The House

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNA PORTNOY

ap­proved Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock’s bill that would al­low the gov­ern­ment to de­port or de­tain im­mi­grants sus­pected of gang ac­tiv­ity.

The House on Thurs­day passed a bill in­tro­duced by Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R-Va.) that would ex­pand the author­ity of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to de­port or de­tain im­mi­grants who are gang mem­bers or sus­pected of gang ac­tiv­ity.

The leg­is­la­tion, of­fered as a re­sponse to an in­crease in killings com­mit­ted by the resur­gent MS-13 gang in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion and na­tion­ally, would al­low of­fi­cials to take ac­tion against sus­pected gang mem­bers, re­gard­less of whether they’ve been con­victed of a crime.

The bill was slammed by the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, which ar­gued it would pro­mote racial pro­fil­ing, erode due process and un­in­ten­tion­ally af­fect oth­ers, such as clergy who try to help gang mem­bers.

The Crim­i­nal Alien Gang Mem­ber Re­moval Act was ap­proved 233 to 175. It drew op­po­si­tion from the four Democrats who serve along­side Com­stock in the Vir­ginia del­e­ga­tion. Rep. Don Beyer, whose district bor­ders Com­stock’s, spoke against it on the House floor. Six of the seven Repub­li­cans in the del­e­ga­tion voted in sup­port; Rep. Thomas Gar­rett did not cast a bal­lot.

Al­though the bill is un­likely to pass the Se­nate in its cur­rent form, the White House said in a state-

ment that Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­vis­ers would rec­om­mend he sign it as is.

The bill is in keep­ing with a strat­egy used by Com­stock, who is seek­ing re­elec­tion in 2018 to a third term, to fo­cus on lo­cal is­sues im­por­tant to her sub­ur­ban North­ern Vir­ginia district, such as crime and trans­porta­tion.

The ap­proach helped her keep her seat last year while shar­ing a bal­lot with Pres­i­dent Trump, who lost her district by 10 points.

Democrats and Repub­li­cans say Com­stock’s district could be among the most com­pet­i­tive in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, which are ex­pected to be a ref­er­en­dum on Trump.

The pres­i­dent’s un­pop­u­lar­ity in the district, which stretches from the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs to ru­ral coun­ties along the West Vir­ginia border and is an­chored by Loudoun County, mo­ti­vated eight Democrats to seek the party nom­i­na­tion to chal­lenge the con­gress­woman.

Com­stock has said she wants to con­tinue work done by her pre­de­ces­sor, long­time con­gress­man Frank Wolf, to com­bat gang vi­o­lence.

In a speech on the House floor Thurs­day, she said the bill will en­sure that Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents can act im­me­di­ately when they iden­tify a known MS-13 gang mem­ber.

“We don’t have to wait un­til these bru­tal killers wield their ma­chete or leave a body on a chil­dren’s play­ground,” she said, re­fer­ring to the Novem­ber 2015 mur­der of a man whose body was found in Alexan­dria’s Bev­erly Park. He died of stab wounds to the head and neck.

Since Novem­ber 2016, Com­stock said, author­i­ties have tied at least eight mur­ders in North­ern Vir­ginia to MS-13, and the North­ern Vir­ginia Re­gional Gang Task Force be­lieves as many as 4,000 gang mem­bers live in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion.

Com­stock’s bill was spon­sored by Rep. Bob Good­latte (R-Va.), chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who spoke in fa­vor of it.

Good­latte said whether im­mi­grants are here il­le­gally or have visas or per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus, “it is time to send the mes­sage that this be­hav­ior sim­ply will not be tol­er­ated.”

King said MS-13 had turned his district into “killing fields,” where 17 young peo­ple have been mur­dered by gang mem­bers in the past year and a half. The New York City Po­lice Department and the Sergeants Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion en­dorsed the bill, he said.

“We can­not al­low gang mem­bers to be tak­ing ad­van­tage of loop­holes in our im­mi­gra­tion laws,” King said.

Democrats speak­ing against the bill said they agreed there must be a way to cur­tail MS-13, but Com­stock’s bill would have un­in­tended con­se­quences and face le­gal chal­lenges.

“We all agree MS-13 is a prob­lem and I think she’d be bet­ter served by work­ing in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner to find a re­spon­si­ble so­lu­tion rather than do­ing some­thing on her own that’s prob­a­bly dead on ar­rival in the Se­nate,” Beyer said af­ter the vote.

Com­stock was con­fi­dent the bill could pass the Se­nate. “This should fare well in the U.S. Se­nate be­cause it al­ready has bi­par­ti­san sup­port. Out of the eleven Democrats sup­port­ing it two are U.S. Se­nate can­di­dates,” Com­stock spokesman Jeff Marschner said in a state­ment.

Im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates ob­jected to the bill, say­ing it would give law en­force­ment wide lat­i­tude in des­ig­nat­ing groups of peo­ple as gangs and seek­ing to de­port, de­tain or block their asy­lum be­fore a crime has been com­mit­ted.

“This feels just like yet another barely thinly veiled at­tempt to crim­i­nal­ize and de­mo­nize im­mi­grants in or­der to jus­tify what this ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­sis­tently pro­moted as their com­mit­ment to a mas­sive de­por­ta­tion regime,” said Avideh Mous­sa­vian, a se­nior pol­icy at­tor­ney at the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter.

She called it a “shame­ful” slap­ping of la­bels on im­mi­grants “to jus­tify in­frac­tions of due process and hu­man rights.”

Law­mak­ers de­bated the bill on Capi­tol Hill as Pres­i­dent Trump and top Democrats in Congress gave com­pet­ing ac­counts of a Wed­nes­day night din­ner over which they dis­cussed a deal to po­ten­tially pro­tect “dream­ers,” un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to this coun­try as chil­dren.

Rep. Luis V. Gu­tiér­rez (D-Ill.) said con­gres­sional Democrats should not ac­cept amnesty for the dream­ers in ex­change for new re­stric­tions on im­mi­grants as de­scribed in Com­stock’s bill.

“I am com­mit­ted to not ex­chang­ing the safety of dream­ers for more de­por­ta­tions or fur­ther re­strict­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion so that there are no avail­able le­gal av­enues for im­mi­grants who help feed us, build our com­mu­ni­ties and serve our coun­try,” he said in a state­ment.

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