House members in the House Judiciary Committee voted on their first immigration bill of 2014 on Wednesday. But instead of considering existing bills that lay out legislative options to fix the nation’s immigration system, the committee approved a bill to prohibit funding for a public advocate position within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) that works to help immigrants in deportation proceedings, including children and victims of abuse.
Congress defunded ICE’s public advocate in 2012, but “a different position, deputy assistant director of ‘Custody Programs and Community Outreach,’ simply absorbed the responsibilities, outraging some GOP members who said the Obama administration was skirting the law,” according to the Huffington Post. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), who sponsored the bill to again defund the position, previously described the job as an “illegal alien lobbyist.” But Democratic members argued the advocate ensures the safety of people in ICE custody. “When did protecting people from harm become a subversion of the law?” asked Rep. John Conyers, ranking member on the judiciary committee. All major law enforcement agencies have public advocates, including the FBI as well as local law enforcement offices in Goodlatte’s own district, which Lofgren pointed out during the hearing. “All major law enforcement agencies recognize the importance of community engagement and ICE is no different,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.
Without the community outreach position, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said, “There would be one less check in the system to prevent rape or sexual assault. There would be one less check in the system to ensure that children are cared for even when their parents are taken into custody, and one less check to prevent American citizens from being unjustly detained and removed.” The committee voted down every Democratic amendment to the bill, including one that would have allowed parents in deportation proceedings to make arrangements for their children in the U.S. prior to being deported.
But by continuing to have a public advocate position, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) argued that “the administration chose to make an end run around Congress” by changing the job title. Several congressional Republicans claim President Obama is selectively enforcing laws—two other bills the committee approved on Wednesday addressed administrative action—which some have used as a reason why the House cannot pass immigration reform. “One of the reasons we don’t have immigration reform today is because the president refuses to enforce the law,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) during the hearing.
The truth, however, is that poll after poll shows that Americans widely support immigration reform. Voters want Congress to act. And while House Speaker John Boehner has said he “never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year” on immigration reform, he laid out Republican principles on immigration reform that offer a starting point on how to move forward. But the first immigration bill to be considered by House members this year doesn’t fit in those priorities, nor does it take steps to change current immigration policies. Goodlatte said on Wednesday that the full House of Representatives likely would take up the bill to get rid of ICE’s public advocate sometime next week. Rather than take productive action, the House Judiciary Committee wasted its time arguing over a bill that gets rid of a position within ICE that tries to help protect people from harm in the removal system. Hopefully cooler heads prevail in the House of Representatives and this measure does not become the first immigration bill House leaders bring up for a vote this year.
Photo by stuartpilbrow.