Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton faced serious questioning about the Obama Administration’s backdoor amnesty as he testified before the House Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee last Wednesday. Similar to last week’s hearing before the House Border and Maritime Subcommittee, at issue were a string of policy memos issued by Director Morton, as well as the Administration’s recent announcement it would review and release those in deportation proceedings that do not meet the agency’s “priorities.” (See FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 11, 2011)
Committee Members wasted no time in asserting that the Obama Administration ‘s actions are an attempt to Congress and its inherent authority to set immigration law. “Since comprehensive immigration reform has failed to pass in the legislative branch, the Obama Administration has now decided to implement various programs that will benefit potentially millions of illegal immigrants,” asserted Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly (R-CA) in his opening statement. “It is Congress’ job to create immigration policy and it is the President’s job to enforce it … This is a clear abuse of discretion,” he concluded.
Director Morton, however, denied that the Administration had abused its discretion. “We are simply exercising our discretion on a case by case basis and very low priority cases, so that we can do more to remove criminals, secure the border, and sanction those who [game] the system,” Morton testified. “This discretion does not confer permanent status on anyone nor does it prevent the arrest, detention, or removal of anyone where needed,” he claimed.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) pointed out that even if the discretion exercised by ICE does not confer permanent legal status on illegal aliens, it nonetheless permits them to remain in the country and makes them eligible for work authorization. “Under your memos, as I understand it thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants might be eligible for deferred action,” he stated. “To the extent that they are granted deferred action, aren’t they then eligible to get work authorization as well?” Morton did not disagree, but rather argued that ICE is not the agency tasked with granting work authorization and that he felt only a small number of illegal aliens would benefit.
Members also questioned Morton on President Obama’s level of involvement in drafting the memos. “Did anyone in the White House direct you to issue these?” asked Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Morton admitted that not only did the White House review the memos prior to his issuance of them, but that White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and former National Council of La Raza employee, Cecilia Muñoz, was involved in preparing them.