Experts and congressmen testified Thursday that the SAFE Act is needed to secure America’s borders ahead of any potential immigration reform bills.
Opening statements over the Strength and Fortify Enforcement Act reflected a clear partisan divide over the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C).
"The American people have little trust in 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," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) said. "Mr. Gowdy's bill contains such a mechanism, where the government fails to act, states can pick up the slack."
The committee heard opening statements from eight witnesses, including law enforcement officers, representatives from the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Law Center, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, and two individuals who lost family member in crimes involving illegal aliens.
A significant portion of the bill focuses on "interior enforcement." Supporters say enforcement by federal law enforcement has been inadequate. Consequently, they say local and state law enforcement should also be enforcing immigration.
Chris Crane, president of National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees, expressed "great appreciation and support" for the bill.
According to Crane, this bill is critical because "ICE, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), appears to have become smaller" and the Senate "Gang of 8" legislation "purposely ignored interior enforcement with the intent of continuing the practices which have led to the nation's current immigration problems."
Opponents fear this bill is akin to the controversial enforcement that was seen in Arizona, and that it will lead to racial profiling.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D., Mich.) argued that "study after study has shown that when police become immigration agents, crime victims and witnesses don't come forward. Crimes go unreported and unsolved and public safety decreases … the SAFE Act makes our communities far less safe."
"This bill will lead to widespread racial profiling and unconstitutional arrest of U.S. citizens and immigrants alike," Conyers added.
Tensions ran high during the nearly four and a half hour hearing. Witnesses included two people who lost family members in crimes involving illegal immigrants. Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son was murdered by an illegal immigrant and reported gang member, and Sabine Durden, whose son died in a drunk driving accident.
"I just wonder, why is it that you two have been brought here to share your pain about your loss with the nation?" Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.) asked. "Were you called because we want to arouse passions and prejudices against illegal immigrants? Is it because we wanted people to think that all illegal immigrants are from Mexico, they’re Hispanic? Is it because we wanted everyone to feel that all immigrants, illegal immigrants are criminals or drunk drivers or somehow the scourge of our community? Is that why you are all were brought here?"
Republicans were upset with Johnson's insinuations.
"Mr. Chairman, before I have my time, if Mr. Shaw and Ms. Durden can answer the question, because that is one of the most ridiculous presentations that I have ever heard," Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) said in response to Johnson’s comments.
"I would love to answer your question," said Durden. "We weren’t brought here for your sympathy or anything else. My reason for being here is to put a face on to this. I don’t think immigration talks about an older lady going to church and somebody looks and says she looks Hispanic so we’re going to check her immigration status. It puts, I think, a face on it with my son. … He was wiped out because the guy who killed him in ‘08 wasn’t deported. He wasn’t deported after his first DUI or his second DUI. A career criminal."
Jamiel Shaw also expressed frustration at Johnson’s comments. "You almost put, like, no value on my son," he said.
"You have people who are here who are criminals… my son was murdered by someone that was brought here when he was 4 years old, and just because someone was brought here through no fault of their own you try to act like that gives them carte blanche to do whatever they want and that’s not fair," Shaw added. "My son wasn’t bothering anyone. He was walking home from the mall."