GOP lawmaker introduces legislation labelling first-time illegal border crossing as a felony

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would label a first-time illegal border crossing a felony.

“First of all, we change it from a misdemeanor to a felony. So if you cross the border, it now is a felony and so the significance of that is not only the difference in the incarceration time that you might be held, but the fact that later down the road if you try to get back into the country, if you have a felony, it would be more difficult or potentially impossible to come,” Black told The Hill in an interview. “So if you, later on, think, ‘well I would like to do this through the legal means,’ it would disqualify you from getting a green card.”

Under the Tennessee Republican’s Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry Act, people detained after illegally crossing the United States border for the first time could be charged with a felony, which has a minimum incarceration sentence of a year and a day. 

{mosads}Illegally crossing the U.S. border for the first time is currently treated as a misdemeanor, which is less serious than a felony and sentencing usually amounts to a jail sentence of less than six months.

The bill would also place a mandate on all employers to use e-verify — a system that allows businesses to confirm whether applicants are eligible to work in the United States. The bill also strengthens the penalty for those who do enter the country illegally and shifts federal funding from sanctuary cities to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Black noted one of the primary reasons people attempt to cross the border is for economic reasons. According to the Tennessee Republican, the e-verify component would encourage people to seek to enter the country legally.

“E-verify, even though we’ve talked about it for years it has never been something that’s been in place all the way across the line,” she said. “That would keep someone from coming here illegally if they thought they couldn’t get work. ‘Why would I come if I can’t get work.’”

While e-verify was a sticking point between moderates and conservatives during House negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform legislation — with two measures failing to garner the votes needed to send a bill to the upper chamber — Black said thinks the simplicity of the bill’s goals could make it sellable.

“We’ve got the big bills that we do that have a lot of moving pieces in it — you get the ‘I don’t like this one and I don’t like that one,’ she said, adding she does expect some moderate holdouts. “So it’s kind of the alphabet soup that can keep you from actually being able to move something. But I think this for me is simple enough that we could get this moved.”

Black, who is running for governor, said immigration has been a critical issue in her state. The Tennessee Republican said she was looking to craft a “common sense bill” that tackles her constituents concerns.

“People want the border protected, and they’re not against immigration. they’re really not — they just want people to do it legally,” she said.

Her bill would also seek to cut funding from sanctuary cities and counties that fail to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for undocumented immigrants being held by local law enforcement. 

Black also said the funds stripped from so-called sanctuary cities and counties would be given to ICE instead.

Earlier this year, Black also introduced legislation that would create a “border wall trust fund,” allowing people to donate money toward President Trump’s border wall. 

Black said the bill would allow those “who really want to see a secure border” to donate to a trust to raise money for the security measure.

-Aris Folley contributed to this post which was updated 1:25 p.m.

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