The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to increase penalties on illegal immigrants who repeatedly cross the border, but there is scant evidence it will fare any better in the Senate than it did last year.
Named Kate’s Law after 2015 homicide victim Kate Steinle, the bill sailed through the House on a largely party-line 257-167 vote.
The margin was similar to 2015, when the House voted 241-179. But the Senate version of Kate’s Law failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster last year, attracting support from just three Democrats. The House bill did, however, did do better than the 2015 version. Twenty-four Democrats joined the Republican majority, while just one GOP House member defected.
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Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told LifeZette that prospects do not look any brighter in the Senate this year for Kate’s Law or a related bill cracking down on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. That one also passed Thursday on a mostly party-line vote.
“Not unless the Republican leadership really goes out there and forces [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer to explain why they are blocking them,” he said.
Mehlman said FAIR would have preferred the House vote on a more comprehensive measure, known as the Davis-Oliver Act, but he added that both pieces of legislation are good.
Steinle, 32, died nearly two years ago from a gunshot wound as she and her father walked along the San Francisco Pier. Outrage grew after it came to light that the alleged shooter, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been deported five previous times and had seven felony convictions on his record.
The federal Bureau of Prisons handed Sanchez over to San Francisco, where he had an old pending drug charge. San Francisco prosecutors decided not to pursue that case, and the jail, following local policy, released him rather than turn him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Under current law, it is a federal crime punishable by up to two years to return to the United States after having been deported. The maximum penalty increases to 10 or 20 years for certain aggravating offenses. Kate’s Law would boost those penalties and expand the list of included offenses.
“Kate’s Law closes the loophole into which so many criminal aliens fall,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said during debate on the House floor.
The bill would increase the maximum prison sentence to 10 years for illegal immigrants who return after deportation and commit a felony or three misdemeanors. And it would expand the type of misdemeanor that could trigger the charge. The maximum prison sentences would be increased to 15 years for returning illegal immigrants who have who served less than 30 months on a felony charge; and to 20 years for those previously sentenced to fewer than five years.
“It’s too late for Kate Steinle … But perhaps it’s just in time for your neighbors, your communities, and yourself.”
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In addition, the law would raise the maximum sentence to 25 years for those records include convictions for murder, rape, kidnapping and certain other offenses, and for those with three or more felonies of any type.
“It’s too late for Kate Steinle … But perhaps it’s just in time for your neighbors, your communities, and yourself,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said during floor debate.
Many Democrats, however, blasted the proposal as part of President Donald Trump’s “mass deportation” agenda. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called it “draconian” and “fear-mongering.” They argued that the law would not even have prevented Steinle’s death because the alleged shooter already had served 16 years in prison and had been deported many times.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) argued that the vast majority of the illegal immigrants who would be impacted are not criminals. He claimed they mostly are people who want to rejoin their families, including some who are American citizens.
“They’d get in line for hours to get legal if there were a line to get in,” he said.
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Gutiérrez also blasted Democrats who would vote for the bill. “I say to my Democratic colleagues: Stand up for social justice today.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the bill also would make it a crime from a previously deported person even to go to a port of entry and ask to be admitted lawfully.
Goodlatte suggested that was a red herring.
“Obviously, such an alien will never be prosecuted,” he said. “Never has and never will.”