If federal immigration reform passes this year, a member of Congress from South Carolinian will have had a hand in it.
The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill Thursday after six months of work. Much of that work was done behind the scenes by Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the original sponsors. But its fate is up to House Speaker John Boehner, who says he will not allow vote on any legislation that lacks support from a majority of House Republicans.
The Senate bill will get in line alongside a bill by South Carolina’s 4th District Rep Trey Gowdy, whose immigration enforcement bill, dubbed the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, (SAFE Act) is also ready for a vote in the full House.
Instead of an all-encompassing law, House GOP leaders plan to offer a series of bills dealing with various immigration issues.
Gowdy told South Carolina Radio Network he is confident in his bill’s passage , “as long as we do what our plan is to do, which is do this incrementally step-by-step, but at the end of it have addressed as many different issues as we can.”
“I think there is a growing skepticism on large bills,” Gowdy said. “Partly because of what can be hidden in them, and part you can’t expect people to read and comprehend 1,300 pages.”
Gowdy’s bill centers on internal immigration enforcement, granting state and local governments the power to enforce federal immigration law. He said, “There is no category of crime that we don’t trust our sheriffs and our police chiefs to enforce so why in the world would you not trust them to enforce immigration law?”
Gowdy says local law enforcement should be allowed to step in when immigration laws are not being enforced.
“We want to make sure that no future president, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, bull moose, don’t care, no future president can just turn the switch and say we’re not going to enforce the laws anymore.”
The bill allows law enforcement to opt out. Gowdy has money in the bill to train and outfit local officers and expand enforcement for worker visas and border security.
“Border security deals with 60 percent of the immigration issue. There’s a whole 40 percent more that are visa overstays that no fence in the world is going to take of. So, border security is very important, but so is internal security, and so is E-verify,” Gowdy said.
The Congressional Budget Office has not compiled and scored the costs of the legislative, but Gowdy defends the expense.
“Admittedly, the SAFE Act costs money but I would also argue that public safety is the primary function of government, so if you’re going to spend money, it ought to be on one of the primary functions of government.
According to Gowdy, the SAFE Act also:
– Bars foreign terrorists or removable immigrants who threaten national security from receiving immigration benefits, such as naturalization and discretionary relief from removal. The bill also requires that no immigration benefits can be provided to immigrants until all required background and security checks are completed.
– Hastens the removal of criminal aliens. In the instance a dangerous criminal immigrant cannot be removed from the U.S., the bill allows the Department of Homeland Security to detain them.
– Expands the Visa Security Program to additional high risk posts, strengthens the integrity of the student visa program, and authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and State Department to revoke visas to foreign nationals if in the security or foreign policy interests of the U.S.
– Assists U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers by allowing them to make arrests for immigration violations, federal felonies, federal criminal offenses for bringing in and harboring unlawful immigrants, and offenses against the U.S. The bill also allows them to carry firearms and provides them body armor.
– Prohibits the Departments of Interior and Agriculture from preventing Border Patrol agents access to federal lands within 100 miles of the border. It also prohibits the interference of Border Patrol activities, such as construction and maintenance of roads and barriers, use of patrol vehicles, and deployment of tactical infrastructure.
– Requires a report to Congress each year on the “abuse of prosecutorial discretion by the Administration.”
Congressman Gowdy says he expects to be on the House-Senate conference committee to work out an immigration reform deal.