Wednesday, June 29, 2005

New law would let U.S. deport foreign gang members

Alan Elsner:

Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday pushed new legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security new powers to deport immigrants suspected of belonging to a street gang, even if there was no proof they had committed a crime.

Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes told the House subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims that the bill, known as the Alien Gang Removal Act, was necessary to combat the spread of violent street gangs across the country.

"It makes absolutely no sense to allow gang members, many of whom are here illegally, to be free from deportation until they have committed a crime," Forbes told the committee.

His act, which has a dozen Republican co-sponsors, defines a gang as "a formal or informal group or association of three or more members who commit two or more street crimes."

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said: "I certainly hope this legislation will be looked at in light of the problem of people who should be deported, but we have to catch them in a criminal act before we can deport them."

The bill would give the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to designate such groups as street gangs. Members would then be subject to mandatory detention and deportation.

Democrats on the subcommittee said the bill was unconstitutional since it created a category of people who would be held guilty by association.

"We are in the process of considering a measure that is replete with constitutional violations. I can't remember scanning quickly a bill that contains so many all at once," said Michigan Rep. John Conyers.

Last month, Forbes successfully steered through the House the so-called "gangbusters bill," which imposed minimum prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life on individuals convicted of gang-related crimes, expanded the death penalty to include gang murders and allowed 16- and 17-year-old gang members to be tried as adults.

The Senate has yet to take up the legislation.

More than 25,000 gangs, comprising 750,000 members, are active across the United States, according to the Justice Department. Lawmakers have been alarmed at the spread of extremely violent Central-American-based gangs such as MS-13, a group now present in 31 U.S. states.

Supporting the bill, Michael Hethmon of the Federation for American Immigration Reform noted that for the first time it would allow the summary removal of foreign gang members who were in the country legally as permanent residents or nonresident visa holders.

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