CONGRESS DAILY: PELOSI TRIGGERS BATTLE OVER POSSIBLE END TO WORKSITE RAIDS
House Speaker Pelosi has touched off a new round of fighting over whether the Homeland Security Department should continue to stage controversial raids of worksites around the country. That may foreshadow a dispute that could move front and center when the new Congress convenes in January.
Pelosi indicated at a news conference Wednesday that she supports an end to worksite enforcement operations nationwide by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the Homeland Security Department. She said the urgency of putting together comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been intensified by the raids. "How do we end the ICE raids, have a situation where we can end the ICE raids as we put together the comprehensive immigration reform?" she asked.
She did not offer a timeline for the Democratic-led Congress to take up comprehensive immigration legislation. In response to additional questions, a Pelosi spokesman said the speaker has long expressed concerns that the Raids are ineffective and "unnecessarily divide families at the expense of children." The aide added: "As the speaker clearly stated during her press conference last week, she supports a bipartisan solution that protects our borders, enforces our laws, unites families and creates a path to legalization." But such comments already have come under fire by Republican lawmakers who believe worksite enforcement actions are a valuable tool to dissuade employers from hiring illegal workers. "The last thing we should be talking about is ending ICE raids. We need more enforcement, not less,"
said House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King. House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith also weighed in. "Instead of criticizing, the Speaker should be commending ICE for protecting American jobs by ensuring that they don't go to illegal immigrants, targeting identity thieves and holding employers accountable," Smith said. "I'm troubled that the speaker seems to be more concerned with the welfare of illegal immigrants than of the U.S. citizens who have to compete against them for jobs."
The rift between Pelosi and GOP lawmakers underscores tensions that persist over immigration issues, which now fall into the lap of President-elect Obama. A coalition of immigration advocates has scheduled a news conference Tuesday to call on Obama to institute a moratorium on ICE raids when he takes office in January. Some GOP congressional aides said they worry that Obama will appoint a new ICE director who will not make worksite enforcement raids a high priority - a move they believe would be a major mistake. Immigration advocates said they were encouraged by Pelosi's comments last week. "I think that her statement showed a real recognition that the raids that we've seen in the last few months have been largely ineffective," said Grisella Martinez, legislative director for the National Immigration Forum. The raids are a byproduct of a failed immigration system that needs to be revamped, she said.
But those who support strict enforcement of the nation's immigration laws hope Obama's administration will not end worksite operations. Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which favors reduced immigration, notes that Obama's presidential campaign Web site outlines support for employer sanctions. "To remove incentives to enter the country illegally, we need to crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants," the Web site said. But the site offered no additional information, other than a statement that Obama supports legislation to create a new employment eligibility verification system "so employers can verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S."
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