Devastating Consequences of Restrictive House Bill
On December 16th last year, the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437). Among the countless misguided measures in the bill, HR 4437 would make millions of undocumented immigrants felons, fine or jail thousands of American employers, subject millions of aliens to mandatory detention, and strip basic due process rights and judicial review as we know it for legal permanent residents.
��� Among other provisions, the act would create a new federal crime of "unlawful presence." Currently, presence in the U.S. without a valid status is a civil, not criminal, violation. HR 4437 would change that, making any violation of status, not matter how minor, technical or unintentional, a crime. In addition to permanently barring the entire undocumented population, including 1.6 million children, from the U.S., this would also lead to the separation of families as undocumented members of mixed-status families would never be able to secure lawful immigration status.
��� HR 4437 also turns minor crimes into aggravated felonies. Because aggravated felonies are supposed to be reserved for the most violent of crimes such as murder and rape, they carry the most serious immigration consequences. Under this act, misdemeanor drunk driving offenses, presence in the US without documentation, assisting an undocumented immigrant, and minor accessory roles in the criminal conduct of others would all qualify as aggravated felonies. Most of these changes would be retroactive, meaning that someone who committed an offense 20 years ago that was not a deportable offense then could be charged with an aggravated felony now. By making these offenses aggravated felonies, HR 4437 seeks to treat those who commit nonviolent, negligent acts or omissions the same as those who have acted with criminal intent to injure. Regardless of whether it is a major or minor crime, the mere characterization as an aggravated felony will trigger the same immigration consequences -- mandatory deportation, mandatory detention, disqualification for almost all immigration benefits, and permanent banishment from the U.S. without hope of lawful return. Those at risk include permanent residents who have lived here lawfully for decades.
��� The act would also train state and local law enforcement personnel to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws. This is particularly hazardous since it will destroy any element of trust between immigrant communities and the local police. Those communities will be less likely to contact the police regarding crime, and more reluctant to cooperate in investigations. It will also severely burden already overworked police departments.
��� HR 4437 would also require the government to detain all aliens apprehended along the border until they are removed from the U.S. thus filling up already overcrowded facilities. To address the overcrowding issue, HR 4437 authorizes an increase in DHS detention capacity by contracting with state and local jails, thus further criminalizing immigrants by placing them in criminal facilities.
Too many Representatives voted for a punitive, unrealistic enforcement bill to satisfy the demands of a vocal minority. Now is the time to educate our U.S. Senators about comprehensive reform so that they will not be swayed by the overrepresented voices of anti-immigration activists. We expect the debate over immigration reform to begin in the Senate in February, so it is more critical than ever that you contact your Senators as soon as possible to educate them about how to fix our broken immigration system. You can identify and contact your Senators at http://www.senate.gov/. We need to make sure our Senators fully grasp just how punitive, extreme, and unworkable HR 4437 is.
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