A young boy holds US flags as immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington on November 20, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – The United States House Judiciary Committee should reject a dangerous immigration bill that would exacerbate abusive aspects of the US immigration system and undermine public safety, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill would essentially criminalize the presence of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

The “Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act,” HR2431, sponsored by Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, is being considered today in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would authorize local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents, criminalize unauthorized immigration, and broaden the federal definition of an “aggravated felony” to include more state misdemeanor offenses. Substantially similar bills were introduced but not passed in 2013 and 2015.

“This bill offers no new ideas to address a broken immigration system, but instead revives a parade of unworkable and unjust ideas that have been rejected before,” said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This bill would heap new layers of wasteful misery on immigrants as well as their US families and communities, under an administration whose harmful immigration policies have already gone to extremes.”

HR 2431 would give state and local law enforcement officers the authority to investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to federal custody unauthorized immigrants for the purposes of enforcing federal immigration laws. Human Rights Watch has documented the significant harm to communities that results when local law enforcement is required to enforce federal immigration law rather than focus on state and local crimes. Giving such authority to local law enforcement can also encourage racial profiling.

This bill offers no new ideas to address a broken immigration system, but instead revives a parade of unworkable and unjust ideas that have been rejected before

Grace Meng

senior US researcher

The bill would make unlawful presence in the US a federal crime punishable by six months in prison, meaning that anyone who overstayed a tourist visa by one day would be committing a federal crime. The bill would also increase the already harsh penalties for illegal reentry, despite the lack of any evidence that these prosecutions actually deter people from re-entering the US after deportation. That is especially true for people motivated by a desire to return to their families or to flee violence and persecution.

The bill would also place significant burdens on an overwhelmed immigration court system by changing longstanding evidentiary rules. HR2431 would also broaden the definition of an aggravated felony, making more state misdemeanors offenses that can lead to automatic deportation and to family separation, even for green card holders. The change would be retroactive, meaning that even decades-old offenses would trigger deportation. The already over-broad definition of an “aggravated felony” in US immigration law has led to the separation of countless families without due consideration of how long an immigrant has been in the US, or their family ties, military service, and other factors. A college student arrested with seven Ecstasy tablets, for example, is already in the same category as a drug cartel leader.

“This bill would make a terrible situation worse,” Meng said. “US citizens and the immigrants in their families and communities deserve a fair and functional immigration system and have been demanding one for decades. Congress should listen and deliver.”