Republican Immigration Bill Threatens to

Turn Millions of People Into Criminals

Ryan Devereaux

Ryan Devereaux


Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would bring sweeping changes to the nation’s
immigration enforcement apparatus, adding thousands of new deportation officers and, among
other things, equipping each of them with body armor and an assault rifle.
The little noticed bills, marked up in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, would bring
additional legal force to the Trump administration’s hardline immigration agenda, which has
already seen the pool of individuals prioritized for deportation broadened to include virtually all
the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., two of the bills pertain to
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS), laying out new powers and responsibilities for both agencies, while a third, introduced
by Goodlatte and Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, takes aim at a wide range of issues in
immigration enforcement.

That third bill, the “Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law
Enforcement Act,” which appeared in a tweeted photo of White House strategist Steve Bannon’s
policy agenda, would see immigration violations traditionally treated as civil infractions
transformed into criminal violations, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Speaking before
judiciary committee members Thursday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the provision would
“turn millions of Americans into criminals overnight.” Nadler added that the legislation was
“straight out of the Donald Trump mass deportation playbook.”
An undocumented immigrant was cuffed and shackled at the U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) processing facility before he and other undocumented immigrants were
transported to the airport for a deportation flight in 2010 in Broadview, Ill.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., noted that under the language of the proposed law, recipients of
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the Obama-era program currently shielding
hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. as undocumented children from
deportation — could be stripped of their protections because they are in the country while
knowingly in violation of the law.

“This draconian bill is absolutely wrong,” Schneider said. “DACA recipients are not criminals.”

In addition to radically altering the nature of charges used against undocumented immigrants,
and calling for an expansion of federal immigrant detention facilities, the 184-page Davis-Oliver
Act would codify the Trump administration’s controversial threats to cut departments of Justice
and Homeland Security grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that do not comply
with federal immigration enforcement initiatives. Under the law, states would also be required to
provide DHS a wide range of details on all immigrants who are apprehended and “believed to be
inadmissible or deportable,” including that individual’s name, address, photo, and license plate
number, as well as other identifying information.

The bill echoes Trump’s call to increase ICE’s ranks with the addition of 10,000 new agents, as
well as 2,500 new detention officers and 60 new full-time ICE prosecutors. Deportation officers
on the ground would inherit new arrest powers under the proposed legislation, including the
power to arrest immigrants accused of criminal or civil offenses without a warrant, even if the
agency determines those individuals are not “likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained.”
Under the bill, those deportation officers would be heavily armed, with each officer issued “high-
quality body armor” and “at a minimum, standard-issue handguns, M–4 (or equivalent) rifles,
and Tasers.”

To insure state and local authorities are falling in line with federal immigration enforcement
objectives, Goodlatte’s ICE authorization bill has called for an “ICE advisory council” — a
panel that would include members appointed by himself (as chair of the House Judiciary
Committee), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ICE’s prosecutors’ union, ICE’s union
(which endorsed Trump), and the president himself.

With deep ties to a range of far-right policy organizations, GOP members of the House Judiciary
Committee have long been known for their hawkish views on immigration — it was Goodlatte’s
aides who secretly worked alongside the Trump White House in crafting the executive order
banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. During Thursday’s mark up, the
Republicans defended the proposed legislation on law order and grounds, making the case that
all laws surrounding immigration should be equally and aggressively enforced.
Addressing the Davis-Oliver bill in particular, Goodlatte said the legislation, named after a pair
of law enforcement officers killed by an undocumented immigrant, “decisively delivers the
immigration enforcement tools that ICE, its officers, and all of us need in order to show the
obstructionists, the criminal aliens, and all those who benefit from a culture of lawlessness that
breaking our immigration laws will no longer be tolerated.”

Immigration advocates and legal experts argue the Republican lawmakers’ “enforcement only”
approach reflects a lack of interest in solving complex policy issues and, in doing so, threatens to
tear families apart while further ballooning the historic backlog in the nation’s immigration

“These bills constitute an unprecedented ramp up in enforcement,” Greg Chen, director of
government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The Intercept.
“Instead of recognizing that there needs to be a solution that improves the immigration system,
these bills fall into line with President Trump’s mass deportation agenda that’s just going to hurt
the country and isn’t going to do anything to improve public safety.”

Debate on the proposed bills is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Top photo: Supplies are displayed at the entrance of the Adelanto immigration detention center
in Adelanto, Calif., on April 13, 2017.


Contact the author:
Ryan Devereaux✉ryan.devereaux@theintercept.comt@rdevro