House committee takes up enforcement-focused immigration bill

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

House Judiciary Committee members Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sponsor of the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, left, talks with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, prior to the start of the committee's hearing to discuss the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act. The committee in the Republican-led House is preparing to cast its first votes on immigration this year, on a tough enforcement-focused measure that Democrats and immigrant groups are protesting loudly.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A key committee in the Republican-led House moved Tuesday toward approving a tough enforcement-focused immigration bill opposed by Democrats and immigrant advocates, who interrupted the proceedings with cries of "Shame, shame, shame!"

Meanwhile in the Senate, a Republican lawmaker floated a compromise border security proposal he hopes can win over support for sweeping immigration legislation under consideration there.

And on a day of fast-paced developments on an issue that is a top priority for President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, moved to quiet speculation that he might bring the Senate immigration legislation up for a vote despite opposition from many conservatives in his chamber.

"Any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties' support if we're really serious about making that happen. And so I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans," Boehner said. He added that border enforcement would be key for any immigration bill, "And I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security."

As Boehner addressed reporters, the House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider a bill, called the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. It would empower state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws, make passport and visa fraud into aggravated felonies subject to deportation, funnel money into building more detention centers, and crack down on immigrants suspected of posing dangers.

As soon as Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., gaveled the proceedings open, more than a dozen protesters who had been seated in the hearing room stood up and began clapping and chanting, "Shame, shame, shame! More of the same!" They were ushered out but their cries could still be heard in the hallway and Goodlatte stopped the proceedings until the protesters had been dispersed.

Goodlatte said that the bill under consideration — the first immigration bill to come to a vote in a House committee this year — "provides a robust interior enforcement strategy that will maintain the integrity of our immigration system for the long term."

But Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said that "this bill must be opposed, it would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight." She predicted mass protests were the bill to become law, along the lines of what happened in 2006 after the House passed a similarly tough enforcement bill.

The move by the House Judiciary Committee comes less than two weeks after the full House voted to overturn Obama's 2012 election-year order to stop deportations of many immigrants brought here illegally as youths.

Together the two moves highlight the challenges ahead in getting a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress this year, as Obama wants. For many House conservatives, the priorities when it comes to immigration remain enforcing the laws and securing the border, not allowing the millions here illegally to gain legal status or citizenship.

Border security also is at issue in the Democratic-led Senate, where senators have been jousting over how to strengthen the provisions in a far-reaching bill being considered on the floor this week to remake the nation's immigration laws. At the heart of the bill is a 13-year path to citizenship for people now here illegally, but it is contingent on certain border security goals being met.

Republican critics say those "triggers" are too weak and have been demanding amendments to strengthen them. The Senate planned to vote Tuesday on an amendment by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., requiring 700 miles of double-layered border fencing before anyone here illegally could get a permanent resident green card.

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