In late June, the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make the status of being an unauthorized immigrant in the United States a federal crime. Under current law, the physical act of entering or attempting to enter the country without inspection is already a federal misdemeanor. This new bill legislation would criminalize the unlawful presence that results from either overstaying one’s visa or entering the country without inspection.
The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act
This new bill, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (or “SAFE Act”), also contains provisions that empower state or local governments to draft and institute their own immigration statutes, provided that these local measures do not conflict with federal law provisions. Additionally, the SAFE Act gives local police forces more power to arrest, detain, and charge unauthorized foreign nationals for the acts of for staying past their authorized period of stay or for entering the U.S. without inspection.
South Carolina House Republican Mr. Trey Gowdy is the legislator who sponsored the SAFE Act. According to Mr. Gowdy, the purpose of the bill is to put into place effective measures that will discourage future unauthorized entries and overstays in the U.S., and is not mean to criminalize the acts of those current present in the country without status. Mr. Gowdy goes on to state that his bill is just one among dozens of others that have been and will be introduced as part of Congress’s efforts to adopt workable solutions to the country’s immigration problems.
Democrats Respond to the SAFE Act
The SAFE Act is largely a Republican-supported bill and several Democrats have opposed the legislation, declaring that the Act would likely imperil local communities and endanger public safety by moving police forces from the streets (where they can investigate violent or other serious crimes) and assigning them to investigate nonviolent immigration-related crimes and violations. Importantly, many Democrats are also alleging that the SAFE Act will go further in jeopardizing law enforcement efforts because unauthorized foreign nationals may be deterred from coming forward as eyewitnesses to crimes, because they fear that in doing so, they may be incarcerated and/or deported after talking to the police.
Future Developments on the Docket
In addition to the SAFE Act, the House Judiciary Committee will also review legislation addressing the labor needs of the U.S. agricultural industry. The Ag Act proposes to create a new temporary visa for agricultural employees that would allow these foreign nationals to work in the U.S. agricultural industry for three years at a time.
Like all of the immigration reform efforts, the Ag Act also faces opposition, mostly in the form of farm unions and immigration advocates who state that the bill will create an entire class of low paid foreign workers who will not have access to welfare or other assistance programs.
The SAFE Act represents yet another stumbling block to immigration reform, one that will likely further fracture reform efforts along party lines. While the reform process was expected to be lengthy, recent Congressional reports have been stating that a bill should pass by July 4, 2013. With the passage of the SAFE Act, and the introduction of additional amendments and bills aimed at hindering immigration, it is doubtful Congress will be able to deliver on this deadline. Continue to check back with ImmigRantings for updates on this and other critical immigration issues.
More Blog Posts:
Senator Introduces 49 Amendments to the Immigration Reform Bill, ImmigRantings, May 20, 2013
Congressional Black Caucus Opposes Immigration Reform Bill, ImmigRantings, May 14, 2013
Senator Introduces the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, ImmigRantings, May 6, 2013