House gets ball rolling on immigration with markup of SAFE Act

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    Rep. Trey Gowdy, proponent of the SAFE Act.

    Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is proposing the SAFE Act, a bill that intends to improve interior enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and strengthen national security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    As the Senate debates its own immigration reform bill, the House will finally get the ball rolling on the issue, starting with the markup of a bill that mimics parts of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law.

    On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee will take up the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). The bill has 21 Republican co-sponsors, including support from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) who opposes the Senate’s immigration bill and favors a piecemeal approach on immigration reform.

    The SAFE Act intends to improve interior enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and strengthen national security. Among its provisions is one that would allow states to enact and enforce their own immigration laws as long as they’re consistent with federal law. Another provision would allow local police officers to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law, which is similar to a provision of SB 1070. Under the Arizona law, police offers are required to assist with federal immigration enforcement by detaining individuals they suspect are in the country illegally.

    “Robust internal immigration enforcement, paired with border security, is our safeguard against repeating the mistakes of 1986,” stated Gowdy, who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. “The SAFE Act is a critical step in our efforts to fix our broken immigration system and ensures we will not be having this conversation again in 10, 20, or 30 years.”

    SAFE Act seen as tactic to get people to ‘self-deport’

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who supports the SAFE Act.

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who supports the SAFE Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Opponents of the SAFE Act are afraid that the bill would reduce the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement and would lead states to enact controversial laws, like SB 1070.

    One staunch opponent of the SAFE Act is Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, a center-left think tank based in Washington, D.C. During a call with reporters Monday, he said that the SAFE Act is part of an effort by some House Republicans to implement tough immigration laws that would encourage undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”

    “The only way to do that (encourage people to self-deport), in essence, is to have this perception that local law enforcement can grab you and deport you at any time and that, that becomes a requirement,” he said.

    Joining Rosenberg was Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat. Stanton told VOXXI he doesn’t have a problem with creating partnerships between local and federal law enforcement officials — like proposed in the SAFE Act — as long as the goal is to combat crime and not go after undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed crimes.

    “I can’t speak to the SAFE Act and the particular provisions of it, but if it’s SB 1070-like in that it would require enforcement even against those who haven’t committed other crimes, I think that’s not smart public policy and it would certainly hurt our economy just like 1070,” Stanton said.

    One supporter of the SAFE Act is Paul Babeu, an Arizona sheriff who also opposes the Senate immigration reform bill. Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee last week, he said the SAFE Act “is the best plan I have seen presented to protect America.”

    “The bill, if approved, will give law enforcement agencies across the United States clear direction so immigration enforcement can be consistent throughout all communities,” he said.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. While the Senate works on bipartisan immigration reform, House Republicans are trying to pass the SAFE Act.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, and Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-Ill.), right. While the Senate works on bipartisan immigration reform, House Republicans are trying to pass the SAFE Act. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    A part of the House’s piecemeal approach

    The SAFE Act is part of the House’s piecemeal approach to deal with immigration reform. This comes as a bipartisan group of House members are negotiating an immigration reform package.

    House Democrats worry that key pieces of immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, would be left behind if the House moves forward with this piecemeal approach.

    Goodlatte defends the piecemeal strategy, saying it allows more time to analyze proposed immigration legislations.

    “For far too long, the standard operating procedure in Washington has been to rush large pieces of legislation through Congress with little opportunity for elected officials and the American people to scrutinize and understand them,” Goodlatte said in a statement released Friday.

    “Rather than rush a bill just to ‘find out what’s in it,’ the House Judiciary Committee has instead followed the traditional legislative process of regular order so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he continued. “Immigration reform is too important and complex to not examine each piece in detail.”

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