Rep Nadler: Republican Bill Would Turn Millions into Criminals Overnight

May 18, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

Washington D.C. - Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee, offered an amendment during today’s markup of H.R. 2431, The Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act. The Nadler Amendment would have struck a provision making it a crime to be unlawfully present in the country. Under current law, being unlawfully present is a civil violation, not a criminal one, and it is not punishable by imprisonment.

“This bill is straight out of the Donald Trump mass deportation playbook,” said Congressman Nadler. “First you demonize immigrants, then you dehumanize them, and then you label them all as criminals, all of which helps you build public support for removing them from the country.”

The full text of the Nadler Amendment can be found here, which strikes Section 314 of the Republican legislation found here. A copy of Congressman Nadler’s full statement is below:

“Mr. Chairman, my amendment would strike Section 314 of the bill, which makes it a crime to be unlawfully present in this country.  Under current law, the act of being unlawfully present is a civil violation, not a criminal one, and it is not punishable by imprisonment.  This bill, however, would turn millions of Americans into criminals overnight.

“Under this bill, if you overstay your visa for one day, you could go to prison for 6 months.  For a second violation, you could face a two-year sentence. A lot of tourists, a lot of people whose flight got cancelled would suddenly be criminals.  And if you have a prior felony conviction on your record, even a non-violent drug offense, you could serve as many as 20 years in prison.  This provision even applies to Dreamers, who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, and who, once they turn 18, would now be considered criminals facing imprisonment if they know they are here unlawfully.  That is both inhumane and counter-productive.

“Unfortunately, it follows directly from the underlying assumptions that pervade this entire legislation—that immigrants are dangerous, that they are to be feared, that their lives must be made as miserable as possible, and that they must be removed from this country, no matter who they are.  This bill is straight out of the Donald Trump mass deportation playbook.  First you demonize immigrants, then you dehumanize them, and then you label them all as criminals, all of which helps you build public support for removing them from the country.

“Americans are rightly resistant to deporting their neighbor, their co-worker, a member of their church, or someone who has been a member of their community for years.  Most people recognize the cruelty involved in ripping families apart, and they see no reason to remove pillars of society from this country.  But, if you label undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals, if you throw them into prison, and if you turn them into felons—merely because of their presence in this country—you can then argue with more apparent plausibility that they are a danger to society and they must be removed, regardless of the facts.

“When you combine this provision with the mass deportation force that this bill, and the Trump Administration, envision creating, we would force millions of immigrants further into the shadows.  And in doing so, we would become less safe, since no undocumented immigrant would ever consider cooperating with law enforcement if they risk significant prison time should their status be discovered—even victims of domestic violence, who need protection from their abusers, or witnesses to a murder, would stay silent out of fear that they could be deported if they came forward.

“Study after study shows that immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes than native-born Americans.  In fact, a 2017 study by the Sentencing Project found that higher levels of immigration in recent decades may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates.  But this bill ignores those facts in favor of its own alternative facts.  If you can’t argue that immigrants commit more crimes, you just turn all undocumented immigrants into criminals.  It’s as simple as that.

“I urge my colleagues to oppose the politics of fear, and to support my amendment.  I yield back the balance of my time.”

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