For the third time in five years the House Judiciary Committee has passed a draconian interior enforcement immigration bill out of committee on a party line vote. Immigration advocates and Democratic members aptly called it the “Mass Deportation Act.” The bill mimics earlier, failed versions of the bill. However, with President Trump’s tough talk on immigration setting the tone in Congress, this year’s passage takes on new meaning.
The bill builds on previous versions introduced in 2013 and 2015 that were criticized for reflecting an “outdated philosophy” that believes “punitive measures alone can address the problems of our outdated immigration system.” Like prior versions, the 2017 bill criminalizes being unlawfully present in the United States. Current law makes it a crime to cross the border without inspection but the bill would impact those who come to the United States lawfully, but overstay their visas—even by one minute. These individuals would now also be classified as criminals and risk jail time.
The bill would give state and local jurisdictions nearly unchecked authority to enforce federal immigration laws. It would require the federal government to renew federal-state enforcement models like the 287(g) program that the previous administration had largely rejected as inefficient and prone to discrimination and racial profiling. It would also empower states and localities to create their own immigration laws, potentially resulting in a confusing, dysfunctional patchwork of welcoming vs. non-welcoming states.
The bill also outlines plans to withhold grant funding, such as Federal Emergency Management Authority funds, as a way of penalizing states and localities that do not comply with federal immigration detainer requests.
The bill also expands mandatory detention, authorizes indefinite detention, broadens the grounds for fast-track deportations, increases warrantless arrest authority, and adopts deportation procedures that lack due process. It would allow the government to remove a person based on mere suspicion of criminal behavior rather than an actual conviction.
Throughout the heated three-day markup Democrats offered a variety of amendments to strike key sections of the bill or to add additional protections, such as explicitly protecting individuals with DACA or guaranteeing appointed counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings. All these amendments failed on party line votes and eventually the bill was passed out of committee on a party line 19-13 vote.
In theory the next step for this legislation is that it will go to the House floor. However, the last two versions passed in 2013 and 2015 never received a vote on the House. Let’s hope this punitive and impractical bill meets the same fate.