House Committee Begins Immigration Debate

House committee approves first immigration bill

U.S.-Mexico border / AP
June 19, 2013

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) act, a bill meant to improve enforcement of current immigration laws that supporters say is necessary before comprehensive immigration reform can be discussed, on Tuesday.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), passed 20 to 15.

The legislation would allow states to enact and enforce their own immigration laws. It also makes unlawful presence in the United States a misdemeanor.

Additionally, the law calls on local police officers to aid federal immigration agents by detaining suspected illegal immigrants.

Gowdy stressed that the bill was just the first step in reforming the country’s broken immigration system. He said enforcement is a reasonable place to begin immigration discussion in the House and selective enforcement by the Obama administration and previous administrations has been destructive to our system.

Critics of the bill say it is too similar to Arizona’s controversial immigration bill passed in 2010.

This bill makes it a crime to be undocumented in this country, Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) said. He also expressed concerns that the bill gives state and local officers unprecedented authority by immediately turning them into immigration agents.

Gowdy said state officers are capable of enforcing laws on interstate highways and would therefore be competent enforcers of immigration laws.

Conyers said numerous times throughout the hearing that the bill is a nonstarter that moves the country backwards and repeats mistakes made in the past.

The bill hinges on comprehensive reform being passed in the Senate.

Congress must first figure out what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) said.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) was optimistic about Republicans’ and Democrats’ ability to eventually come to an agreement on immigration.

"The more I hear, the better I feel," he said.