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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - H.R. 2278, "The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (the SAFE Act)"


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: Successful immigration reform must address effective interior enforcement. This is an integral piece of the puzzle. We can't just be fixated on securing the border, which undoubtedly is an issue of paramount concern. We must focus on interior enforcement, or more precisely what to do with unlawful immigrants who make it past the border and legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas and thus become unlawfully present in the U.S.

Any real immigration reform effort must guarantee that our laws be enforced following a legalization program. This is required, in order to ensure that future generations do not have to deal with once again legalizing millions more people.

Interior enforcement of our immigration laws is critical to the success of our immigration system. Unfortunately, the Senate bill actually weakens interior enforcement in many areas or is simply ineffectual. The Senate bill allows aggravated felons who are currently subject to mandatory detention to be released in the care of advocacy organizations. The Senate bill provides an unworkable framework for deporting gang members. The Senate bill directs DHS to ignore criminal convictions under state laws for crimes such as human smuggling, harboring, trafficking, and gang crimes when adjudicating applications for legalization.

Today we turn to H.R. 2278, the immigration enforcement bill introduced by Trey Gowdy, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Mr. Gowdy's legislation, H.R. 2278, actually strengthens federal immigration enforcement.

One reason why our immigration system is broken today is because the present and past administrations have largely ignored the enforcement of our immigration laws. If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, we cannot allow the President to continue shutting down federal immigration enforcement efforts unilaterally. The SAFE Act will not permit that to happen.

I remain concerned that whatever enforcement provisions Congress passes will be subject to implementation by the current Administration, which fails to enforce the laws already on the books. DHS has released thousands of illegal and criminal immigrant detainees while providing ever-changing numbers to Congress regarding the same. DHS is forbidding ICE officers from enforcing the laws they are bound to uphold. A federal judge has already ruled DHS's actions are likely in violation of federal law. DHS is placing whole classes of unlawful immigrants in enforcement free zones. DHS claims to be removing more aliens than any other administration, but has to generate bogus numbers in order to do so.

Ultimately, the American people have little trust that an administration which has not enforced the law in the past will do so in the future. That is why real immigration reform needs to have mechanisms to ensure that the President cannot simply turn off the switch on immigration enforcement.

Mr. Gowdy's bill contains such a mechanism. Not only does the bill strengthen immigration enforcement by giving the federal government the tools it needs to enforce our laws but it also ensures that where the federal government fails to act, states can pick up the slack.

Pursuant to the SAFE Act, states and localities are provided with specific congressional authorization to assist in the enforcement of Federal immigration law. States and localities can also enact and enforce their own immigration laws as long as they are consistent with federal law. The SAFE Act shows how to avoid the mistakes of the past with regard to immigration law enforcement, especially the 1986 immigration law.

The bill expands the types of serious criminal activity for which we can remove aliens, including criminal gang membership, drunk driving, manslaughter, rape, and failure to register as a sex offender. The bill ensures these individuals cannot take advantage of our generous immigration laws.

In addition to criminal provisions, the bill strengthens federal law to make it more difficult for foreign terrorists and other foreign nationals who pose national security concerns to enter and remain in the United States. Of note, the bill bars foreign terrorists or aliens who threaten national security from receiving immigration benefits, such as naturalization and discretionary relief from removal. Such provisions are particularly relevant; following the Boston bombings, where naturalized aliens killed, maimed, and injured Americans. Under the bill, no immigration benefits can be provided to immigrants until all required background and security checks are completed -- another item that the Senate bill fails to include. Rather, the Senate bill actually authorizes the Secretary to waive background checks. Mr. Gowdy's bill also improves our nation's first line of defense - the visa issuance process.

Additionally, the SAFE Act lives up to its name and provides much needed assistance to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers carry out their jobs of enforcing federal immigration laws while keeping them safe.

Not only does the bill allow local law enforcement officials already working in their communities to pitch in to enforce our laws, but the bill also strengthens national security and protects our communities from those who wish to cause us harm. The SAFE Act provides a robust interior enforcement strategy that will maintain the integrity of our immigration system for the long term.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today and thank Mr. Gowdy for introducing this game changing legislation.

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