|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
I want to begin my remarks by thanking Director Sarah Saldaña for her service and appearing before our Committee today. As head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Director Saldaña has one of the toughest jobs in government. With limited resources, she must ensure that our immigration statutes are enforced as well as ensure that this is done in fair, just, and balanced way.
For that reason, the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities recognize that millions of unauthorized immigrants have been living and working in the United States for 5 or 10 years or longer.
These men and women are parents of U.S. citizen children; pray at our churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship; and make significant contributions to our economy. Their removal is not and should not be an enforcement priority.
We are here today to, first, examine how our immigration laws are enforced and how this enforcement affects our communities. As we conduct this examination, however, we must keep in mind that many of the challenges faced by ICE and immigrant communities are a result of Congress’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Yet, we are now in the waning days of the current Congress, which will soon adjourn without having addressed this failure even though every day families continue to be separated and hard-working members of our society are forced to live in the shadows.
Despite all of these challenges, the Majority continues to focus exclusively on immigration enforcement that would criminalize entire communities. The Republican presidential nominee advocates policies, based on the abhorrent 1950s program, “Operation Wetback.” If enacted and carried out, the ensuing chaos would be a tragedy rivaling the darkest episodes in America’s history.
Comprehensive immigration reform is the only real option to repair our broken immigration system.
Another issue we should consider at this hearing is the fact that there is a significant increase in the time non-criminal asylum seekers are being detained.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees states that the detention of an asylum seeker is an exceptional circumstance and should only be used for a limited period of time. I agree.
And, I encourage ICE to use its parole authority to release asylum seekers who have passed credible fear screenings, or in the alternative to consider non-custodial forms of alternatives to detention.
I am pleased to see that the Department of Homeland Security will be conducting a review of private prison policies. I have long been deeply concerned about the use of private prison companies, particularly in light of reports of serious medical neglect, physical abuse, preventable deaths and other forms of mistreatment. The Department of Justice recently decided to end its relationship with private prison companies, in part, because of abusive treatment of inmates. I encourage ICE to follow suit and end its reliance on private prisons.
Finally, just yesterday DHS announced a change in policy for Haitian nationals arriving at our ports of entry. I know this is a complex area of the law with no easy answers. But, deporting Haitians back to a country still reeling from the devastating earthquake and a cholera epidemic caused by the U.N. is concerning and warrants close oversight.
I thank the Chairman and yield back the balance of my time.
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