President Barack Obama made immigration reform a key part of his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, talking about a path to citizenship that would be possible with new immigration laws. Yet Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee, argues that the Obama administration has undermined those immigration laws already on the books by failing--deliberately--to enforce them.
"What we need to know about enforcement is what it's really like for officers," Sessions told a group of reporters today.
Sessions was introducing Chris Crane, the union leader who represents Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who are suing the government on the grounds that the administration's new executive action to prevent the arrest and deportation of "Dreamers"--young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children--prevent ICE agents from performing their duties.
Crane testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform today--along with an illegal immigrant whom he and fellow officers are not able to detain.
Crane told reporters that the president's actions, carried out through ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, conflict with existing federal law as passed by Congress. He added that the president's policy is being abused by adult illegal immigrants to pose as young "Dreamers."
"We don't go to schools," Crane told reporters. "We go to jails to arrest people." Yet if an illegal immigrant--even an inmate--claims to have a high school diploma, or claims to be young enough to qualify for Obama's new policy, ICE agents are not permitted to make an arrest or even to ask for proof of those claims.
Crane added that the Obama administration's policy effectively prevents ICE from enforcing the federal public charge statute--the law that bars anyone who is likely to become dependent on the government from being admitted as a legal resident of the United States. (The Department of Homeland Security only applies the statute to certain forms of cash assistance and under certain circumstances.)
He said that the president's claims about progress in border security and deportations were difficult to verify because the Department of Homeland Security did not make proper statistics freely available.
Neither the Obama administration nor the Democrats have introduced new legislation to give effect to some of the immigration reforms they have suggested. Separate proposals from a bipartisan group of Senators, called the "Gang of Eight," were laid out in greater detail last month but have not yet been put in legislative form.
Meanwhile, Crane said, the Obama administration's policies are undermining any hope of enforcement.
"Morale is lower than it's ever been at the agency," Crane told reporters. "The agency is literally crumbling from within."