House Immigration Bill Would Put All Undocumented Immigrants On Probation

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The bipartisan House immigration bill taking shape may soon make all undocumented immigrants plead before a judge for breaking U.S. criminal law. In a move certain to appease Republican lawmakers but anger immigration advocates, House group members have proposed that legal status and an eventual pathway to citizenship can be conferred once a federal judge places undocumented immigrants on “probation.” In a joint proposal meant to assuage conservative critics of “amnesty,” undocumented immigrants would have to serve out a minimum five year probation sentence before they can get on a path to citizenship.

Being undocumented is a civil infraction, not a criminal one. But as one GOP congressional aide described the process to Roll Call, it would be “similar to how judges handle small drug crimes, in which offenders are sentenced to probation, rather than jail, because it forces them to acknowledge that they broke the law but saves taxpayers the expense of incarceration.”

Comparing a large spectrum of undocumented immigrants (including so-called Dreamers who were brought to this country as children) to drug dealers serves as a reminder of how steadfastly disconnected the House Republicans remain in their widely condemned approach to immigration reform. The latest Republican- backed poll indicates that Republican constituents strongly support comprehensive immigration reform. In attempting to quell extreme conservative voices against the citizenship provision, immigration reform opponents would stigmatize eleven million immigrants as legal criminals.

Enforcing a probation sentence would divert the tax revenue increases gained from granting legal status and instead be spent on processing eleven-million immigrants through the federal court system. The probation sentence furthermore exemplifies the House Republican belief that punishment is the only sensible immigration reform solution.