July 14, 2011

Washington—Today, Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett held a press conference to challenge a new bill filed by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), which would restrict the immigration enforcement powers of President Obama for the remainder of his term.  It would prevent the President from prioritizing criminals, terrorists, and other threats for deportation over non-criminal immigrants with deep roots in U.S. society.

“What we need to halt is the blame-game politics brokered by Republicans like Mr. Smith that only seek to stall real progress on immigration reform,” said Rep. Doggett.  “Instead of focusing on real criminals, the Republicans say we should deport exemplary college students. Instead of deporting repeat offenders, the Republicans would have our law enforcement deport the spouses and loved ones of soldiers serving overseas.”

Known as the HALT Act ("Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation Act"), the bill would suspend until January 21, 2013 the powers of this president to deprioritize certain deportations and legal proceedings in order to prioritize the removal of convicted, serious criminals and other threats.   

Rep. Doggett and his colleagues at the press conference pointed out that the powers the HALT Act would restrict are the same prosecutorial powers that Rep. Smith and others have called on previous presidents to use to prevent the deportation of law-abiding immigrants, including in a 1999 letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno [linked to here, signed by Rep. Smith].  The New York Times, in an editorial Wednesday, said Rep. Smith's changed position on the use of prosecutorial discretion was "Hard to explain…although hypocrisy and rank opportunism seem likely."

“This contradiction demonstrates yet another attempt by Representative Smith to engage in a political game centered on blaming our broken immigration system on immigrants,” said Rep. Doggett.  “This is nothing more than a distraction from genuine efforts to improve our immigration system and through modest reforms like finally exacting the DREAM Act to give students the opportunity to achieve their full, God-given potential.”

Prosecutorial guidelines released June 17 by ICE Director John Morton called on his agency to prioritize criminal deportations over the deportation of non-criminals with deep ties to America, including students brought here at a young age.  Rep. Smith objects to such prioritization and wants to prevent any consideration of extenuating circumstances, conditions in the home country (including natural disasters and civil war), and almost any other consideration that could delay or prevent a deportation.  A companion bill from Sen. David Vitter is expected in the Senate.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett is a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and a four-time sponsor of the DREAM Act.