WASHINGTON ― House Republicans are moving forward this week with an attempt to make President Donald Trump’s promised “deportation force” even bigger and, potentially, more heavily armed.
The House Judiciary Committee is set to mark up multiple immigration bills on Thursday, including one from committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that would facilitate mass deportations. Borrowing from past legislation to bolster Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the bill would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officers to have access to not just standard-issue handguns and stun guns, but also M-4 rifles or equivalents.
The little-noticed legislation is one of four immigration-related bills that the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider, two of them specifically focused on ICE, the third on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the fourth on human trafficking. If passed, they would give the Trump administration more resources to deport immigrants and make it easier to do so.
“As a package, the House Judiciary bills would turbocharge Trump’s mass deportation agenda,” Frank Sharry, head of pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said in an email. “It seems Goodlatte and fellow Republicans want to go down in history as the Congress that aided and abetted one of America’s darkest chapters.”
Goodlatte’s ICE authorization bill would add 10,000 officers focused on deportation, 2,500 in detention, and 60 trial attorneys. It would authorize officers to make arrests without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe the person had committed a felony, and would allow ICE to arrest people for civil offenses without a warrant, even if they are not considered “likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained,” which is the case under current law.
The measure would codify the president’s new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, office, which has placed all community engagement under a frame of immigrants as criminals, whether crime-related or not, and bans ICE from having a “public advocate.” And it would create an advisory council that in the near-term would likely be dominated by immigration hawks appointed by the president, chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, the ICE prosecutor’s union, and the ICE union that endorsed Trump.
ICE didn’t answer a request to describe deportation officers’ current weapons.
A separate bill from Goodlatte on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could restrict lawmakers’ ability to influence cases by barring “preferential treatment” or sharing information with elected officials and stakeholders on individual cases. Democratic aides interpreted the measure as meant to prevent members of Congress from intervening in cases. It would also authorize E-Verify, the program for employers to check whether their employees are eligible to work in the U.S.
“The United States has a generous immigration system and has become home for millions of people seeking to live the American dream, grow our economy, and flee persecution,” Goodlatte said in a statement last week. “We have a duty to ensure our immigration laws are enforced, operate efficiently, and work in the national interest.”
A third immigration bill, a version of which was introduced in the last Congress but not enacted, would authorize state and local law enforcement to get more involved in detention and deportation efforts. The bill is broadly aimed at combatting so-called sanctuary city policies restricting local law enforcement cooperation with ICE, which the Trump administration has promised to eliminate. The bill was introduced this year by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho).
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) expressed frustration on Monday that bills were being marked up so quickly after their introduction, which he said indicated Republicans were “not serious about building consensus or crafting, debating, and passing thoughtful legislation.”
“This is about brandishing their swords and using the immigration issue as a political weapon, which is frankly pretty much what I have come to expect from Judiciary Republicans these days,” Gutierrez told HuffPost in a statement.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) are separately working on legislation on border security and immigration enforcement, but have yet to unveil their bill.