In December, House Democrats proposed a piece of legislation called the New Way Forward Act with the intention of completely reshaping immigration laws and enforcement in the United States.
As the bill currently stands, it aims to transform immigration laws and enforcement by ending automatic deportations and mandatory immigration detention of illegal immigrants, decriminalizing illegal entry, and requiring the separation of state and local law enforcement entities from federal enforcement units.
At present, U.S. law mandates that certain felony offenses, such as robbery or abuse of a child, require deportation regardless of the previous sentences given.
However, under the New Way Forward Act, criminal offenses are not automatically deportable offenses, as the new legislation ends automatic deportations and raises the minimum prison sentence for crimes requiring deportation from one year to five years.
A few examples of federal crimes that routinely result in less than five-year sentences include identity theft, distribution of a controlled substance to a pregnant woman, and distribution of controlled substances proximate to a school.
Additionally, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report showed that in 2016, those serving time in state prisons for property, drug, or public-order offenses “served less than two years on average before being released.”
Sponsored by 44 House Democrats, including three members of the Texas delegation, the bill also proposes ending mandatory immigration detention and disallows any private entities from operating detention centers. Only the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is given such authority.
Other provisions in the sweeping legislation include:
- Decriminalization of illegal entry by repealing criminal penalties for both “entry at improper time or place” and “reentry” in the United States.
- Elimination of statutes that make individuals ineligible for immigration based on prior criminal offenses, such as drug crimes, that were committed outside the U.S.
- An establishment of the “right to come home,” requiring the U.S. government to create a pathway for those deported to return to the United States. This would effectively utilize taxpayer dollars to help transport illegal immigrants, including those with criminal histories, into the United States.
Because state and local law enforcement units are required under the proposed bill to operate separately from federal entities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials would likely have a harder time proving individuals pose a danger to society without the ability to cite past criminal convictions.
If enacted, the New Way Forward Act would effectively provide legal protections for illegal alien criminals and for those who entered the United States illegally as well as a permanent pathway for residence in the United States.
Texas Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), and Al Green (D-TX-09) are among the 44 House Democrats who have cosponsored the legislation.
Well-known progressive and self-styled “socialist Democrats” Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have also cosponsored the bill.
Many Republicans, however, like Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02) have been quick to express their opposition.
“At first this seems like a joke. You’re thinking: there’s no way that 44 members of Congress would sign on to such a radical open-borders plan. But you’d be wrong. This proposal is real, and it has real support from House Democrats,” Crenshaw said.
Though the bill has garnered support from nearly one in five Democrats in the House, there is no slated committee markup and no plans by Speaker Pelosi to bring the bill to the House floor in the near future.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.