House Speaker Paul Ryan has identified congressional legislation to reform overly long prison sentences as one of his top priorities. The two bills, which have both passed out of their respective judiciary committees, also have support from the White House and the ACLU, as well as a wide-range of advocacy groups. Ryan said that the federal government needs to “make redemption cool again,” and that one way to do it would be to give judges more sentencing discretion in nonviolent cases.
The bills’ stated goals are to strike a balance between reducing mandatory prison terms for some offenders and expanding recidivism-reduction programming, while still safeguarding the public. Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that the legislation addresses legitimate concerns about over-incarceration, but promises the courts won’t show leniency toward the most violent criminals or drug traffickers. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, in fiscal year 2015, 77 percent of inmates convicted of federal drug possession charges, and more than 25 percent of inmates convicted of federal drug trafficking charges, were unlawfully in the United States.
But when the nonpartisan immigration-reduction group NumbersUSA studied the benignly named bills, it found that, should the legislation become law, the most significant consequences would be a dramatic increase in the release of criminal aliens. Instead of being deported, released criminal illegal immigrants would instead be rewarded with work authorization that would enable them to enter the labor market. Neither the House nor the Senate versions have provisions for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take custody of the freed criminals.
Should the Supreme Court rule favorably on President Obama’s 2014 prosecutorial discretion executive action, the U.S. v. Texas case it heard on April 18, most released felons would qualify for the program, and would also receive work permits, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. As well, they could claim earned income tax benefits.
If large numbers of criminal aliens are released before President Obama leaves office, it will represent the latest in a long series of leniencies toward illegal immigrant felons that the administration has pushed for. In 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 36,007 convicted criminal aliens from detention that included hundreds of violent offenders whose crimes included homicide, sexual assault and kidnapping, and more than 16,000 incidents of drunk or drugged driving. Among the 36,007, nearly 88,000 individual convictions had been imposed.
Since 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, ICE also has released some aliens multiple times, including 124 originally charged with homicide that, after freed, committed 135 additional murders. ICE data provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee showed that the majority of the released felons lived in the border states of California, Arizona and Texas.
For years and under both Democratic and Republican leadership, immigration enforcement has been in steep decline, and hit its nadir during Obama’s two terms. The alien crime rate, and its effect on public safety, is an issue of paramount importance to all Americans. Criminal aliens should not only be deported, but should be put into accelerated deportation proceedings which are permitted under federal law.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987.