Imagine if your committee was going to pass a bill designed to facilitate the deportation of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of unauthorized immigrants. How would you promote it? A town hall? A sober op-ed? A memorial for the two law enforcement officers the bill is named after, who were both killed by unauthorized immigrants?
Or would you write a post on your committee website with very little text and a bunch of GIFs featuring Disney characters, Saturday Night Live references, and Britney Spears doing a happy dance?
The House Judiciary Committee marked up and passed the "Michael Davis, Jr., and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act" this week — and to promote the bill, they went with the GIFs. (The committee has not replied to a request for comment.)
The result is some pretty epic cognitive dissonance, because GIFs or no GIFs, this bill is the closest proposal Congress has ever considered to mass deportation. It is a very, very serious bill.
It's not that the committee's Republicans who cosponsored and voted for the bill don't take it seriously. Quite the contrary. They see it as a matter of public safety: the bill is literally named after a local sheriff's department officer and a sheriff's deputy who were killed by unauthorized immigrants. And its critics, including religious organizations in addition to immigrant-rights and Latino groups, see the bill as the most extreme form of immigration enforcement Congress has ever endorsed. When a similar bill was passed in 2013, it attracted so much outrage from Latino and immigrant-rights groups that even a couple of Republican Congress members came out against it. (And there's no indication that House leadership has any desire to bring this bill to the floor — they certainly didn't show any interest in it in 2013.)
Why the Davis Act is "deportation wherever found"
The Davis Act doesn't set any deportation quotas for the government or increase the budget for deportations. But it does set up a pipeline that puts essentially any unauthorized immigrant who comes into contact with police into the deportation queue. Here's how.
First of all, it would make it a federal crime to be in the United States without immigration papers. (It's currently a civil offense.) This alone is something many Latinos are passionately opposed to: when the House passed a bill that included this provision in 2005, it provoked massive protests among immigrants and Latinos — and basically kick-started the current incarnation of the immigrant-rights movement.
Second, the legislation would allow any state or local law enforcement officer in the country to enforce immigration law. Combined with making lack of status itself a crime, it means any law enforcement agent can detain someone as long as he or she has probable cause to believe the person has committed the crime of being in the US without papers.
Third, it would all but require any immigrant apprehended by local police to be taken into federal custody for deportation. Right now, the federal government can choose whom to request to take into custody, and local law enforcement can decide whether to honor that request. Under the Davis Act, state and local jurisdictions would be required to send information about anyone they thought might be deportable to the federal government. They'd also be able to insist the federal government take an immigrant into custody — and even hold the immigrant after his or her scheduled release to force ICE to pick him up. And if the local police didn't ask to send an immigrant to federal custody, but the federal government wanted to take him anyway, the local officials would have to hand him over.
Fourth, the federal government would have very little opportunity to decide not to deport someone. Under current policy, certain types of unauthorized immigrants aren't designated "priorities" for deportation, and ICE agents are supposed to have a good reason to deport them. The Davis Act would roll back that policy as well as the policy in place earlier in the Obama administration, which designated immigrants like parents of US citizens as "low priorities" for deportation.
The purpose of the act is to make all unauthorized immigrants a deportation priority, and to make it as easy as possible for them to be put into the deportation process. In this respect, it goes further than "self-deportation," which is an agenda designed to make immigrants' lives so difficult that they'll leave without the government needing to deport them. It's not mass deportation, because it doesn't require that immigrants get rounded up. But it's certainly "facilitated deportation," or "deportation wherever found."
If passed, it would result in the separation of (potentially) millions of families living in the US. And the bill's supporters, on their side, are lifting up tragedies that also resulted in broken families. That's not something that deserves a Britney Spears happy dance. If they needed to go with a Disney GIF, they could have gone with this.
UPDATE: Vox asked the House Judiciary Committee for comment in advance, but that request wasn't originally included in the piece. It's been added.
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