but a stumbling block
In a press release following the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.) claimed, “approval of the SAFE Act brings us one step closer to solving the immigration puzzle.”  However, this assessment is as flawed as the bill itself.  Instead of helping to solve the puzzle, the SAFE Act would add new and unnecessary pieces to the puzzle. It is time for Republicans in the House to get serious about immigration reform and stop playing games with the American people.

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