Under current law, immigrants must be convicted of a crime to be deported rather than suspected of gang affiliation
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to pass legislation that would make membership in a street gang a deportable offense for foreign nationals.
The 222-186 vote follows bipartisan progress between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats to enshrine in law protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Under current law, immigrants must be convicted of a crime to be deported rather than suspected of gang affiliation.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that current law forces immigration enforcement to “sit on the sidelines and wait for known gangmembers to be arrested and convicted of specific offenses before” deportation proceedings are allowed to begin.
Unswayed, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the bill “an assault on the basic due process protections afforded to everyone in our nation”.
“The bill broadly overreaches and puts Americans and immigrants at risk of being unjustly profiled,” she said in a statement.
The White House lauded the bill, saying it gives law enforcement “the tools they need to improve domestic security and restore public safety”, while urging the Senate to quickly take up and pass the legislation.
Thursday’s vote on the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act comes as Trump has sworn to take a hard line against street gangs, particularly MS-13.
Formed in Los Angeles largely by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980s, MS-13 has garnered a reputation for its brutality as it spread across the U.S., largely in Central American immigrant communities.
Fifteen suspected members were indicted in July in connection to a quadruple homicide in Long Island, New York, and other gang-related crimes.
The gang is suspected of involvement in 17 killings since January in Long Island’s Suffolk County alone.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to eradicate the gang during an April visit to the New York island.
“The MS-13 motto is kill, rape and control,” Sessions said. “Our motto is justice for victims and consequences for criminals. That’s how simple it is. Prosecute them, and after they’ve been convicted, if they’re not here lawfully, they’re going to be deported.”
In a statement marking the Thursday passage of the bill that would facilitate the deportations, House Speaker Paul Ryan specifically pointed to MS-13 as a motivating factor for lawmakers.
“It’s time to stand up for our children and end violence in our neighborhoods, once and for all,” Ryan said shortly after the House passed the legislation.