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Immigration Policy

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, 2 weeks ago, two new words were added to the American immigration policy: ``Prosecutorial discretion.''

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to not deport certain classes of aliens who are in the country illegally. Instead, these illegal aliens will be given 2-year work permits that can be renewed indefinitely. The reason Secretary Napolitano and President Obama have given the American people for this de facto amnesty program is prosecutorial discretion.

The Secretary and the President claim that the Department of Homeland Security personnel can use their discretion to decide what individuals they can and cannot deport. But in Federal immigration law, this discretion does not exist. Congress took it away from the executive branch in 1996 when it passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

The law requires, and I will repeat that, this law requires immigration officials to address illegal aliens when they become aware that they are in the country illegally. It clearly spells out the actions that must be taken by Federal officials.

In fact, according to one of the Nation's leading experts on immigration, Congress, frustrated at the time because the Clinton administration was using it to let thousands of illegal aliens remain in the United States, wrote the law to remove that discretion. In other words, the discretion that President Obama and Secretary Napolitano claim they use no longer exists because Congress deliberately eliminated it in 1996. By stating they still have it, President Obama and Secretary Napolitano are actually ordering Federal immigration officials to break the law.

Since the executive branch is citing a privilege that no longer exists in ordering Federal immigration officials to break the 1996 immigration act which was passed by Congress and signed into law, today, I'm calling on the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees to hold hearings to investigate the legality of this decision to use so-called ``prosecutorial discretion.''

Just this week we heard from the United States Supreme Court that because the Federal Government writes immigration laws, State laws must work in harmony with the Federal Government. In striking down part of Arizona's S.B. 1070, the High Court's majority said that Federal law shall be the supreme law of the land when laws do not work in harmony with the Federal scheme or when Federal law is explicit. Well, in this case, the law is very clear: there is no prosecutorial discretion.

Now, Mr. Speaker, my district in Pennsylvania has one of the highest unemployment rates in the State, and our country is still reeling from one of the worst recessions we have ever faced. The Department of Homeland Security's unlawful action could have grave consequences on our labor force and on our economy, both at the local and national levels.

Additionally, allowing individuals with forged documents to remain in this country could pose a serious threat to our homeland security.

Let me also state that I am troubled by the expansion of the authority of the President that he believes he has. In the past, President Obama clearly stated he had to follow existing immigration laws. During a town hall meeting with Univision in March 2011, he said:

America is a Nation of laws, which means I, as the President, am obligated to enforce the law. I don't have a choice about that.

During that same town hall meeting, President Obama also said:

There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system, that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.

So what changed? In the last 15 months, did Congress grant the President new powers? I don't remember doing that. Fifteen months ago, President Obama said he can't ignore congressional mandates. But suddenly, 2 weeks ago, he can? Again, I ask, what changed?

I'm concerned President Obama overstepped his constitutional authority in this case, just as he did in claiming executive privilege in Operation Fast and Furious. That's why these two committees must hold formal hearings and investigate this claim of discretion and the unilateral rewriting of Federal immigration policy.


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