House GOP Finds Everything Wrong With Immigration Law And Tries to Make It Worse

The House Judiciary Committee gets started on immigration this week with a deportation bill that could pull reform dramatically right.

By Seth Freed Wessler Jun 17, 2013

After acting for months like the delinquent little cousin of the Senate, the House Judiciary Committee will finally take up immigration reform tomorrow when it considers a bill introduced on Friday by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC.  But unlike the Senate immigration reform package that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants while also expanding border and workplace enforcement, the Gowdy bill does only the later, and in the worst way. The SAFE Act, as it’s called, would vastly expand immigration enforcement programs, curtail legal rights of non-citizens and authorize state and local law enforcement to act like immigration agents whenever they want to.  

"The SAFE Act is a callous assault on immigrants and will just lead to more detentions and deportations," says Silky Shah of Detention Watch Network. "It would allow for the prolonged detention of thousands of immigrants and require expansion of detention."

On it’s face, the bill looks like the kind of grandstanding for which the House GOP has become well known.  While the SAFE Act won’t become law on it’s own–the Senate would never pass the thing–it’s nonetheless positioned to pull the whole immigration reform process drastically to the right.  That’s because if the bill passes the House it could be among the pieces of legislation that get thrown into a House-Senate conference committee assigned to work out the differences between the two chambers’ immigration reform visions and spit out a shared bill for vote. Any process that involves adding the SAFE Act to the already compromised, enforcement heavy Senate bill, is likely to prodice a deeply punishing bill.

Here’s some of what the SAFE Act does:

  • Hands states and localities the power to pass and enforce their own criminal and civil penalties for immigration violations.  The provision is in direct opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year over Arizona’s SB 1070.
  • Authorize all local police to act as immigration agents, essentially nationalizing the 287(g) program, which has been widely criticized for encouraging racial profiling and eroding police-community trust.  
  • Lets local cops detain immigrants in their jails for up to two weeks and then requires ICE to lock up all immigrants that local cops detain.
  • Expands the kinds and categories of crimes that make people mandatorily deportable, without recourse to a judge. This would include people the government "has reason to believe" have ever been a member of a gang, even without a conviction.

In all, the bill is a wish list of far-right immigration enforcement provisions–the very kinds of things that much of the GOP establishment now says the party needs to move away from. The GOP leadership, including House Judiciary Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, have been quick to say that this bill is just one of several that the committee will work on in coming weeks, including a legalization program and a new guest worker bill. The four bills are meant to come together as a sort of piecemeal immigration fix.

If the House fails to pass a single "comprehensive" immigration bill, these laws are likely to get thrown into a House-Senate committee. And here’s the thing: the Senate bill is already brimming with enforcement provisions including nearly $7 billion in new cash for border enforcement and additional funding to prosecute people who cross the border. It won’t be a pretty picture if that framework moves right.