WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Challenged by Republicans, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch on Wednesday defended President Barack Obama’s decision to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation though they live in the country illegally. But she said they have no right to citizenship under the law.

She said that under the administration’s policy, the Department of Homeland Security focuses its efforts on the removal of “the most dangerous of the undocumented immigrants among us. It seems to be a reasonable way to marshal limited resources to deal with the problem” of illegal immigration, she said.

Lynch made her remarks in the opening moments of a hearing into her appointment as the nation’s first black female attorney general. It is the first confirmation proceeding since Republicans took control of the Senate this month.

Lynch, a daughter of the segregated South, was accompanied at the hearing by about 30 family members and friends. Among them were her father, her husband and several members of her college sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, wearing their trademark red.

Settling into the witness chair for what promised to be a long day of questioning, Lynch promised a fresh relationship with law enforcement and Congress.

“I pledge to all of you and to the American people that I will fulfill my responsibilities with integrity and independence,” she said in remarks prepared for the panel led by Republicans who say Attorney General Eric Holder has been too willing to follow Obama’s political agenda.

“You’re not Eric Holder, are you?” said Texas Republican John Cornyn, one of the current attorney general’s most persistent critics.

“No, senator,” she responded with a smile.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican and committee chairman, made a similar point in the opening moments of the hearing. He said the department is “deeply politicized. But that’s what happens when the attorney general of the United States views himself, in his own words, as the president’s ‘wingman.”’

“I for one need to be persuaded Ms. Lynch will be an independent attorney general,” Grassley said. “The attorney general’s job is to represent the American people, not just the president and not just the Executive Branch.”

Grassley asked first about immigration, and he said the president’s actions amounted to rewriting the law rather than enforcing it.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., returned to the subject and asked Lynch if a person who entered the country illegally would have a civil right to citizenship, a claim he said Holder has asserted.

She said that for someone not born in the country, citizenship is a privilege to be earned, and that for immigrants entering the country illegally it is not part of a “panoply of civil rights” guaranteed by the Constitution.

Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is widely expected to win confirmation easily, if only because Republicans are so eager for Holder’s tenure to end. Holder is stepping down after six years in the post. He has been a lightning rod for conservative criticism, clashing with Republicans and becoming the first sitting attorney general held in contempt of Congress.

In testimony delivered before she was questioned, Lynch said that if confirmed she would focus on combatting terrorism and cybercrime and would protect the vulnerable from criminal predators.

And she was at pains to promise what Republican critics demanded in advance.

“I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee, the United States Senate and the entire United States Congress, a relationship based on mutual respect and constitutional balance,” she said.

Holder also battled the perception from critics that he aligned himself more with protesters of police violence than with members of law enforcement, a charge he and the Justice Department have strongly denied.

In her prepared testimony, Lynch promised a fresh start in that relationship, too.

“Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Lynch said, pledging to “work to strengthen the vital relationships” if confirmed.

Lynch’s hearing comes amid a nationwide spotlight on police tactics in the wake of high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers, as well as the slaying last month of two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in Brooklyn.

It’s an issue Lynch, 55, is deeply familiar with.

Lynch helped prosecute the New York City police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997. Her office in New York is leading a civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island last summer.

Lynch has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001.

“Looks can be deceiving and Ms. Lynch packs a powerful punch,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer testified. “When you look at the breadth and depth of the cases she’s handled, it’s clear Loretta Lynch is law enforcement’s renaissance woman.”

On a conference call Tuesday, law enforcement officials praised Lynch’s nomination. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described her as a “fair-minded individual” who would be able to navigate sensitive matters of race relations and policing and see both sides.

Lynch grew up with humble beginnings in North Carolina, the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist minister. She went on to receive undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University.

Lynch already has earned praise from several GOP senators for her impressive credentials and accomplishments. But she’ll face tough questions from Republicans who now control the Senate. The hearing gives them an opportunity to press their opposition to Obama administration policies while showcasing their own governing roles as the 2016 presidential election cycle gets underway.

“She certainly has the credentials. We don’t want a repeat of what we had,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior committee member. “I look upon her as a pretty good appointment, but I have to listen along with everybody else.”

The Judiciary Committee includes some of the Senate’s most outspoken Republicans, among them Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential presidential candidate.

“We need an attorney general who will stop being a partisan attack dog and instead get back to the traditions of upholding the Constitution and the law in a fair and impartial manner,” Cruz said.

Lynch has met with every member of the committee ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, CBS2’s Susan McGinnis reported. If she gets the job, she will likely not have the combative relationship that exists now between Congress and the current attorney general.

“Individuals I’ve spoken with who’ve worked with both of them said that won’t be the case with Lynch. She’s very cool under pressure, she’s a pretty tough cookie and they won’t be able to get under her skin as they were able to with Holder and hopefully that will help her today in this hearing,” said Paula Reid, CBS News Justice Department reporter.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments

Leave a Reply