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Trey Gowdy: DOJ Aiding and Abetting Local Governments in Their Failure to Enforce Immigration Law

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina, is not a fan of the Obama Justice Department's sanctuary city policies.

"Time and time again, our nation has witnessed the tragic consequences of this administration's failure to enforce immigration law," he said in his opening statement at a hearing on sanctuary cities Tuesday. "Witnessing these tragedies is unsettling enough, but it pales in comparison to the grief and the anguish and the separation experienced by the families of those victimized."

At issue was a provision that was enacted by Congress two decades ago: Title 8, Section 1373, was "designed specifically to prevent jurisdictions from enacting policies that prohibit their employees from sharing information with ICE about illegally present or criminal aliens."

"We're not here merely to discuss the failure to enforce the law," Gowdy explained in his opening remarks. "It's even more disconcerting than that. We're here today because the Department of Justice, the entity that is supposed to be the chief enforcer of the law, is aiding and abetting local governments in their failure to enforce the law."

He argued, "This administration's Department of Justice is actually requiring New Orleans police officers to break the law." The former prosecutor called the DOJ's push for New Orleans police to enforce sanctuary city policies "an effort to further their political agenda."

There are currently more than 300 sanctuary jurisdictions in the United States where law enforcement is not allowed to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. One of these is New Orleans. The House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security yesterday examined  "How the Crescent City Became a Sanctuary City.”

Panelists at the hearing included Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry; Vanita Gupta of the DOJ Civil Rights Division; Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general for the Department of Justice; and Zach Butterworth, director of Federal Affairs New Orleans, LA, Office of the Mayor.

The Justice Department's  IG report earlier this year found that sanctuary city policies could break Title 8, Section 1373, the federal law that requires cooperation between localities and ICE.

New Orleans scrapped part of its sanctuary city policy last week, marking a retreat for both the city and the Obama administration, which had insisted the city shield illegal immigrants from federal deportation agents as part of an agreement to reduce racial profiling.

DOJ IG Michael Horowitz said the new policy does solve part of the sanctuary problem, but he wasn't sure whether the changes go far enough to comply with the law.

Rep. Gowdy peppered Butterworth with a number of questions, starting with who he thinks has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration cases.  The obvious answer is federal agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"But I think you'll agree with me that almost all of our interactions in life are with state and local law enforcement. The FBI doesn't stop you for speeding," Gowdy said. "It's not an ATF agent who's working the bar scene." After establishing that most of our interactions with law enforcement involve local officials, he asked, "How is a federal officer could be expected to know about folks who are not here lawfully?”

Butterworth answered sarcastically, "If Congress passed a law that commandeered every local police officer and wanted to pay for that, then I think we would welcome it.”

Gowdy, without blinking an eye, quipped: "Well, 'commandeer' is such a pejorative term. How about we just say 'cooperate.' You don't 'commandeer' people for your terrorism task forces, do you? You don't 'commandeer' people for your narcotics task forces, do you? It's called cooperation." He added, "You have a policy that says, 'the New Orleans Police Department members shall not make inquiries into an individual's immigration status.' What do you mean by 'inquiries'?"

"Sir, if there's a criminal in New Orleans, and an officer interacts with that person, and there's a criminal warrant, then that person..."

Gowdy interrupted him right there. "I don't know what you mean by criminal. You mean if there's probable cause that an offense has been committed, or if there's an outstanding warrant?"

"If there's a state, federal, or local warrant, or probable cause and an officer observes conduct that's criminal, they will arrest the person," Butterworth answered.

"All right. And then they can inquire as to the person's status?" Gowdy asked.

"Our officers under this policy do not inquire about a person's immigration status," Butterworth replied.

"They can or cannot?" Gowdy pressed.

Butterworth repeated his previous answer. "Under this policy, they do not inquire about a person't immigration status."

"Why not?" asked Gowdy.

"Because we believe 1, this follows federal law, and 2 --"

Gowdy interjected, "How are federal law enforcement officers supposed to know if a person is here unlawfully, if your officers don't inquire? They're not the ones interacting with them? They're not enforcing traffic laws. They don't respond to domestic violence calls. The FBI doesn't have jurisdiction over that. That would be your state and local officers. So how is that supposed to happen?"

Butterworth, answered, "Sir, I think your concerns are with the broader system and not with this policy. In New Orleans, we arrest every criminal that we interact with."

Gowdy reminded him that a subject is not considered a criminal until he's had a jury trial.

He asked open-borders advocate Vanita Gupta a toughie: "What would the explanation be to those who have lost loved ones to violent crime by people who are here unlawfully, and the federal government knows it?"

"For someone who has been accused of crime -- the NOPD is absolutely within its authority to prosecute the law to its fullest..."

"No, no, no," Gowdy interrupted. "You're either missing my point inadvertently or you're missing my point intentionally. I realize you prosecute people AFTER the homicide. I'm trying to figure out how to prevent the homicide. What is the explanation for why the person wasn't dealt with BEFORE the murder?"

Gupta said that the new policy was enacted in order to ensure that the NOPD could fight violent crime by getting "critical crime information" from (undocumented)  victims and witnesses.

"You and I both know that you rely on all sorts of witnesses, some of whom expose themselves to criminal liability in the process of cooperating," the former prosecutor said, dismissing her argument. "The notion that you have to give amnesty to people before they will cooperate with law enforcement has not been my experience."

Congressman Gowdy has introduced, and the Judiciary Committee passed, the Davis-Oliver Act, legislation designed to strengthen the internal enforcement of our immigration laws.

Provisions in HR 1148 include:

  • Ends the President’s unilateral ability to shut off immigration enforcement. Allows state and local law enforcement to enforce their own immigration laws and provides financial assistance to state and local police for equipment and facilities they use for investigating and apprehending aliens violating immigration laws.
  • Targets sanctuary policies. Makes detainers mandatory and prohibits “sanctuary” state and localities from receiving federal law enforcement and DHS grants.
  • Gives law enforcement better tools and information. Requires the DHS Secretary to provide the National Crime Information Center information regarding any alien with a removal order or who has overstayed a visa. States will also have access to federal programs and technology to identify inadmissible and deportable aliens that are in their custody.
  • Makes our streets safer. A legal immigrant can be deported if convicted of two or more drunk driving offenses, and an unlawful immigrant shall be detained for removal proceedings if convicted of drunk driving.
  • Increases transparency and holds the Administration accountable. The Administration must report to Congress each year on the number of inadmissible and removable aliens encountered but either not processed for removal or provided with immigration benefits under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion.”
  • Protects communities from dangerous criminal aliens. If a dangerous criminal alien cannot be removed, allows DHS to detain them for longer than 6 months.

You can watch Gowdy's entire opening statement, here.