Thank you, Chairman John Hostettler (R-IN), Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and members of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am Gordon Quan, Mayor Pro Tem and At Large Council Member from Houston, Texas. I am pleased to testify on behalf of the National League of Cities on H.R. 2671, the "Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003".
The National League of Cities (NLC) is the nation’s oldest and largest association representing municipal interests in Washington, D.C. NLC represents more than 16,000 cities of all sizes – from our largest member New York City with a population of 8 million to our smallest member De Graff, Minnesota with a population of 133. As the representative of the nation’s local leaders, NLC has a vital interest in clarifying the roles and responsibilities for local law enforcement in the enforcement of federal immigration law and stopping terrorisms.
I am prepared to testify before you as the president of the Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials of the National League of Cities as well as an advisor to the Houston Mayor, Lee P. Brown's Office for Immigration and Refugee Affairs. I am certified by the Texas Board of Legal Certification in Immigration and Nationality Law and have practiced in this area of law for the past 26 years.
Like many major cities across America, Houston has seen a dramatic demographic transformation in the past twenty years. No one ethnic group comprises the majority of the population in Houston. We have benefited greatly from immigrants moving to our city. Houston is roughly one-third Anglo, one-third Hispanic and the remaining third Black and Asian. With 77 consulates in Houston, we have the third largest consular corps in the U.S. The Port of Houston ranks number one in foreign tonnage in the U.S. We are truly an international city.
Since September 11, local law enforcement across the nation have improved the security of their cities. In my city of Houston, Texas we have significantly assumed responsibilities for counterterrorism in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies revamped emergency preparedness plans, provided airport security, responded to anthrax threats and incidents, purchased new equipment and shouldered significant costs in overtime pay.
Since September 11, the Mayor's office and Houston Police Department estimate that we are spending an extra $584,000 per month for security at the city’s water plants, airports, extra helicopter flights, among others. That figure does not include the added cost for security at City Hall and “soft targets” such as local temples and synagogues. In sum, the City of Houston has spent $14 million more on securing the city since September 11, 2001.
As this committee considers new ways to improve the nation’s security, I ask that it does so without diverting essential federal responsibilities onto local governments. I am specifically referring to H.R. 2671, the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003 (The CLEAR Act). The bill, authored by Rep. Norwood (R-GA), would mandate that state and local law enforcement enforce federal immigration laws or risk the reimbursement from the State Criminal Alien Assistant Program (SCAAP).
NLC’s policy on immigration and the role of local government is clear. Specifically, it reads:
With regard to the enforcement of federal immigration laws, local police have a responsibility to cooperate with the federal government to apprehend specific persons identified as having committed a crime and violated US immigration laws and who have been located by the federal government. However, local police should not be responsible for reporting or retaining the custody of those persons they have detained or charged.
Local personnel cannot be conscripted into federal service because the federal government has decided not to fund and staff its immigration enforcement agencies to meet demand. This type of action can divert local personnel from their primary duties and constitute a cost shift onto local governments. National Municipal Policy and Resolution, Section §4.06(D)(5)(A)(ii)
Simply put, the CLEAR Act, if enacted, would be bad policy on many grounds. I am here to speak on four issues: preemption, unfunded mandate, community policing, and racial profiling.
The Preemption Issue:
If the Senate were to adopt the CLEAR Act it would blatantly preempt state and local laws. Specifically, Section 102 of H.R. 2671 would require state and local governments to pass laws authorizing their law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws or risk losing reimbursement from the federal government for costs related to the incarceration of illegal immigrants. Put simply, Section 102 would preempt state and local laws that bar their law enforcement officers from assuming the federal responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws. This section would have the effect of preempting two state laws (Alaska and Oregon), and the resolutions and measures of numerous municipalities including the city of Houston.
In June 1992, the City of Houston adopted Police Department General Order No. 500-5 which holds that undocumented immigration status is not in itself a matter for local police action and entry without inspection is not to be treated as an on-going offense. The order also prohibits police officers from stopping or apprehending individuals solely on the belief that they are in the country illegally. This Order has served the people and the law enforcement community of Houston, TX well since its adoption.
Houston, as with many cities across the nation, has routinely assisted the federal government by apprehending, housing, and feeding non-documented criminal suspects in our city jails until the Bureau of Immigration dispatches its officers to retrieve the suspects. Local governments have done so despite the costs associated with these services. Indeed, members of this Subcommittee are all too aware of the annual battle local governments undergo to get SCAAP reimbursement for the costs incurred by local law enforcement for assisting the Bureau of Immigration. More often than not, the SCAAP reimbursement is less than the financial burden assumed by the local police departments.
Why then would Congress consider a bill that would punish the very sector of law enforcement that has stepped in to fulfill the responsibility of the federal immigration bureau? Section 102’s threat to withhold SCAAP reimbursement to local governments is a blunt force of extortion. In essence, Section 102 is Congress’ way of telling local governments that they must assume the responsibilities of the federal immigration agency or risk not getting reimbursed for the services they have rendered.
On behalf of the National League of Cities, “No thank you.” Congress should not preempt local governments simply because the federal government has failed or is unwilling to adequately staff and fund its federal enforcement agencies. Local governments will continue to cooperate with the federal government in its endeavor to stop crime. However, before Congress usurps local authority, it should first consider the precedent, the policy implications, and the cost of such a drastic measure.
Members of the Subcommittee, the events of September 11th and the events thereafter have clearly demonstrated that the men and women in blue are partners in fighting terrorism. Therefore, on behalf of these men and women, I ask that you gravely reconsider any attempt to preempt local law. Preemption would unduly burden already overworked police forces around the nation.
Protecting the homeland cost billions of dollars.. Local governments have already assumed much of the fiscal burden while they wait for first-responder funds to trickle down to the local level. As a Mayor Pro Tem and an At-Large Councilmember from Houston, I can tell you it is extremely difficult to protect essential policing services in these fiscal trying times. NLC and the City of Houston would therefore welcome your support for full funding for first-responder grant programs, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant. NLC, however, unequivocally opposes yet another Congressional effort to saddle local governments with an unfunded mandate.
Chiefly, I am perturbed by Section 109 of the CLEAR Act, which would require the federal government to pay only up to 50% of the cost to train state and locally elected officials to enforce federal immigration laws. In addition, there is no guarantee that Congress will ever fully appropriate the $1 billion Section 106 authorizes for state and local police agencies to obtain equipment, technology, and other administrative support. It is a leap, indeed, to assume that $1 billion is a sufficient authorization figure.
On behalf of the NLC, I respectfully ask, pursuant to Title I of the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act (UMRA), that members of this Subcommittee ask the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a mandate statement as it relates to the intergovernmental mandate issued in the bill. UMRA was passed to ensure that “Congress had information about the costs of mandates before it decided whether to impose them and encourage the federal government to provide funding to cover the costs of intergovernmental mandates.”
Additionally, NLC policy specifically calls for the Congress to “explicitly express its intent to preempt, and accompany any such proposals with a timely intergovernmental analysis, including estimated costs.” (National Municipal Policy §1.06(J))
The CLEAR Act, as proposed, presses local governments and their law enforcement officials to perform additional federal immigration duties under the threat of preemption and with no guarantee of full funding. Members of the Subcommittee, if Congress is ready to improve the security of this nation by strengthening its immigration enforcement, then it must be willing to properly fund the appropriate personnel and programs. As stated earlier, local police have a responsibility to cooperate with the federal government. However, local police cannot be conscripted into federal service because the federal government has decided not to fund and staff its immigration enforcement agencies to meet demand.
To shift the responsibility of immigration law enforcement to local governments without the necessary funds undermines the integrity of those championing the bill. The cost for police overtime, improved planning and coordination, and security enhancements have already been assumed by local governments. It is unfair to demand, under the threat of preemption, that local governments to undertake the federal government’s responsibilities. It is also unreasonable to mandate such responsibilities upon local governments without full fiscal support.
Effect on Community Policing and Racial Profiling
Police departments across the nation have raised concerns that efforts to force local officers to enforce federal immigration laws would damage successful community policing initiatives and inadvertently encourage racial profiling. I, too, am concerned with the effect of the CLEAR Act, if enacted. As a local elected official and immigration lawyer with over 26 years of experience, I know too well that communication, visibility, and trust are the foundation of effective community policing. Victims of crime must know that they can call us without the threat that they will be detained or deported simply because of their immigration status.
NLC’s policy specifically states, “Community policing must be seen as part of the basics in law enforcement. There must be a constant commitment to assure that justice is dispensed equally and not based on race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disabilities, education, or economic status of the victims or perpetrators.” (National Municipal Policy §6.01(B)) In short, NLC supports community policing and opposes profiling.
Forcing local law enforcement to be the “eyes and ears” of every civil immigration violation, would demoralize the very members in the community we are sworn to protect. The job of police officers is tough. I ask you, members of the Subcommittee, not to further complicate an already delicate situation. The State of Texas and my city of Houston are truly reflective of the diversity we praise in this nation. However, it would be a grave error to mandate that local police officers must now round up and detain those suspected of civil immigration violation.
Our government has the important task of stopping credible threats of terrorism. However, rounding up individuals standing based on their suspected citizenship status would undermine the credibility of the police departments and do little to prevent another tragedy like September 11th. In fact, H.R. 2671 may hinder the fight against terrorism if members of the immigrant community cannot trust the police officers who serve them. The CLEAR Act would render our communities to be less safe and our country no more secure.
In closing, I respectfully ask that this subcommittee fully weigh my comments as an elected local and immigration legal expert. I further ask that you take into account the unmanageable burden the CLEAR Act would place on local law enforcement. Specifically, consider the burden in cost, personnel, and the potentially devastating effect on community policing programs.
The American public wants us to find effective tools to combat terrorism. I submit that the most effective tools are not preemption, unfunded mandates, deteriorated community policing, and racial profiling; rather, our most effective tools to fight terrorism are improved coordination, planning, technology, training, and funding.