Lively House debate over immigration reform draws protesters

Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of being irresponsible as the House Judiciary Committee met Tuesday to amend a bill on immigration reform, which focuses on strengthening enforcement of federal immigration law. (SHFWire photo by Deanna Del Ciello)

Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of being irresponsible as the House Judiciary Committee met Tuesday to amend a bill on immigration reform, which focuses on strengthening enforcement of federal immigration law. (SHFWire photo by Deanna Del Ciello)

“This bill is heavy-handed and irresponsible. It is so extreme and heinous that this committee can do nothing but reject this bill.”

— Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.

Deanna Del Ciello

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Debate over immigration reform took a contentious turn Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats accused each other of being irresponsible, and protesters shouted for reform before being taken out of the room.

The scene was the first meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to “mark up” or amend a bill to get it ready for a vote

Spectators don graduation robes as they watch the proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee’s first meeting to amend an immigration bill. Rep. Bob Goodlatte R-Va., told them that if they wanted to stay in the room, they should remain silent. (SHFWire photo by Deanna Del Ciello)

Spectators don graduation robes as they watch the proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee’s first meeting to amend an immigration bill. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told them that if they wanted to stay in the room, they should remain silent. (SHFWire photo by Deanna Del Ciello)

in the House. Markup sessions are usually dull affairs, but that was not the case in a hearing that lasted all day, with recesses so committee members could go to the House floor to vote on other matters.

The bill, commonly referred to as the SAFE Act, focuses on strengthening the enforcement of federal immigration law, which committee Republicans cite as the cause of the broken immigration system. They would give state and local governments the ability to enforce the laws.

The bill would expand the definition of criminal activity that allows people to be deported to include drunk driving, manslaughter and rape. Currently, the law states that crimes such as theft, violence, fraud and prostitution are grounds for deportation.

“The primary reason why our immigration system is broken today is because the present and past administrations have largely ignored the enforcement of our immigration laws,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said. “If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, we cannot allow the president to continue shutting down federal immigration enforcement efforts unilaterally. The SAFE Act will not permit that to happen.”

The bill, formally called “The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act,” drew the ire of committee Democrats.

“This bill is heavy-handed and irresponsible,” Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said. “It is so extreme and heinous that this committee can do nothing but reject this bill.”

Democrats primarily opposed the way the bill would change enforcement of immigration laws.

“The SAFE Act will make our communities less safe,” Conyers said. “The measure before us today will prioritize immigration enforcement before public safety in every community across our nation and will result in widespread racial profiling.”

Democrats see the bill as a “non-starter,” as Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said, but Republicans see it as a place to begin.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who introduced the bill, called it “the first step in what everyone agrees to be a longer journey.”

“Hopefully, what will emerge at the end is an immigration system that is worthy of the people we work for and worthy of being enforced,” Gowdy said.

The debate over immigration reform is not restricted to those who work on Capitol Hill.

As the hearing began, protesters immediately began to chant, “Shame, shame, shame. More of the same,” as Goodlatte began his remarks.

Many of the protesters wore signs pinned to their clothing that said, “Keep families together,” and “Remember November.” There were immediately escorted out of the room.

The Senate is debating its own version of an immigration reform bill, which has support from President Barack Obama and could go to a vote before July 4. The Senate’s bill, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” includes stronger border enforcement and a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented individuals in the country. It also makes it easier for companies to bring foreign workers into fields such as engineering, science and technology.

The major difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House is focusing on ways to enforce current immigration laws, which House Democrats claimed would cause “widespread racial profiling.”

Reach reporter Deanna Del Ciello at Deanna.delciello@shns.com or 202-326-9868. 

 

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