U.S. Rep. Smith: Obama Plotting "Backdoor Amnesty"

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), who will take over as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), who will take over as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

A senior member of Texas’ congressional delegation wants to strip the Obama administration of its immigration enforcement duties, alleging the president is attempting to create a “backdoor” amnesty for illegal immigrants.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, this week introduced HR 2497, known as the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act. The measure is a direct response to a directive issued to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices throughout the country last month by agency director John Morton. In it Morton urged ICE prosecutors to use “prosecutorial discretion” in issuing “a notice of detainer” when deciding whom to detain or release.

The discretion includes taking into account several factors, including the person’s education, whether he or she has graduated from high school and has attended college, if the illegal immigrant is the child or spouse of a U.S. citizen, if a relative has served in the military or if the individual is a primary caretaker of someone who is ill. Current conditions in the person’s home country, the circumstances upon his or her arrival here and whether the person came here as a young child may also be taken in to account, according to the June 17 memo. Illegal immigrants' criminal history and whether they pose a risk to the country’s national security will also be considered, as will any history of prior removal. Crime victims and witnesses may also be given special consideration.

“Congress has defeated amnesty for illegal immigrants several times in recent years but this has not stopped President Obama from trying a backdoor amnesty,” Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.  “Over the course of the last year, the Obama administration has ignored the will of Congress and the American people by using executive branch authority to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S.” 

Smith’s resolution would prohibit the government from canceling the removal of illegal immigrants, granting temporary protective status to any immigrant and granting parole or issuing deferred action (except in narrow circumstances).

U.S. House Democrats met in Washington today to denounce the legislation, and suggested a memo written to then-Attorney General Janet Reno that Smith signed in 1999 shows that he once supported Obama’s current policy.

“Cases of apparent extreme hardship have caused concern. Some cases may involve removal proceedings against legal permanent residents who came to the United States when they were young,” the memo states. “There has been widespread agreement that some deportations were unfair and resulted in unjustifiable hardship.”

Democrats accused Smith of engaging in political theater.

“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 U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Doggett, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. House and long-time co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, is likely facing a Democratic primary challenge from state Rep. Joaquin Castro in a newly drawn district that includes a large portion of Bexar County’s Hispanic voting bloc.

Smith fired back, however, attacking the administration and an editorial in The New York Times that accused him of hypocrisy. In a letter in the Times published Thursday, Smith argues that the 1999 memo was taken out of context.

“You didn’t give your readers the whole story,” Smith wrote. “This letter requested that the Immigration and Naturalization Service issue guidelines for removal proceedings in the most sympathetic cases: those that involve legal — not illegal — immigrants who committed a single minor crime but have been law-abiding residents ever since.”

Smith’s bill, if passed, would “restore these powers to the next president whom the American people elect – on January 22, 2013,” according to Smith’s statement on the committee’s website.

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