David Olive

Apr 2, 2009

Today’s House Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee hearing on “Priorities Enforcing Immigration Law” got off to a delayed and roaring thud. After delaying the start of the hearing by 30 minutes due to anticipated floor votes, Chairman David Price started the proceedings with an apology for the late start and a few comments to mitigate the impact of Ranking Member Hal Rogers’ bombshell from the day before about an ICE decision to release illegal workers back to work following a workplace raid in the Seattle, WA area.

Rogers had promised fireworks, and Price set out to calm the rhetorical climate.  Just as he did so, the bells started ringing and the floor votes had started. Rogers’ opening statement followed, and while less dramatic than the day before, he laid out his concerns as only a former prosecutor could do. It was brilliant in its construct and delivered with the classic Hal Rogers passion that observers have come to expect. Then they adjourned for over an hour to go vote.

When the hearing started back after Noon, most of the audience had checked out. All but one of the initial committee member attendees came back, however, and the fun began again. Will ICE enforce existing laws or not? And, if so, who will be their target? Is there a new policy on workplace enforcement or not?

ICE Director of Investigations Marcy Foreman was unequivocal in her response to Rogers. Contrary to a statement in a Washington Post story, Foreman stated that ICE has not received any instructions from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about a change in policy in enforcing immigration laws. She stopped short of saying that Napolitano’s public comments on the ongoing review of DHS immigration enforcement actions constituted a change in policy – saying only that ICE has not received any direct communications to that effect. Rogers gave it his best effort to find an opening to criticize ICE’s lack of or delay in enforcement, but Foreman’s responses closed the opening quickly, leaving the Ranking Member visibly frustrated. At one point, he expressed his “disgust” at what he called the new DHS policy, calling it “de facto amnesty.” Rogers was the only one who seemed to have elevated blood pressure on the issue, however.

E-Verify was also a topic that drew Members’ attention. Michael Aytes, Acting Director of USCIS, gave a glowing report of how the program was working. The US Chamber of Commerce representative in the audience had placed information outside the hearing room door outlining their opposition to E-Verify. None of the Members seemed willing to ask questions that supported the Chamber’s position.

David Venturella, now Executive Director of the Secure Communities program (and a former Security DeBrief contributor) was literally and figuratively the “man in the middle” as he sat between Foreman and Aytes AND played the role of designated witness on the “hard questions” about how ICE is overcoming local and state obstacles to sharing information about criminal aliens. Venturella is a veteran of congressional hearings, and his calm answers were effective and “on message” in spite of some committee members parochial and – at least to me- inane questions.  

There were some moments of levity, like when Rep. Roybal-Allard referred to the I-9 (“eye-nine”) immigration form as the 1-9 (“one-nine”) document. It may have been an honest mistake, but comments like that affect her credibility on other issues, like her comments about protections for “pregnant women and children” who are detained for being in the country illegally.

Chairman David Price once again showed why members on both sides of the aisle respect his abilities. He is unswervingly fair; genuinely interested in the subject matter of witness’ testimony; and speaks with a calm voice and a non-partisan demeanor. He addresses issues head-on and is very well-prepared. Other committee chairs would do well to emulate Price’s actions.

All in all, ICE and CIS escaped serious congressional wrath today. They walked into a potential political quagmire and walked out without having created any new issues for the Administration or specifically for Secretary Napolitano.  

In today’s climate, where congressional hearings are generally used to advance or criticize a political agenda, today’s hearing stands out.  Taxpayers had an opportunity to see how congressional oversight OUGHT to occur. It was a good day.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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