Rep. Lamar Smith Introduces Temporary HALT Act Because Obama "Can't Be Trusted"

July 26, 2011 11:41 am ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Later today the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX) new bill, the Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act. The goal of the measure is to prevent the administration from exercising any discretion in immigration policy — in other words, to keep it from having a say in which immigration cases the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency puts resources into pursuing.

Smith's quest to limit President Obama's power began after ICE head John Morton issued a memo providing guidelines for ICE agents on how to exercise prosecutorial discretion. "Because the agency is confronted with more administrative violations than its resources can address," Morton explained, "the agency must regularly exercise 'prosecutorial discretion' if it is to prioritize its efforts."

However, Smith's disdain for prosecutorial discretion only extends as far as President Obama's use of it. As the Chicago Tribune notes, "Executive powers would be restored on Jan. 22, 2013, the day after Obama's first term ends," because according to Smith, the administration "can't be trusted with these powers."

Smith's new stance on discretion seems to contradict his own previous positions. In a 1999 letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno and then-Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner, Smith, along with other Republicans, urged Reno and Meissner to use their "discretion to alleviate some of the hardships" of legal permanent residents who could face "unjustifiable hardship" if deported under a 1996 legislative reform. The letter concluded, we "hope that you will develop and implement guidelines for INS prosecutorial discretion in an expeditious and fair manner."

When confronted with the letter, Smith responded that he was speaking strictly about legal immigrants, not the undocumented immigrants he claims Obama is seeking to protect. But the justification for prosecutorial discretion remains the same whether talking about legal or illegal immigrants: there simply aren't enough resources to prosecute (or deport) everyone, so time and money have to be focused on the cases that count.

Smith has set up an odd double standard. The HALT Act would prevent ICE from prioritizing the deportation of undocumented felons and gang members over minors, the elderly, immigrants in the U.S. since childhood, or those who "have or are pursuing a college or advanced degree." However, in 1999, he advocated for discretion in cases where the defendant "came to the United States when [they] were very young and many years ago committed a single [crime] at the lower end of the 'aggravated felony' spectrum, but have been law-abiding ever since, obtained and held jobs and remained self-sufficient, and started families in the United States."

Ultimately, this is about challenging Obama's presidential power — and anything Rep. Smith can do to stop Obama, even if it goes against some of Smith's own sensibilities, he will do.