Law enforcement officials: Senate bill ‘significant barrier’ to ‘a safe and lawful system of immigration’

Caroline May | Reporter

A group of current and former law enforcement officers is warning lawmakers that the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill would be a “significant barrier” to a safe, legal immigration system.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Caller that will be sent to every member of Congress on Thursday, the law-enforcement officers and veterans rebuke the immigration enforcement measures laid out in the proposed legislation S. 744, titled the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”

Thirty sheriffs, many from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, signed the letter. Among the signatories were Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, a friend of “gang” member Arizona Sen. John McCain, ICE union president Chris Crane, and the chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBO), Zach Taylor.

The letter contends that the legislation would create a more dangerous immigration system.

“Driven by mere speculation that S. 744 may be enacted by Congress, illegal border crossings have spiked dramatically. Thousands of unaccompanied children, runaways, and families now attempt to illegally enter the United States in hopes of receiving legalization. This trend will surely continue after enactment as S. 744 provides no commitment of stronger border enforcement for at least five to ten years following the initial legalization phase,” the authors wrote, adding that immigrants attempting to cross the border can be victimized and even killed.

They added that the “cut-off dates” in the legislation will not mean much to individuals in foreign nations who are not fully informed of the bill and it will act as a magnet for more illegal immigration.

The letter further delves into the problems law enforcement has with the border security mechanisms laid out in the bill — asserting that the legislation makes “no guarantee of increased border security,” noting that the Department of Homeland Security will be tasked with the establishing a border security plan and then measure its effectiveness.

“Clearly recognizing the high probability that this approach will fail and DHS will not develop a successful border security plan, S. 744 establishes a commission to review security at the border five years after the plan has been implemented (if the Secretary decides such a commission is needed),” the letter reads. “But the powerless commission will have only the authority to make recommendations on how to achieve border security. Those recommendations may very well be ignored by DHS.”

According to the letter, interior enforcement is also not achieved under the bill and rehashes the criticism the ICE union has raised about their current ability to enforce the law  — namely their inability to remove or arrest “most of the illegal immigrants they come in contact with.”

“To avoid offending special interests, ICE officers are also prohibited from making street arrests, and are also prohibited from arresting illegal immigrants who are public charges or who violate laws involving fraudulent documents. ICE officers are under orders to wait until immigration violators commit and are convicted of criminal offenses and placed in jail by state authorities before they can act in their capacity as Federal immigration officers and make an arrest,” the letter reads.

“Congress can and must take decisive steps to limit the discretion of political appointees and empower ICE and CBP to perform their respective missions and enforce the laws enacted by Congress,” the letter continues. “Rather than limiting the power of those political appointees within DHS, S. 744 provides them with nearly unlimited discretion, which will serve only to further cripple the law enforcement missions of these agencies”

The officers go on to take on the biographic exit system to track potential visa violators “that has already proven easy to circumvent and not worthy of investment. S. 744 limits the exit system to air and sea ports and does not expand the program to include monitoring of the nation’s land borders. This will not provide adequate coverage and security to the nation’s ports of entry and will result in identifying only a fraction of the visa violators unlawfully present in the United States,” they write, adding the ICE is too small to effectively confront the number of visa violators, even if it were able to keep track of them all.

The letter goes on to detail the issues the officers have with the manner in which the bill would legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, and the kinds of illegal immigrants that will achieve Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status under the bill. The authors point specifically to concerns about illegal immigrants with criminal records achieving RPI status:

  •          For instance, the Secretary of DHS must waive misdemeanor criminal convictions for purposes of determining an illegal immigrant’s eligibility for RPI status. In many states, misdemeanor crimes include serious offenses such as assault, assault of a law enforcement officer, vehicular homicide, possession of drug manufacturing equipment, unlawful placing or discharging of an explosive device, DUI, and sex offenses.
  •          Section 3701 of S. 744 states that illegal immigrants who are members of street gangs—most of which are heavily involved in criminal activity and violent crimes in the communities and areas we police—simply have to claim that they renounce their gang affiliation in order to obtain a waiver that would make them admissible to the U.S., and potentially eligible for legalization and eventual citizenship. We anticipate, as should Congress, that many gang members will falsely claim to renounce their association with criminal street gangs to obtain legal status and continue engaging in unlawful conduct in the United States.       
  •         Section 2101 of S. 744 states that illegal immigrants who have committed document fraud, made false statements to authorities, and have absconded from court-ordered removal hearings are all eligible to apply for legal status.
  •        Section 2101 of S. 744 directs DHS to ignore convictions under state laws that mirror federal laws on crimes such as human smuggling, harboring, trafficking, and gang crimes when approving applications for legalization.
  •         This same section also gives the Secretary of Homeland Security virtually unlimited discretion to waive any manner of crimes that would otherwise make an individual ineligible for legal status–– for such expansive reasons as family unity, humanitarian purposes, or what the Secretary believes is in the public interest. At least two of these standards appear undefined by S. 744 or current law, providing political appointees with broad authority to establish their own definitions of these terms and pardon criminal acts under almost any circumstance.
  •         The bill provides that individuals who have overstayed visas are eligible for RPI and citizenship. As we have learned from the 9/11 Commission, more vigorous policing of visa violators is an essential component of national security. S. 744 provides legal status to an estimated 4.5 million visa overstays, including recent arrivals and document forgers. S. 744 lacks effective security measures for screening existing and future visa violators.
  •         The bill states that individuals who have previously been deported or otherwise removed from the country are ineligible to apply for legal status. However, the Secretary is given the “sole and unreviewable discretion” to waive that ineligibility for large classes of qualifying aliens.
  •          Section 2101 of S. 744 prohibits detention and removal of any person claiming eligibility for legalization under S. 744 without requirement to provide proof of eligibility or application.

The letter continues by reminding lawmakers that law enforcement was “excluded” from meetings to draft the bill, while “special interests were closely involved” — marking a “dramatic step in the wrong direction.”

“We therefore conclude that this legislation fails to meet the needs of the law enforcement community and would, in fact, be a significant barrier to the creation of a safe and lawful system of immigration,” the letter concludes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is marking up the immigration reform bill Thursday.

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