The New Sheriffs in Town

Published on January 4th, 2011

Congress has re-opened for business but there are new folks at the helms of the various committees and subcommittees.  I will focus on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Subcommittee on Immigration for this posting. Immigration, as I have noted on ever so many occasions is not a single issue but represents one of the most effective components of nearly every challenge that confronts our nation today. Failures to secure our nation’s borders and failures to create an immigration system that has real integrity that seeks to eliminate fraud from the immigration benefits program impacts everything from national security, criminal justice and community safety to the economy, the environment, healthcare education and a host of other important issues that impact our nations and our citizens on a daily basis. Representative Lamar Smith now leads the House Judiciary Committee and has an established a track record of keeping the executive branch accountable.  I first met Congressman Smith in the 1990’s, when he chaired the House Immigration Subcommittee, when I was called to provide testimony before a Congressional hearing. The hearing dealt with visa fraud and immigration benefit application fraud.  The date of that hearing was May 20, 1997 and was prompted by the terrorist attacks of 1993 that involved a shooting incident outside of CIA headquarters in January 1993 by Amir Kansi, a citizen of Pakistan who was granted political asylum even though he lied on his application.  He repaid our nation’s kindness (and frankly, ineptitude) by opening fire on cars being driven into the CIA parking lot that winter morning with an AK-47, killing two CIA officers and wounding three others.  He fled from the United States, was located, arrested and brought back to the United States to stand trial for those murders and assaults, was found guilty and executed for his crimes–but his victims remained dead. On month later, in February 1993, an attack at the World Trade Center involving the planting of a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center garage left six victims dead, hundreds injured and an estimated 500 million dollars in damages inflicted on the complex that nearly caused one of the huge towers to topple sideways. The terrorists involved in this attack had committed visa fraud and immigration benefit fraud in order to enter our country and/or embed themselves in our country. Clearly Lamar Smith understood the immigration crisis that our nation faced, but the Clinton administration did nothing to address the nexus between immigration fraud and national security. It is important to understand that it was also Lamar Smith who continued to hammer at the impact that failures to secure our borders and create an immigration bureaucracy that has real integrity when George W. Bush was the President in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  I was invited to testify before the House Immigration Subcommittee numerous times after those attacks.  By then John Hostettler had become the chairman of the subcommittee and Lamar Smith remained on as a member of that subcommittee.  Both of these leaders hammered away at the failures of the INS and its successor agencies of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to live up to the obligation those agencies had to carry out their missions with effectiveness and efficiency. After leadership in the House of Representatives switched to the Democratic Party as a result of the 2006 elections and John Hostettler lost his bid for re-election, Representative Steve King of Iowa became the ranking member of the Immigration Subcommittee and Lamar Smith became the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee that oversees the Immigration Subcommittee. Now we come to the situation our nation finds itself today.  The War on Terror is ongoing, violence in Mexico fueled by drug trade is increasing, our nation’s economy still struggles and many Americans are either unemployed or underemployed.  However, I am encouraged that the House of Representatives will deal with its oversight responsibility in a far different manner from what we have witnessed for the past four years. This is not a partisan statement on my part, simply a statement that is borne of observing what has come to pass for “Business as usual.”  As I have often noted, I am a registered Democrat and have been ever since I cast my first vote more than four decades ago.  The problem is that there have been few oversight hearings where immigration is concerned.  Immigration is, as I noted, an extremely important issue and I still cannot forget the image of a comic and satirist by the name of Stephen Colbert testifying before the subcommittee that is supposed to oversee the far-flung operations of the immigration related agencies that operate under the aegis of DHS, The Department of Homeland Security.  I am forced to ask, perhaps a bit rhetorically, if our government understands that the enforcement and administration of our immigration laws are an integral component of Homeland Security, why on earth have there been an absolute dearth of oversight hearings to make certain that these critical components of Homeland Security are carrying out their missions effectively? Our Congress has an incredibly important role in the governance of our nation as laid out by the Constitution.  A role that has, in my view been neglected and ignored while the failures of our nation to effectively deal with failures in the immigration system have damaged our nation, imperiled our lives and, in fact, caused the death of many of our fellow citizens including members of the law enforcement community with the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry being the most recent casualty of our nation’s failures. Clearly violations of our borders and violations of our nation’s immigration laws are not victimless crimes. I have testified before a number of hearings at which Representatives Smith and King have been in attendance.  Their questions and their comments have always impressed me in terms of how engaged and concerned they are about these critically important issues.  I have met with them privately and came away from those meeting even more impressed with their depth of understanding and their depth of concern. Those critically important hearings are supposed to shine the bright light of truth on the various agencies that comprise our government.  Those hearings are supposed to cause our leaders in the Executive Branch to answer the hard questions when there are failures, and of course, it is inevitable that there will be all sorts of failures because humans are a flawed species with many failings. You cannot solve problems until you identify those problems.  This is a major reason for Congress to conduct oversight hearings–hearings that incredibly have not been held nearly often enough to delve into the failings of the immigration system.  This is what accountability is supposed to be about, the “People’s House” as the House of Representatives is often referred to, is supposed to keep the federal government accountable to the citizens of our nation. I am certainly looking forward to Lamar Smith and Steve King taking up the reins of leadership in Congress–indeed the new sheriffs are in town.

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