The House Judiciary Committee approved a controversial measure that would allow state and local governments to draft their own laws, in addition to making it a federal crime for undocumented immigrants to be in the United States, according to The Washington Post. The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act – also known as the SAFE Act – was approved on June 18 by a vote of 20 to 15.
If the bill becomes a law, it would be a crime for an individual to stay in the United States beyond his or her visa and the current five-year statute of limitations on prosecution of the crime would be eliminated, meaning that legal proceedings could take place at any point.
“It contemplates that there’s going to be a legal status for them,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, told USA Today. “This is to deal with future enforcement of the law. My understanding from the outset of this whole effort … was that nothing was going to happen unless everything happened. Our intention is to deal with all areas of immigration reform.”
Goodlatte argued that the bill is not intended to criminalize the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States who are expected to receive a path to U.S. citizenship. Instead, the bill is aimed at deterring more people from entering the country illegally.
Lawmakers who object to the legislation believe that it could pose more risks to the public. For example, more police officers would be necessary to enforce the laws, which many cities cannot afford. Additionally, it could deter any crime victims and eyewitnesses from coming forward in fear of deportation.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said this is the first of several proposals that will be considered by the committee. However, the bill mirrors a similar one passed by the House in 2005, which prompted major protests in cities throughout the United States.