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No Discretion, No Justice: The Irresponsible, Destructive HALT Act

Georgeanne M. Usova,
Former Senior Legislative Counsel
Joanne Lin,
Senior Legislative Counsel,
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August 1, 2011

Ariadna Recinas, a single mother, small business owner, and the sole breadwinner for her six children, including four US citizens, was granted cancellation of removal, an important form of immigration relief that allowed her to stay in the U.S. and continue to support and care for her family. The Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that, in this particular case, deporting her to Mexico would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to her children. But under Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation” (HALT) Act, Ms. Recinas would have no immigration options and would certainly be deported, thereby leaving four U.S. citizen children with no parent in the U.S.

As the debt ceiling crisis made national headlines last week, Rep. Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, devoted time to a hearing championing this ill-conceived and misguided bill that, if passed, will place more immigrants like Ms. Recinas on the conveyor belt to swift deportation, with no chance of relief. The absurdly-named HALT Act is an unnecessary and seriously misdirected attack on immigrants and families; it is aimed at gutting the executive branch’s exercise of discretion regarding the deportation of immigrants by taking away any authority to consider compelling factors—like those in Ms. Recinas’ case—in making immigration decisions. This would eliminate a time-honored safety-valve for deserving cases and throw away any notion of individualized consideration that has always been a hallmark of constitutional due process protections.

Because the HALT Act would apply only until the end of President Obama’s first term, January 21, 2013, it is a direct attack on this administration, which, according to Rep. Smith, has been using its discretion to implement “backdoor amnesty” for all. The facts, however, reveal a very different reality. Contrary to Mr. Smith’s assertions, the Obama Administration deported 18 percent more people in its first two years than the Bush Administration did in its last two, and more than half of those deported had no criminal record at all. With statistics like these, any claim that that the Obama administration is giving in to the “temptation” to stop deportations and “legalize” immigrants is patently false.

The HALT Act is not just hostile to the Obama administration, it is dangerously misguided. None of the immigration law provisions that it aims to suspend provide amnesty at all. Two of the forms of immigration relief targeted by the HALT Act – cancellation of removal for non-permanent residents and waivers of unlawful presence bars – are statutory forms of relief that were created and passed by Congress in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (“IIRAIRA”) of 1996, a law authored and championed by Lamar Smith. These forms of relief set very high minimum requirements for people to satisfy in order to avoid deportation. Why in the world does Lamar Smith now want to extinguish the very immigration laws he wrote in 1996? Doing away with such forms of relief would have disastrous effects on many American families, tearing them asunder.

And among those families torn apart are members of our country’s military. When a U.S. citizen parent is deployed to a dangerous war zone, HALT would leave no avenue for that service member’s undocumented spouse to remain legally in the U.S. to care for the couple’s children. The Act would also have severe repercussions for domestic violence survivors with Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) self-petitions, who, along with their dependent children, will face immediate expulsion from the U.S. because deferred action would no longer be available to them.

The HALT Act is yet another example of Lamar Smith’s campaign against immigrants and American families. The ACLU urges the House Judiciary Committee to stop HALT in its tracks.

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