(photo: Rep. Lamar Smith at a September 2010 immigration hearing )

Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, profoundly wasted the committee’s time today with a junk piece of legislation that would only make matters worse for immigration authorities if passed. The legislation, the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act,” limit the administrative authority the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration Customs & Enforcment (ICE) has to consider waivers and issue cancel deportations, if deemed necessary.

When it came time for Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to give his opening remarks, Conyers demonstrated that he felt like the committee was being punked. In his voice, one could hear a tone of befuddlement at the fact that someone in Congress had actually brought before the committee legislation like the one being deliberated at this hearing:

REP. CONYERS: …This is an unusual matter, H.R. 2497, the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act.” Can I yield to anyone to tell me who’s title that is? Was it originated by members of Congress or a staff person? …

REP. ELTON GALLEGLY: I can’t answer that question.

REP. SMITH: I’d be happy to yield to the gentleman if he wants to yield. We thought that was a particularly appropriate acronym, H-A-L-T. And, I won’t say who we should give the credit to, but it was obviously a creative mind. But, it so happens that that acronym is very, very appropriate since we are trying to all the administration’s efforts to engage in backdoor amnesty. And, thank you for yielding.

REP. CONYERS: That’s fine. I just… “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Act of Immigration.” That would have been a title I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about. But, “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation”? I’ve never heard the word “temptation” involved in a title of a bill in my year’s in the Congress but there’s always a first time so this is it. If anyone ever uses that word again, with or without an acronym, I’ll remember that it started in the House Judiciary Committee by some unknown creative mind.

Following this line of questioning, Conyers went beyond questioning the seriousness of the bill to addressing the deep-seated racism that appears to have motivated the development of this legislation. Honing in on the fact that the bill is scheduled, if passed, to be suspended on January 21, 2013, Conyers explained to the committee that he thought Smith was saying with this legislation that President Barack Obama is “such a great threat that he and only he should have his authority withdrawn.” He stated Smith is not attacking the presidency but the president himself.

Smith denied that this was about President Obama, but Smith clearly is operating under the assumption that the president will not be re-elected. The date the bill is to be suspended, if enacted, is the date of his inauguration, if he is re-elected. The political lunacy behind this legislation is laid bare by the fact that this date is in this bill.

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was scheduled to testify before the Judiciary Committee, as he is the senator who has introduced this legislation in the Senate. It seems likely that Sen. Vitter took a look at Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Conyers and chose not to stand up for his nauseating stance on immigration.

As the bill is really about limiting “prosecutorial discretion,” making it impossible for those within ICE and the Homeland Security Department to use their conscience (provided it is still functioning) and consider outstanding circumstances to ensure that hardship is prevented if someone comes up for a deportation and may not deserve it, etc, Rep. Lofgren drew attention to Sen. Vitter’s past to make a salient point:

In the District of Columbia, it is a crime to engage in prostitution. In July of 2007, Ms. Deborah Palfrey, known as the DC Madam who had been convicted under this statute, published her phone records indicating that one of our witnesses was her client. Later Senator Vitter said this was a very sin in my past for which I am completely responsible. Under the DC criminal statute related to solicitation, the senator ninety to one hundred days but he never faced trial. In fact, prosecutors never brought charges. Sure looks like he benefited from prosecutorial discretion. I would not mention this incident today if it didn’t expose the hypocrisy of seeking to prevent the use of discretion to benefit others when one has enjoyed the benefit himself.

Another point Rep. Lofgren made during the hearing, as the National ICE Council President Chris Crane made statements, was that it appeared this was “putting the cart before the horse.” Statements were being made about the dysfunction of ICE and how it was mishandling the “Secure Communities” program. It really seems like Rep. Lamar Smith and other supporters of this anti-immigration legislation need to hold a proper oversight hearing of ICE before going ahead and passing something like this. It is quite clear they have no clue what it is like in agencies and probably are motivated to pass this legislation because they read some chain email the other day on immigrants (at least, that’s what it seems like).

For more on today’s hearing, see The Dissenter’s live blog of this hearing