Speaking at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference recently, President Obama said, “The idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. . . . But that is not how our system works.” The president is right to acknowledge that this isn’t how our government operates, but it seems the temptation to do things his own way is too much for him to withstand. This is especially true when it comes to our immigration laws.
Although Congress has defeated several amnesty bills in recent years, President Obama now wants to grant a backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants by using executive-branch authority.
What had once been a rumor fueled by leaked administration memos is, as of last month, official Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy. The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued two directives on the scope of DHS officers’ prosecutorial discretion that could allow millions of illegal and criminal immigrants to avoid our immigration laws.
The memos tell agency officials when to exercise “prosecutorial discretion,” such as when to defer the removal of immigrants; when not to stop, question, arrest, or detain an immigrant; and when to dismiss a removal proceeding.
The directives also tell officials not to seek to remove illegal immigrants who have been present illegally for many years. Millions of illegal immigrants have been in the U.S. since the 1990s.
Further, the ICE memos make clear that the administration plans not to use but to abuse these powers. If the Obama administration has its way, amnesty will be the official policy of the United States without a vote of Congress.
This will saddle American communities with the costs of providing education and medical care to illegal immigrants. It will also place our communities at risk by not deporting criminal immigrants.
As a result, I introduced the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act, also known as the HALT Act. This legislation prevents the Obama administration from abusing its authority to grant a mass administrative amnesty to illegal immigrants.
Regrettably, this isn’t the only instance in which President Obama has been tempted to do things his own way. It is part of a broader pattern of ignoring the law.
The Obama administration has all but abandoned worksite-enforcement efforts. Over the past two years, worksite-enforcement efforts fell 70 percent. Under this administration, there have been fewer arrests of illegal workers, as well as fewer criminal arrests, fewer indictments, and fewer convictions of illegal immigrants and employers.
While worksite-enforcement activities have plummeted, the Obama administration argues that it has increased the number of audits of employers. But audits do little to stop illegal immigration or discourage illegal hiring. Audits can result in fines, though employers consider them just the cost of doing business. Illegal workers are typically not arrested, so they continue to compete with citizens and legal immigrants for jobs.
We could open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans by requiring all employers to use E-Verify. This program quickly identifies those working illegally in the United States by checking the Social Security numbers of new hires. E-Verify takes only one to two minutes per hire to use, and confirms persons who are eligible to work 99.5 percent of the time. And over 270,000 employers voluntarily use it today.
Of course, lost jobs wouldn’t be as large a problem if the border itself were secure and illegal immigrants couldn’t enter in the first place. But according to the Government Accountability Office, only 44 percent of the southwest border is under “operational control” by the Border Patrol.
Completion of the border fence would help secure our border. We know that a border fence can be very effective — in San Diego, the fence reduced apprehensions by 95 percent. But there is no fence in many other areas.
To date, the administration has built only about 650 miles of the 800 miles of border fencing that Congress required in 2006. Of the 650 miles, only 299 have vehicle barriers. And even vehicle barriers can be easily bypassed.
President Obama and his administration should not pick and choose which laws they will enforce. The fact that the president doesn’t like our immigration laws doesn’t mean he shouldn’t enforce them. It appears that doing things on his own is not just tempting, it’s what President Obama does.
— Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.