Bill would freeze Obama's power to grant illegals amnesty

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is crafting a bill that would temporarily freeze the Obama administration’s power to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

The measure is in response to a memo issued by the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week that approved a broader breadth of discretion for agency officials when considering whether to deport someone through the Secure Communities program.

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Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is sponsoring the legislation, blasted the memo. He said that under the new guidelines ICE agents could defer the deportations of “millions of deportable illegal and criminal immigrants.”

“The Obama administration cannot continue to pick and choose which laws it will enforce,” said Smith in a statement. “It is outrageous that they have put illegal immigrants and their liberal political base ahead of the American people.”

Smith’s bill is expected to be introduced soon, according to a committee aide. 

The ICE memo comes in the wake of recent attempts by President Obama to push forward with a revamping of the country’s immigration laws. Republicans on Capitol Hill have broadly indicated their opposition to the Democrat-led efforts, with some calling for a more secure U.S.-Mexico border before immigration talks can begin. Immigration reform is widely regarded as having little chance of passing in the divided 112th Congress.

The Secure Communities program allows for ICE to check the immigration status of people arrested by law enforcement agencies throughout the country by sharing a fingerprint database. Critics of the program say that it focuses on deporting people for minor offenses, such as traffic violations, and in some cases breaks families apart.

Under the guidelines set forward by the ICE memo, agents could opt to defer on a case-by-case basis the deportation of people in the country illegally who have committed minor crimes or have extraordinary circumstances, such as students who would have been able to gain legal status under the DREAM Act, which stalled in the last Congress.

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The 7,000-member ICE labor union has stated its opposition to the memo and issued a unanimous vote of no-confidence of ICE Director John Morton.

On Tuesday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing on the DREAM Act.

Realizing the dim prospects to pass the DREAM Act in this Congress, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) asked Obama last month to delay the deportation of certain illegal immigrants, such as students who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and do not have criminal histories.

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