The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House passes bill that could make deportations of immigrant criminals easier

Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) sponsored a bill that passed the House Friday defining what constitutes a "crime of violence" under federal law. As a candidate, she campaigned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in May 2017. (David Goldman/AP)
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The House on Friday passed a bill that would restore the federal government's ability to deport immigrants for a wide variety of violent criminal offenses in a vote that won quick praise from President Trump.

The Community Safety and Security Act aims to address an April Supreme Court ruling that found that the federal definition of a “crime of violence,” which under immigration law prompts the mandatory deportation of a noncitizen, is impermissibly vague. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.), specifically enumerates more than a dozen crimes that would qualify.

The bill passed 247-152, largely along party lines.

Democrats objected to the bill for being rushed to the floor without hearings or an amendment process in committee, though 29 broke ranks and supported it; four libertarian-oriented Republicans opposed it.

Trump tweeted his approval of the legislation early Friday afternoon: “House GOP just passed a bill to increase our ability to deport violent felons (Crazy Dems opposed). Need to get this bill to my desk fast!"

Among the offenses that would be considered a “crime of violence” under the bill: “murder, voluntary manslaughter, assault, sexual abuse or aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, child abuse, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, firearms use, burglary, arson, extortion, communication of threats, coercion, fleeing, interference with flight crew members and attendants, domestic violence, hostage taking, stalking, human trafficking, piracy, or a terrorism offense” defined elsewhere in federal law.

Also qualifying would be any offense involving illegal explosives or weapons of mass destruction or involving “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another."

The American Civil Liberties Union and several immigrant-rights groups opposed the bill, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, warned its hasty consideration could create unforeseen consequences.

"The Judiciary Committee has had ample time to examine the decision, to hold hearings, to gather input from a range of stakeholders, and to carefully develop legislation through a markup and regular order,” he said Friday on the House floor. “But none of those things have happened. Instead, a bill with significant ramifications for criminal law and immigration cases was introduced just last week, while members were out of town, and is being rushed to the floor today without any adequate opportunity for review by the public, by legal experts, or by stakeholders."

Republicans defended the quick vote. “Failure to address this issue would have led to uncertainty in our courts and potentially disrupt the prosecution of certain crimes of violence,” Handel said in a statement.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the bill “reinstates the ability of law enforcement to protect American citizens by putting those who commit serious crimes behind bars.” He noted in a statement that the “crime of violence” definition also guides whether criminal offenders are subject to enhanced penalties under federal sentencing guidelines.

The bill's prospects in the Senate are uncertain. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not taken up any legislation to address the “crime of violence” definition, and Senate leaders have not announced any plans to bring a stand-alone bill, like the House measure, to the floor before the current Congress ends in December.