The union for immigration agents slammed the immigration bill being drafted by the Senate’s “gang of eight” because it does not focus on enforcing immigration laws in the nation’s interior.
Chris Crane, the president of the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, said in conference call Wednesday that “the plan of the gang of eight appears to be legalization, or amnesty first, and then enforcement, that is a big problem for us.”
The Senate group is hoping to unveil its bill next week. It is expected to create a path to legalization, and eventually citizenship, for current undocumented immigrants that meet certain criteria. The path would be available once the border meets to-be-determined measure and is declared sufficiently secure.
But Crane complained there has been no mention from the Senate immigration group, or the president, “for stronger interior enforcement.”
“We fully support stronger border enforcement, but we know, we know, that much stronger interior enforcement is needed,” Crane said. It “continues to be ignored by the president and others because this is more about amnesty, or legalization, than truly addressing illegal immigration and ending it.”
Crane believes the nation will find itself in the same position it currently does, with millions of undocumented immigrants, in the future if current laws are not enforced. That’s a scenario similar to what happened after passage of an immigration policy overhaul in 1986.
The union, the National ICE Council, represents more than ICE 7,000 agents and staff. ICE is charged with enforcing immigration law within the interior of the nation.
Crane noted that the union remains “open to anything that anyone would like to throw on the table in terms of immigration reform as long as that idea is realistic and appears that it will work; that it will effectively address the problems of our broken immigration system across the spectrum. Our focus is on the enforcement part of this.”
The union’s cause has been championed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. — an opponent of a comprehensive immigration overhaul — who has been critical of the gang’s closed-door process. Sessions has warned Senate Democrats against seeking to quickly ram it through the Senate.
In a nod to Republican criticism the Democratic-drafted health care law enacted in 2010, Sessions said Tuesday in a written statement that Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Barack Obama “once again want Congress to pass a far-reaching bill before the American people know what’s in it.”
Eyes on ICE
Tension has been growing between the union and administration officials — including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE director John T. Morton — as the White House has sought to reduce deportations of the children of illegal immigrants, or so-called “Dreamers.”
In lieu of winning passage of the DREAM Act, which would establish a path to citizenship for some of those children, the White House last summer issued an executive action ordering ICE to only deport illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
The White House policy directs ICE to defer action on people who were brought to the United States as children younger than 16, do not present a risk to national security or public safety and meet several other key criteria. Those people would also be authorized to work.
The union argues the policy undermines ICE’s ability to enforce duly enacted immigration law and that it has been at the heart of the friction with Napolitano, as well as Morton.
Meanwhile, the National ICE Council is one of several groups opposed to a comprehensive immigration bill that have raised their voice recently.
NumbersUSA, which backs immigration cutbacks, is in the midst of a six-figure radio and TV ad campaign that will target as many as a dozen senators in the coming weeks.
The group has already run ads criticizing Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and on Wednesday it unveiled another round of ads aimed at Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Ads targeting 10 more senators around the country are in the works.
“What really gets the juices going and turns this into a white-hot grass roots issue is when there’s an actual bill and it shows up in the Judiciary Committee and on the floor,” said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck.
Beck said his group’s membership has grown to 1.7 million, four times more than in 2007, when immigration critics last helped defeat a bill.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform has challenged the four GOP members of the Senate’s eight-member immigration working group to submit to interviews during the group’s annual gathering of talk show hosts in mid-April. The so-called Hold Their Feet to the Fire broadcast will draw 50 talk show hosts and 25 to 30 sheriffs to Washington, D.C., on April 17 and 18.
FAIR has invited numerous elected officials to the forum but is particularly focused on the GOP Senators in the working group: Graham, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, and Florida’s Marco Rubio. Rubio has been particularly closely watched as a potential 2016 presidential candidate who has sent mixed signals on immigration.
“The question this year is whether Rubio, McCain, Graham and Flake will come to interview with talk hosts who have traveled across the country to consider their plans,” said FAIR Communications Director Bob Dane in an email. “Will they engage or evade the forum?”
FAIR also will bring activists from around the country to fan out across Capitol Hill and remind members “that they want true immigration reform and not amnesty,” Dane added in an interview. In 2007, the talk show town hall helped flood the Capitol switchboard with anti-immigration bill calls, he noted.
“I believe this event will be the game changer,” Dane said. “It’s the formal start of when the American public gets on the field and starts playing the game.”
But the political dynamics have changed following an election that saw Latino voters flock to Democrats and prompted GOP soul-searching on immigration.
Opponents of a sweeping overhaul also face massive demonstrating and lobbying by advocates on the other side, including labor, Latino and religious leaders.
Even as FAIR’s talk hosts gather April 17, evangelical Christians are planning a rally in D.C. to call for a comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.