HALT, an immigration-enforcement bill, is necessary because President Obama is seeking “backdoor amnesty” for millions of undocumented immigrants, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said Tuesday during a House Judiciary committee hearing.

HALT — or the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act — is cosponsored by Florida Republicans Vern Buchanan, Richard Nugent and C.W. Bill Young.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., responded during the hearing that HALT — which would expire in January  2013, one day after the next presidential inauguration — assumes that President Obama cannot be trusted to enforce immigration laws using the authority all other presidents have exercised.

Jessica Vaughan (.pdf), the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, testified at Tuesday’s hearing that “HALT would not have an impact on immigration levels, law enforcement or how immigration agencies do their jobs but it would prevent any further harm to Americans or legal residents if the administration and its appointees in the immigration agencies were allowed to expand their efforts to bring about an ill-advised legalization scheme though executive action.”

She added that the Obama administration wants to wave in as many immigrants as possible, to scale back immigration enforcement and legalize as many of America’s 11 million aliens as possible.

Contrary to Vaughan’s position, Margaret Stock (.pdf) — a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, an immigration attorney with 15 years experience and a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association — said in her testimony that HALT is costly, misguided and irresponsible, and would hinder law enforcement and hurt millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Stock added in her written statement that HALT would “suspend several existing executive branch powers that include protections for U.S. citizens and legal residents who would suffer hardship if their family members were deported.”

A report published ahead of the Judiciary committee hearing by the Immigration Policy Center explains that HALT would eliminate:

  • Temporary Protected Status, recently used to allow thousands of undocumented Haitians to remain in the U.S. in the wake of the 2010 earthquake;
  • Humanitarian Parole, “used sparingly to bring someone into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency”;
  • Deferred Action, a form of prosecutorial discretion that allows law enforcement officials “to not pursue enforcement against a person for a specific period of time.”

Stock added an example of how parole helped the immigrant spouse of an active member of the military and how deferred action supports victims of domestic violence who risk deportation.

Smith, who proposed HALT, said that the Obama administration picks the laws it chooses to enforce, saying that the use of some enforcement tools, such as worksite immigration enforcement, are down.

In response, Rep. Zoe Lofgren D-Calif., said that during the last two years of the Bush administration the Department of Homeland Security averaged 29,000 grants of deferred action while the current administration has averaged 28,000 grants of deferred action.

Conyers added that in the first two fiscal years, the Obama administration deported 779,000 people, an 18 percent increase over the last two years of the Bush administration.

Smith argued that the administration is using prosecutorial discretion and deferred action to push through an administrative amnesty for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Reps. Logfren, Conyers and Pedro Perluisi, D-P.R., said the administration is working to implement prosecutorial discretion and deferred action along with sustained immigration law enforcement at the border and the detention and deportation of criminal undocumented immigrants who are a threat to U.S. citizens.

They all cited the recent memo issued by ICE Executive Director John Morton to defend their arguments. The memo (.pdf) provides ICE personnel “guidance on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement resources are focused on the agency’s enforcement priorities.”

HALT supporters say the Morton memo authorizes all ICE field office directors, special agents in charge and chief counsels “to decline to remove illegal aliens who meet the qualifications for amnesty under the DREAM Act.” They call this an example of administrative amnesty.

Chris Crane (.pdf) — the president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, which represents about 7,200 ICE employees — testified that the recent ICE memo takes away discretion power from officers, overwhelms them with more work and cannot be applied in the field, while establishing a mandate to not enforce immigration law.

Crane said his members disagree with efforts to end Secure Communities, but they also abhor ICE misleading the public. Crane said ICE has integrity issues, saying management priorities are based on politics and not officer and public safety.

Crane, recently appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Committee on Secure Communities, added that he is the only ICE agent on the committee, while half the committee members are immigrant advocates and not one member is a public advocate for reforms through stronger enforcement.

Secure Communities is under scrutiny due to the efforts of immigrant advocates, civil rights groups, research centers and elected officials in New York, Illinois and Massachusetts who have said they do not want to participate in the federal immigration program.

Crane added that ICE refuses to put directives in writing because management doesn’t want the public to know that ICE officers are not supposed to arrest certain groups of aliens. Asked about these orders, he said fellow officers who could provide testimony fear speaking up because they would ruin their careers. When asked to give the names of ICE officials who have issued these orders he also declined, but offered to give them at a later date.

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