Law Enforcement and Civil Rights Leaders Speak Out Against Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Extreme Immigration Bill

Monday, June 17, 2013

Crystal Plati
(202) 369-5334

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the House Judiciary Committee prepares to mark up Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) SAFE Act (Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act) legislation Tuesday, CAMBIO, the Campaign for an Accountable, Moral, and Balanced Immigration Overhaul, previewed the bill with law enforcement and workers rights advocates on a conference call with reporters Monday.

Participants characterized the SAFE Act as extreme, antiquated and harmful to the safety of communities across the country. If enacted, the SAFE Act’s focus on immigration enforcement at the expense of everything else would be a step back for Republicans anxious to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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Call participants included:

  • Sergio Diaz, Chief of Police, Riverside (City), Calif. Police Department
  • Mark Curran, Sheriff, Lake County Ill.
  • Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director, Immigration & Civic Engagement, National Council of La Raza
  • Lorella Praeli, Director of Advocacy and Policy, United We Dream
  • Neema Singh Guliani, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Alisa Wellek, Acting Executive Director, Immigration Defense Project

Key statements from the briefing:

Mark Curran, Sheriff, Lake County, Ill.:

“I have been a supporter of immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship after having previously been on the other side of the issue, and having asked for additional powers under 287G many, many years ago. Ultimately, for me, recognizing the fact that we have a broken immigration system is critical, that these are human beings, that there is dignity in human beings. We need to be respectful in the way that we treat humans and also in our language.

“The future of law enforcement is community policing. The police cannot be everywhere; Chicago had 47 shootings last weekend, seven murders — great violence. There is no way you are going to have enough boots on the ground. The neighborhoods are going to be safe when the citizens are involved and act as the eyes and ears of the community. It doesn’t work in communities that have large immigrant populations where there is great fear from law enforcement. There is [fear] right now in this limbo status as a result of the fact that we haven’t moved in the direction of immigration reform. Nobody knows what we are doing in terms of secure communities, in terms of a thorough government policy on immigration, and this bill is only going to send more fear as we await some type of immigration reform bill.

“Law enforcement has to be smart about where we use our resources; we have to prioritize our resources. In Illinois, we recently passed a driver’s license bill giving undocumented citizens an opportunity to have a driver’s certificate. This wound up receiving overwhelming support from strong, pro-family/pro-life legislators, because they have seen how broken the system is, and they recognize what I said earlier: these are human beings, they came here under a set of rules where we didn’t really care who came to this country. We need to make sure we are treating them with dignity and fairness.

“We need a rule of law, and I think we all recognize that. Maybe that is what Speaker Boehner is alluding to in this particular piece of legislation. But you can’t have a rule of law until you fix the system that has been so broken and the system that lured people in here for cheap labor, and caused them to throw down roots.”

Sergio Diaz, Chief of Police, Riverside (City), Calif. Police Department:

“I believe the most compelling public safety arguments against the proposed legislation are the following: we know from long experiences that when law enforcement officers are perceived to be an arm of immigration, there are people in the immigrant community who will avoid contact with the police and anyone else in the criminal justice system. They don’t report crimes, they don’t identify criminals, and they don’t give testimony to the police; nor do they do so in court. This is an advantage only for criminals. We know that gang members and other violent criminals step into the breach when large portions of the population essentially exempt themselves from the criminal justice system because of fear … We know that these laws will make crime worse and not better.

“Deporting people as an alternative to prison terms just guarantees that criminals will soon return to the community and continue their crime sprees.

“There is a severe prison overcrowding problem, which in my state has been migrated to county jails as a result of prison realignment. We now have to jail the people that were going to state prison, and there is no excess capacity in the county jails. As a result of this, the county sheriff is forced on a daily basis to release prisoners before their time in order to make room for others. The SAFE act’s emphasis on holding people on ICE detainers is just going to ensure that more real criminals are out on the street.

“If the goal is to create a new generation of people at the marginal societies more inclined to crime, gangsterism, and terrorism, then that is what this bill would do, in my opinion, in the long term.

“Our goal should be to mainstream new citizens, not to drive them into criminal gangs and terrorist groups, but to mainstream them by showing them that the government can in fact respect the dignity of all people.”

Alisa Wellek, Acting Executive Director, Immigration Defense Project:

“This bill is basically just a cut-and-paste job from the discredited, extreme 2005 Sensenbrenner bill, which got us nowhere as a country. We all know it ended up killing immigration reform for the 11 million folks that have been trying to restore fundamental fairness and get on a pathway to citizenship.

“This bill harms immigrant families; it makes us less safe; it guts due process; and it jeopardizes the pathway for citizenship for many of the 11 million who need to come out of the shadows and get on that pathway.

“We are speaking out about this bill and talking about the need to really pass a pathway to citizenship that is inclusive — that doesn’t undermine our safety and security, that recognizes the need to give all immigrants a second chance, and has an inclusive pathway.”

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director, Immigration & Civic engagement, National Council of La Raza:

“This legislation continues to focus on what has been the sole prescription to our immigration problem, and that is to add more and more enforcement. Not necessarily smarter enforcement, not necessarily more accountable enforcement, simply more enforcement. The alarming thing about this is that this bill would make Arizona’s SB1070 the law of the land. Known as the ‘show me your papers’ law, I think many of us remember keenly the environment that it generated and that 1070 was condemned by the country’s civil rights community because it legitimized racial profiling.

“The House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Goodlatte, is instead opting for a massive and unnecessary delegation of authority that would have the effect of creating a patchwork of laws that can add more chaos, not more order, to our immigration system, and will threaten civil rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens.

“A church taking in an undocumented child after his or her mother was deported would be subject to harboring charges.”

Lorella Praeli, Director of Advocacy and Policy, United We Dream:

“House Republicans voted to deport dreamers by voting for Rep. Steve King’s amendment to defund the deferred action for childhood arrivals program the week before last – a temporary, sensible solution to the out-of-control enforcement breaking up our communities. Tomorrow, the House Judiciary committee is scheduled to start the mark up for the UN SAFE Act, which is how we refer to it in our community.

“The criminalization and Arizona-fication of our communities is the exact opposite of what dreamers are demanding. This bill is so short-sighted that it allows local law enforcement agents to enforce immigration law – essentially Arizona’s extreme anti-immigrant bill SB1070 on steroids.

“(The bill) would turn everyday offences into crimes, making them Federal crimes that carry drastic sentences. For example, driving undocumented people in your car now results in the conviction for smuggling and harboring, which would now be a felony.

“Judges will never have the opportunity to hear the individual circumstances of someone’s life, like military service, businesses, family members, etc.

“We firmly oppose this proposal and shame Rep. Gowdy and Rep. Goodlatte, along with every other legislator who supports this legislation. This is definitely not what undocumented Americans are fighting for, this is not what Latinos voters voted for in 2012, and it is certainly not how the GOP will redeem itself within our community.”

Neema Singh Guliani, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union:

“This bill is ten steps backwards in efforts to reform our immigration system. It will require our government to spend billions more, detaining and arresting hard-working immigrants who contribute to our communities, contribute to our economy, and have U.S. citizens in family, while at the same time does nothing to address the longstanding problems and deficiencies with our current system.

“Two aspects of the act that are particularly troubling that I want to focus on: one, is that as the bill, as it is written, would massively expand our current detention system which is already overused and bloated. Another provision would overturn Supreme Court decisions and would allow indefinite detentions of certain classes of people.”