- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2011

Although the American people have de- feated amnesty for illegal immigrants in recent years, this is not stopping President Obama and his administration from trying a backdoor amnesty. Over the past year, the administration has sought to circumvent Congress and use executive-branch authority to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.

Last month, administration officials caved to pressure from their liberal base and announced changes to Secure Communities. This program keeps our neighborhoods safe by identifying illegal and criminal immigrants in police custody who have been arrested and fingerprinted. The changes made by the administration could open the door to allow millions of illegal and criminal immigrants to avoid current immigration laws.

Specifically, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued two memos to agency officials on how to exercise “prosecutorial discretion,” such as granting deferred action; deciding whom to stop, question, arrest or detain; and dismissing a removal proceeding. While this authority is justifiable when exercised responsibly, the Obama administration has made clear that it plans not to use these powers but to abuse them.

For example, the ICE memos order agency officials to consider factors such as ICE’s immigration enforcement priorities, but ICE has expressed little interest in deporting illegal immigrants who have not yet been convicted of “serious” crimes. These memos also instruct agency officials to consider the illegal immigrant’s pursuit of education in the U.S. This is unprecedented and an open invitation to millions of illegal immigrants.

This isn’t the only time the administration has sought administrative amnesty. Last year, a draft memo written by top political officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested the agency take steps to legalize countless illegal immigrants.

The memo says that agency officials can grant deferred action or parole to an unrestricted number of illegal immigrants who have lived here for many years. Both of these options would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States, forcing millions of unemployed Americans to compete with them for scarce jobs. Both deferred action and parole are reasonable on a case-by-case basis but are not intended to be used to grant massive administrative amnesty.

It’s clear the Obama administration cannot be trusted with these powers. If the administration gets its way, millions of illegal immigrants will be allowed to remain in the U.S. without a vote of Congress. That is why I have introduced the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act (HALT Act) which will prevent the Obama administration from abusing its executive-branch authority.

Our Founding Fathers put Congress in charge of setting our immigration policy, but the Obama administration continues to ignore the will of Congress and the American people. The Obama administration should not pick and choose which laws it will enforce. Congress must HALT administrative amnesty.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.