Homeland Security Secretary Calls for Amnesty to Resolve "Legal Ambiguity" of Illegal Aliens
Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to question Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. (See Judiciary.house.gov, May 29, 2014) The hearing marked Johnson's first appearance before the Judiciary Committee since becoming Secretary in December 2013.
At the hearing, key Republicans decried the unlawfulness of the Administration's "prosecutorial discretion" policies. The Chairman of the Committee, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), began by stating that "the Obama Administration is twisting the concept of prosecutorial discretion beyond all constitutional recognition, all in an unprecedented effort to create immigration enforcement free zones." (Goodlatte Opening Remarks, May 29, 2014) Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) — Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee — also examined the Secretary on the issue, asking him if there were "any" limits on the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, May 29, 2014) Johnson claimed that the doctrine does not permit "wholesale abandonment of the law," but could not come up with a single example of a limit to the doctrine. (Id.)
The Secretary used the hearing to push the Administration's case for amnesty, though he avoided using the term itself. While denying that the Administration's "deferred action" policies constituted an "amnesty," he proclaimed amnesty necessary because illegal aliens are currently in a state of "legal ambiguity" after state laws that have recently passed giving them privileges. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, May 29, 2014; see FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 29, 2014; FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 9, 2013) He said to the Committee: "There are states now where they are permitted to have driver's licenses. [The] California Supreme Court says that an undocumented immigrant in this country can practice law. So they're not going away. They're not going to self deport." He continued: "I would rather see us reckon with this population than to continue in the state of legal ambiguity we're in right now." (Bloomberg Government Transcript, May 29, 2014) Even when Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) objected to this description of the status of illegal aliens, Secretary Johnson reiterated that if "they are here undocumented but there are states that permit them to have driver's licenses," that he "consider
" that to be an "ambiguous legal state." (Id.)
When pressed as to why the Administration's policies should not be considered amnesty Secretary Johnson struggled to articulate a distinction. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) read Black's Law Dictionary's definition of amnesty: "a pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons." He then asked Secretary Johnson if under Black's Law Dictionary's definition, whether Johnson agreed that the Administration's policies have resulted "in amnesty to hundreds of thousands" of people. (Id.) In response, Johnson insisted that he does not "consider" what the Administration did to be amnesty, "as I understand the concept of amnesty, and I think I do." However, when Rep. Smith probed him as to why his conception of amnesty differed from that of Black's Law Dictionary, Secretary Johnson, who previously served as the Pentagon's top lawyer, responded only that he was not sure of the answer. (Id.; Politico, Oct. 18, 2013)