Rep. Lamar Smith wants to empower local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws

Posted on 06/16/2013 by Lexi Smith

Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith is pushing the House Judiciary Committee to give state and local authorities the right to enforce federal immigration laws. But some committee members expressed concerns at a hearing this week about the potential side effects of a proposal sponsored by South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy.

Smith says the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (The SAFE Act), H.R. 2278, would give power to local authorities on federal immigration laws, improve national security and prevent the naturalization of criminals.

The hearing to discuss the bill largely focused on illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the United States, but are never deported back to their home country. Two of the witnesses in the hearing discussed how their children were killed by illegal aliens with prior criminal backgrounds.

Democratic and Republican members of the committee both agreed that it is unacceptable to endanger American lives by allowing illegal immigrants who have committed numerous crimes to continue living in the United States.

The SAFE Act would support law enforcement by adding officer positions and giving arrest authorities to all officers for matters of illegal immigration.

Rep. Lamar Smith sponsored two bills in The SAFE Act last Congress. The San Antonio Republican released the following statement on why local authorities should be more involved with federal immigration laws:

“Increased border security and effective interior enforcement of our immigration laws must go hand-in-hand if we are serious about fixing our immigration system. More than 40% of illegal immigrants come to the U.S. legally on temporary visas and stay indefinitely. And as we’ve seen in the past, terrorists abuse our immigration system to enter the U.S. legally and plot against Americans. All of the 9-11 hijackers came to the U.S. on visas. So the interior enforcement of our immigration laws is not just about protecting jobs for legal workers and U.S. citizens, it is crucial to our national security as well. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a significant decline in interior enforcement under the Obama administration. Worksite enforcement efforts are down 70%. That means it’s easier for illegal immigrants to take scarce jobs from U.S. citizens and legal workers. And the Obama administration has sued states to prevent them from enforcing immigration laws. But when the federal government time and again fails to fully and fairly enforce our nation’s immigration laws, it is our citizens and communities that suffer. The idea that in a border state like Texas, drug and human traffickers can only be apprehended by federal law enforcement officials is archaic and endangers our communities. Texas state and local law enforcement officers should be trained and authorized to help enforce our immigration laws and keep our communities safe. America has the most generous immigration system in the world, admitting one million legal immigrants each year. We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. And we need to enforce those to laws to ensure that our immigration system promotes our values and protects our citizens.”

Indefinite jail time without due process and racial profiling were a few of the concerns that Democratic members expressed about the SAFE Act. Gowdy, the sponsor of H.R. 2278, took offense at the implication that local authorities would not be able to properly handle cases on immigration.

“If you’re good enough to do homicide cases, I trust you with immigration cases,” said Gowdy.

Some Democrats on the committee questioned if these benefits would be outweighed by the possibility of discrimination against Hispanic Americans.

“We put our lives on the line for all people,” responded witness Paul Babeu, an Arizona sheriff.