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Migrant Nation

Lamar Smith’s push to HALT the DREAM Act

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Two bills snaking their way through Congress, both with equally catchy names, show just how polarized the debate over immigration has become.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois took up his decade-long fight to move the DREAM Act through Congress in late June, holding the bill’s first-ever Senate committee hearing. Durbin and the bill’s House sponsor, Democratic Congressman Howard Berman of California, contend that every year Congress fails to pass a DREAM Act (and, if the Tea Party winds in Congress are any indicator, this could be the tenth) more and more “young people who did nothing wrong” are unfairly deported.

Now take GOP Congressman Lamar Smith, who has entrenched himself on the far opposite end of the spectrum. The DREAM Act’s doppelganger, Smith’s HALT Act (“Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation”) would essentially freeze administrative controls that the Department of Homeland Security uses to stall certain deportations that aren’t deemed a priority while Congress works on that ever-elusive “legislative fix.”

Smith’s bill would strip prosecutorial discretion away from DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and, for Smith, stop the Obama Administration’s shadowy attempts to grant “backdoor amnesty” to millions of undocumented immigrants by fiat. The bill would sunset on January 21, 2013, the day after the end of Obama’s first term (perhaps wishful thinking on Smith’s part).

By now, it’s clear what Durbin’s DREAM Act would grant: A path to citizenship for those brought into the country as children, provided they attend college or join the military. But what would its brother, the HALT Act, take away?

Local immigration attorney Lance Curtright said Smith’s measure strips away a number of administrative controls available to ICE officials and judges overseeing immigration cases — measures they’ve employed for over a decade. Most immigrants who have either overstayed visas or never entered legally are subject to a ban of up to 10 years from the U.S. But Congress in the ’90s created a waiver for the ban in certain circumstances, namely if the deportation would cause “extreme hardship” to the immigrant’s citizen children or immediate family members — an increasingly tough measure to meet, Curtright said.

Curtright finds the measure hysterical, since the majority of those who seek the hardship waiver don’t get it anyway. “It’s not like a there’s a gold rush here.”

Lamar Smith’s bill would also rule out deferred action for cases like that of the Arboleda brothers, who left Colombia as teenagers to move to the Houston suburbs, filing for asylum, though their petition was denied. The pair was flagged for deportation after Mauro Arboleda, a 24-year-old recent University of Houston graduate, was detained by ICE after he was pulled over in a traffic stop. By the end of last month, amid mounting public pressure (including a march here in SA), ICE agreed to grant deferred action for both brothers.

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