Rep. Trey Gowdy's (R-SC) SAFE Act is a cynical and tired attempt to thwart the promise of true immigration reform. As the Senate debates the immigration bill that has been legislated and lauded by both Republicans and Democrats alike, Rep. Gowdy's extreme bill exposes just how out of touch he is with America. The majority of Americans want immigration reform -- both Republicans and Democrats. And at the heart of reform is ensuring that all aspiring citizens have a fair chance to get on the path to citizenship.
The SAFE Act is an uninspired attempt to rehash reform legislation from the past that failed; it will not fix America's broken immigration system. Rep. Gowdy's sole objective is clear: locate, detain and deport. The bill codifies automatic detention and deportation without due process, further erodes the ability of judges to review individual circumstances in immigration cases and radically vests enforcement duties in the hands of state and local police officers without any federal oversight. By creating a plethora of new federal crimes that would render millions liable and deportable, the bill makes clear that Rep. Gowdy seeks to undermine and jeopardize the country's will to bring immigrants out of the shadows and onto the path to citizenship. Under the bill, a U.S. citizen who takes her undocumented brother to the movies would be held criminally liable; a DREAMer who used a fake social security number to get a job to save money for college would be automatically deportable. This is not progress.
The SAFE Act's provisions seek to criminalize individuals by creating an expanded set of deportation grounds that are based on conduct and not actual convictions. For example, if you are a DREAMer living in an LA neighborhood with a known gang presence, but are not a gang member, you could still be targeted and labeled a gang member for mere association and proximity to gang activity, and consequently subject to mandatory detention and deportation. In mandating automatic deportation, the SAFE Act guts fundamental due process protections. That DREAMer would have no right and no opportunity to present her case before a judge. Countless individuals, including green card holders, would be kept from presenting their case to a judge to consider individual circumstances such as the nature of the charge, family ties, or military service.
The bill also deputizes local and state police with enforcing immigration law -- a policy that has been tested and rejected by the Supreme Court. We've already seen state attempts to criminalize immigrants wholesale: Arizona's SB 1070, Alabama's HB 56 and several other copycats that attempted to force immigrants even further into the shadows, dividing communities, tearing apart families and sowing fear. By charging local law enforcement with making immigration arrests, the SAFE Act replicates these failed policies by inviting the racial profiling of Latinos and anyone else who may look or sound "foreign." These provisions blatantly disregard and ignore the opinions of law enforcement leaders across the country who have spoken out against such policies. When local police become an arm of immigration enforcement, victims and witnesses of crimes are unwilling to report those crimes, assuming any interaction could result in deportation. Law enforcement officials know that when immigrant communities fear the police, everyone is less safe.
There is no time to waste on the failed policies we see written into the SAFE Act. America is moving forward, not backwards. We must stay focused on a pathway that does not criminalize and alienate millions and is instead, sensible, fair and inclusive.