House Passes GOP Bill, Targeted at MS-13, That Would Make Gang Membership a Cause for Deportation

Handcuffed inmates, members of MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs, are made to wait upon arrival at the maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, El Salvador, on Aug. 30, 2017. (Credit: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)

Handcuffed inmates, members of MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs, are made to wait upon arrival at the maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, El Salvador, on Aug. 30, 2017. (Credit: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)

Even as Democrats and President Donald Trump near consensus on a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants, a bill passed in the House on Thursday reveals the deep divisions over immigration that remain on Capitol Hill.

Thursday morning, the House voted to pass a bill that would empower the federal government to deport, detain and deny admission to the US to suspected and convicted gang members.

The bill passed 233-175, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans to pass it and just one Republican voting against it. Called the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, the bill now goes to the Senate.

Republicans have pitched the bill as a common sense way to crack down on violent transnational gangs like MS-13.

But Democrats have decried the bill as an overly broad attempt to give the government the power to criminalize virtually any immigrant or group of people helping them.

The fight is continued evidence of the sharp partisan divisions on immigration, with both sides accusing the other of bad faith in characterizing policies.

Democrats have zeroed in on language in the bill that gives broad leeway to the homeland security secretary, attorney general and individual officers in the field, allowing them to deny entry and detain individuals merely if they have reason to believe they are part of a gang.

They have also protested the power in the bill for the administration to classify gangs as five or more people who conspire together to commit certain offenses, including harboring immigrants or felony drug crimes. In a Rules Committee hearing on the bill, California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren argued to her colleagues that could conceivably include nuns who offer undocumented immigrants sanctuary, or teenagers gathering behind the bleachers to smoke marijuana.

“This legislation is an assault on the basic due process protections afforded to everyone in our nation,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “The sweeping discretion given to enforcement officials is so dangerously broad that it would classify nuns who assist undocumented immigrants as gang members.”

Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a frequent firebrand in his advocacy for the immigrant community, accused House Speaker Paul Ryan of being disingenuous in his stated goal of achieving a solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, given the move to immediately call to the floor a bill that associates immigrants and gangs.

“Last week it was DACA, and you heard all the sympathy from Paul Ryan and how this should never happen, how this is a terrible thing,” Gutierrez told reporters amid votes Thursday. “What’s the first bill he brings up the very next week? ‘They’re all gang bangers … let’s be hateful again’ legislation.”

Republicans were incredulous about those arguments, saying the intent of the bill is clearly to go after violent gangs.

“We will not cower in the face of this brutal violence,” Ryan said in a statement. “We will work with the Trump administration to fight back and protect American youth. It’s time to stand up for our children and end violence in our neighborhoods, once and for all.”