Photo: Rep Luis Gutierrez
Today, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws” but has not acted in a substantive way to address immigration reform. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), in his prepared opening statement, said that rather than attack the President and accuse him of not faithfully enforcing laws, the time of the Judiciary Committee would be better spent passing laws that are enforceable, especially when it comes to immigration. As for the topic of the hearing, Congressman Gutiérrez said, “When it comes to whether the President has broad discretion on whether to prosecute a violation of the law, there really is no debate.”
The following are the Congressman’s remarks from the hearing as prepared for delivery. Also appended is an op-ed on immigration reform, “Immigration: You Cannot Do Nothing,” which appeared in today’s edition of The Hill newspaper.
REMARKS - JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
December 3, 2013
Once again we are bloviating and not legislating in this Committee. We could be using this time to find common ground or even to have a strenuous and substantive debate on important public policy matters, but instead, we are offering empty assurances and shaping political messages for next fall. Rather than worrying about whether the President we know you “distrust,” is enforcing our laws the way you would like him to, we could be making meaningful progress towards crafting and passing laws for the betterment of the American people.
For example, Speaker Boehner, Majority Whip McCarthy, and many other Republicans have said we do not have time to address immigration reform this year. And yet, here in the Judiciary Committee we are running out the clock on 2013 and trying to score cheap political points. Can anyone recall the last time we had a substantive immigration reform hearing? It was a hearing in July about the plight of undocumented children who have no way of getting legal and was supposed to be a precursor to the introduction of the KIDS Act, a Republican version of the DREAM Act about which we have heard plenty of rumor but seen zero substance.
But the Majority want us to believe that we don’t have time for immigration reform? We had time to pass four partisan bills in the Judiciary Committee that will not go anywhere. They were a rebuke to the Chairman of the Republican Party and anyone who analyzed the outcome of the last election and concluded that the Republicans should take a smarter, more enlightened approach to immigration reform. A stance that is not only in tune with two-thirds of the American public, including Republican and Independent voters, but that will actually take our nation in the direction of law and order on immigration rather than more isolated talk about border security and E-Verify that will not solve our immigration problems. Like I said, we have been bloviating and not legislating in this Committee.
When it comes to whether the President has broad discretion on whether to prosecute a violation of the law, there really is no debate. The former Chairman of this Committee, an immigration hardliner who was responsible for passing some of our nation’s most restrictive and harsh immigration laws, has made exactly this case. He argued that in hardship cases, the President and his enforcement agents in the Executive Branch ought to spare certain individuals from deportation, even if by the letter of the law, they were deportable. This is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee just a few years ago, a Member who sits on this panel today who states that prosecutorial discretion was “well established” and “well grounded in case law.”
I argue that when it comes to prosecutorial discretion, the President has gone to great lengths to act cautiously and within the law, especially when it comes to immigration. For five years I have been asking him to do more to dial back the deportations and for five years the President has resisted. When he has acted to protect the spouses, children, and parents of military service members from deportation or undocumented youth who were brought here at an early age and raised in the United States, he has instituted each of those measures by examining the facts of each occurrence on a case by case basis, not in any blanket or haphazard way. I know, because my staff and I have sat down with DREAMers and helped them assemble the evidence they need to meet the standards of the DACA program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan the President announced in June 2012.
And for five years, as I have been calling on the President to exercise his discretionary latitude to spare families and individuals from deportation and separation, there have been Members on the other side who have threatened the President’s powers if the idea is even whispered.
Let’s be honest, please. Today’s hearing is a threat that any use of executive prosecutorial discretion will result in a full-frontal political assault. Yet we are unwilling as a body to pass laws that will actually address the problems the President, perhaps after some resistance, feels compelled to address.
In two or three hours today and for the remaining five or six days on the legislative calendar this year, who could actually do more to stop destructive deportations that are harming our national interest. The Judiciary Committee or the President? Who could do more to establish real border security, workplace enforcement systems like E-Verify to protect American workers, and a visa system that reduces illegal immigration? The Judiciary Committee or the President?
Instead, we will bloviate about taking powers away from a President willing to act when the need is so great and the wound has festered so long, while we as a Committee and a Congress will do nothing to address the problem and heal the festering wound ourselves.
Mr. Chairman, we can do better than this and we must.
* * *
THE HILL: Immigration: You Cannot Do Nothing
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), December 3, 2013
Before Congress left town in November, two teenagers interrupted Speaker John Boehner’s breakfast. As he ate, they asked what he is doing to ensure that they and their families will not be deported. Then, the week of Thanksgiving, an undocumented student who has lived in the U.S. since age eleven interrupted President Obama‘s speech on immigration to ask when he would stop the deportations that are splitting up families. These undocumented youth are American in every sense of the word—including the confidence with which they speak their minds—but they don’t have papers. Many politicians are learning what I have known for years: you cannot go anywhere without hearing about the devastation caused by two million deportations.
We harm ourselves every day when we deport 1,100 people. We put U.S. citizen children in foster care or the care of others or we send them out of the country. A generation of kids has grown up with the threat of deportation of mom or dad.
It is unsustainable and creates a sense of urgency around the immigration issue that, unfortunately, does not seem to register here in Washington.
My friend Eliseo Medina and others embarked on a fast in November (www.Fast4Families.org) to impress the urgent need for an immigration reform vote in the House of Representatives. They put their health on the line because a moral and just cause requires sacrifice when comfortable politicians seem content with inaction. But the country cannot afford to let the immigration crisis fester.
Especially when the solution is so close at hand. I have said for months that the votes exist in the House for fair and sensible immigration reform that legalizes the undocumented and keeps families together. If the Speaker gives us a vote, we can fully implement E-Verify, protect our borders, reduce illegal immigration, strengthen legal immigration and heal our families.
But eyeing next November, Republicans—and some Democrats—have already done the math and so far, the do-nothing approach is winning. So let me explain the political mathematics as I see them.
Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will win any favor from the American people by doing nothing. It is still true that two-thirds of the American people favor immigration reform that legalizes people and allows them to eventually apply for citizenship.
Still, many politicians are reluctant to vote ‘yea’ on any immigration reform bill because they worry such a vote will cost them in a primary or a general election. They are wrong. But OK; we don’t need their votes. Every Republican and Democrat who believes immigration reform will hurt their districts can vote ‘nay’ and we still have 218 votes for the reform this country needs and deserves.
Immigration aside, many Republicans feel they were sent to Washington to prevent the President from getting anything he wants. Their political slogan can be summed up as “Vote for us so we can stop POTUS.” Despite votes from a third of the Senate Republicans, the authorship of key Republican leaders, and the support of business, evangelical, and conservative leaders across the country, immigration reform is seen as something the President wants and therefore something that must be prevented by House Republicans.
Fine. We know you are against the President. Tell us what you do want. I think there is substantial room for compromise on immigration in the next few weeks and certainly the next few months. If it helps you politically to define it as a series of incremental steps and a rejection of the Senate plan, so be it. You can dress it up with enforcement measures, as long as it doesn’t actually undermine public safety. And you can call it the “Anti-Obama Immigration Reform Act” if that is what it takes. But you cannot do nothing.
When I think about the urgency of immigration reform, I think about the young people who interrupted the President and the Speaker and the clock that is ticking on their lives. I think of the Fast4Families fasters on the Mall and their sacrifice. But most of all I think of a father who came up to me recently and said:
“Find my papers. Don’t let my deportation widow my wife or orphan my children. My children will remember who treated their parents badly and will punish them with their votes. But right now, I need my papers.”
Politicians in both parties should think about that man and find a way to do what he asks.