WASHINGTON (CN) - The Trump administration's threat to defund sanctuary cities dominated the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on Tuesday, a hearing punctuated by one sheriff calling for the arrest of any public official who refuses to enforce the nation's immigration laws.
Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, of Bristol County, Massachusetts, may have possessed only one of the passionate voices raised during the contentious two-hour hearing, but his words appeared to rivet most in the room.
"Issue arrest warrants and charge these officials who pledge to violate federal law by harboring and concealing illegals," Hodgson said.
Insisting that illegal immigration is the "most dangerous issue" facing the United States, Hodgson predicted, "Sanctuary cities will start to fade if their leaders start running into legal trouble."
But predictably, this didn't sit well with many in the room.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who stepped up the administration's rhetoric on Monday by threatening to deny Justice Department funding to any community that harbors undocumented immigrants.
"The current administration continues to vilify immigrants and attack the communities that have decided not to turn their law enforcement into a mass deportation force," Conyers said.
But Hodgson and those who shared his views at the hearing were undeterred.
Carrying out the sheriff's proposal is possible under 8 U.S. Code 1324, which states that any person who conceals, harbors or shields an undocumented immigrant from law enforcement or attempts to conceal or encourage that undocumented person to come to or reside in the U.S. , while knowing that such entry is or will be in violation of law, faces a term of five years in jail per immigrant harbored.
In addition, individuals who harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain face a heftier penalty of 10 years in prison.
"I've been repeating that section [of code] every chance I get," Hodgson told the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
When pressed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for any other suggestions on how Congress can deal with local officials who refuse to uphold federal immigration laws, Hodgson repeated his stance of strict enforcement.
He testified that he has already told Somerville, Mass. Mayor Joseph Curtatone much of the same thing.
In January, Curtatone told reporters he and his wife and would gladly take an undocumented person into their home if the Trump administration forced his city’s hand over undocumented immigrants.
"I'm not going to run away from my responsibility to my fellow man, whether I'm mayor or not," Curtatone said.
"My answer to that would be to issue arrest warrants and we will figure out real fast how popular 'sanctuary cities' will be in this country," Hodgson said.
Jessica Vaughn, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, agreed with Hodgson.
"In some cases, diehard sanctuary jurisdictions that want to keep their policies, despite a lack of funding, if they want to be martyrs over it, the Department of Justice will have to take legal action against those jurisdictions," Vaughn said. "It may be appropriate to potentially seek an injunction or it may be appropriate to prosecute local officials who deliberately and knowingly harbor illegal aliens from detection and deportation."
Judges, wardens and attorneys should not be exempt from law enforcement either, Vaughn said.
"When a judge takes an illegal alien out the side door to avoid ICE, when a jail does not permit ICE to interview inmates, when a law enforcement agency receives a detainer to hold a criminal alien and requests all of the info on those crimes [and they are not turned over,] all of those officials are knowingly shielding those criminals from ICE," she said.
The tough talk on enforcement was met with fierce resistance by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who got into a loud and prolonged exchange with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., over President Trump.
"We have a president of the United States that said Mexicans are murderers, rapists and drug dealers. I can pull up the YouTube video right now. That's a fact."
Sensenbrenner responded by accusing Gutierrez of "casting aspersions" on the president.
"Okay. So let's move on," Gutierrez said before slamming Republicans again.
"It doesn't surprise me. They're not looking for a solution. They're looking for a demonization of a community to score political points. We don't want to resolve this problem just like we don't want to resolve healthcare," Gutierrez said. "What we have here is people who say 'how do we expect to restore western civilization with other people's babies?,' That's what members of Congress are saying... and the president is playing one big role in all of it."
Gutierrez continued to unload on the committee, criticizing Sensenbrenner for playing on people's fears.
During his opening remarks, the chairman cited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an example of the need for tougher immigration enforcement.
Gutierrez reminded him that Saudi Arabia, the home to every hijacker aboard the planes on Sept. 11, was not on the list of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S. by the president's hotly-contested travel bans.
Zoe Lofgren, D.-Calif., sided with Gutierrez, saying Sensenbrenner's invoking the Sept. 11 attacks was a tragedy, and connecting the deportation of farm workers in 2017 simply "does not compute."
Archi Pyati, the chief of policy and programs at the Tahirih Justice Center, reminded the committee of the growing pressure felt by immigrant families and said the rhetoric of the Trump administration is been counterintuitive to achieving the proclaimed bipartisan goal of a more secure America with more secure communities.
The executive orders in January, coupled with Trump's statements about immigrants merely inspire fear and confusion, Pyati said.
“If we have a [undocumented immigrant] victim telling me she’s been raped by her husband he’s actively beating her, do I tell her to call the police or not? [Right] now we have to tell her we don’t know," Pyati said. "But we used to be able to say that America has laws to prevent this sort of violence and now we don’t know what to say anymore.”
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