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US Lawmakers Stake Out Competing Positions on Immigration

  • Niki Papadogiannakis

FILE - U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, pictured in August 2015 in South Orange, New Jersey, has introduced legislation that would protect U.S. citizens and residents from detention on the basis of racial profiling by immigration agents.

A new Senate bill would protect U.S. citizens and residents from detention on the basis of racial profiling by immigration agents. The PROFILED Act was unveiled Tuesday by Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

Racial profiling is the perception of race or ethnicity as ground for suspecting someone of having committed an offense.

"Who among us as citizens is willing to accept being a second-class citizen in this country simply because of the happenstance of who we are, what we look like or what our surname is?" Menendez said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

The bill, which has four other Democratic co-sponsors, would ensure that immigration agents and law enforcement officers respect suspected undocumented immigrants' due process rights. It also would rescind two of President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States'' and "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.''

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 28, 2017.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 28, 2017.

"By using racial profiling and fearmongering to target law-abiding immigrants, the Trump administration is putting people with a traffic ticket, or a status violation, in the same category as serious violent criminals — wasting valuable, limited resources on people who should not be priorities for removal, and that makes us less safe," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

More efficient deportations

But even as Menendez was describing the bill to reporters, lawmakers on the other side of Capitol Hill were holding a hearing on enhancing immigration enforcement.

The House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and border security heard testimony from an immigration judge and a county sheriff, among others, who described an immigration system run amok under former President Barack Obama and urged that deportation proceedings be speeded up.

"The sky-high credible fear and asylum grant rates encouraged aliens to make the dangerous, illicit journey to the United States. Aliens overran our border, and credible fear and asylum claims increased tenfold," Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said in his opening statement.

Several of the witnesses suggested expanding the U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) partnership with local authorities under a program that allows local law enforcement to be trained with ICE agents and certified to enforce immigration law.

FILE - A photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows foreign nationals being arrested during a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2017.
FILE - A photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows foreign nationals being arrested during a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2017.

"Instead of waiting for an ICE agent to drive hours to our facility for an immigration screening at which time the suspect might be bailed out, our officers can check the databases, interview the suspects and electronically communicate with ICE to keep dangerous criminals, illegal aliens, off the streets and out of our neighborhoods," Bristol County (Massachusetts) Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said in his testimony.

Menendez, who was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that worked on immigration reform in 2013, told VOA that such a policy would diminish community trust of police and undermine public safety.

"We have heard from the toughest police chiefs and sheriffs across the country that when they are forced to be engaged as immigration agents, it breaks down the bonds in a community. It breaks down people coming forward and telling police about who is committing the bad acts in a community, who are the burglars, who's the rapist, who is in essence the person who is violating the law," Menendez said.

FILE - Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pictured at the Justice Department in Washington, March 2, 2017. On March 27, he warned that cities and states protecting immigrant felons from deportation could face cuts in federal grants.
FILE - Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pictured at the Justice Department in Washington, March 2, 2017. On March 27, he warned that cities and states protecting immigrant felons from deportation could face cuts in federal grants.

Ending sanctuary

A day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened so-called sanctuary jurisdictions with a loss of law enforcement funding, Hodgson went a step further: "Federal arrest warrants should be issued for their elected officials."

Sanctuary jurisdictions, which include 600 sanctuary cities and counties as well as some states, according to the National Immigration Law Center, are jurisdictions that choose not to inform immigration officials when certain undocumented immigrants are released from custody. Most often, these are immigrants who were charged with or convicted of minor crimes.

Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies also thought that further action should be taken against sanctuary jurisdictions, including "the possibility of criminal penalties, civil legal action, and a private right of action against officials who impose or carry out sanctuary policies," she said in written testimony for the hearing.

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