In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to address holes in the law that allow unauthorized immigrants to receive overly light punishment for crimes. In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill in the current Congress, Rep. Ratcliffe wrote:
"On March 31, 2016, Peter Hacking, a lawful immigrant to the United States and a volunteer firefighter, picked up his two children, 4-year old Ellie and 22-month old Grayson, on the way back to their home in Lavon, TX. Margarito Quintero Rosales, an illegal alien driving without a drivers license, crashed into their car, killing all three. Rosales received a two year state prison sentence for criminally negligent homicide and was scheduled to be released into ICE custody, and then deported shortly thereafter. Under existing law, his sentence for criminally negligent homicide counted towards his sentence for his crime of illegal reentry following a prior deportation. Furthermore, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Rojas-Lunas interpreted 8 U.S.C. 1326, the criminal statute that imposes penalties for unlawful reentry, to prohibit consideration of crimes committed after unlawful reentry following a prior deportation. Several changes to existing immigration and criminal sentencing guidelines are needed to ensure that this never happens again. That is why I am reintroducing the VOICES Act, which addresses these existing loopholes in the U.S. Code that allow illegal aliens like Rosales to receive little to no punishment for their crimes... As long as existing gaps in our immigration laws remain in place, there will be more tragedies and loved ones lost. We owe it to the victims’ family members to ensure that criminal illegal aliens do not continue to fall through the cracks of our criminal justice system."
When he introduced this bill last Congress, Rep. Ratcliffe argued it was needed to strengthen legal punishment for crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants after they’ve illegally reentered the country:
“My heart was broken when I learned about the devastating loss of Peter, Ellie and Grayson. This tragedy was caused by someone who was here illegally in the first place. And worse yet, our current laws allowed him to escape with what equated to no additional punishment on top of his existing sentences. I’m glad my colleagues are joining me in my fight to ensure that future tragedies like this will be properly deterred by stopping illegal criminal aliens from falling through the cracks of our criminal justice system. We owe the victims’ families nothing less.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) expressed its support for this bill last Congress:
"This legislation elevates unlawful presence in the United States to an aggravating factor for any federal criminal offense, and ensures that time served in a state facility will not count towards an existing prison sentence for an immigration-related crime. Essentially, this change would eliminate a loophole that has awarded lighter punishments to illegal aliens by taking advantage of concurrent sentencing guidelines."
President Trump also expressed his support for this bill last Congress. In a speech to Congress, he argued that this bill would help victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants.
Immigrant advocates argue that unauthorized immigration doesn't increase the prevalence or either violent crime or drug and alcohol problems, and contend that such arguments demonize an entire class of people.
This bill has 12 Republican cosponsors in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, this bill had the support of 20 Republican House cosponsors and didn't receive a committee vote.
Summary by Eric Revell(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Gatsi)