This week, 350 community organizations – including Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund – signed their opposition to HR3697, a bill in Congress called the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. You can read the letter here.
In spite of its name, this is not a good bill for the community, especially undocumented individuals and asylum seekers.
According to legal experts, this bill creates a new sweeping definition of the term “criminal gang” and attaches harsh immigration penalties to the accused individuals. The bill even targets for deportation people who never committed or supported a single criminal act. The bill calls for sending people who are seeking protection from gang violence back to their countries, where they may be killed.
With this bill, the acts of harboring immigrants and drug possession can be escalated to an accusation of gang affiliation. California Representative Zoe Lofgren argued that this bill could conceivably target nuns who offer undocumented immigrants sanctuary, or teenagers gathering behind the bleachers to smoke marijuana.
The bill also violates international protections for asylum seekers, favors discriminatory practices in police departments, and undermines efforts to fight real crime. Additionally, this bill gives ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) new tools to detain and deport people who may be DACA, TPS and asylum beneficiaries.
We know that under the Trump administration, immigrants with no criminal past or offenses are being deported. This bill will only expand the injustices.
HR3697 defines a gang as a group, club or association of five or more people who, within the last five years, have exhibited a wide range of behaviors. Under this bill, any non-citizen can be arrested, detained and deported without ever being convicted of a crime. An official needs only a vague “reason to believe” that a person is a gang member.
We know that some police departments are creating databases of people whose only “crime” is to wear a t-shirt from a Salvadorian soccer team.
The wide scope of this bill is concerning to advocates of asylum seekers, since the bill also targets those who have fled Central American gang violence because they were forced to participate in the gangs, as well as those who were forced to pay extortion so their relatives would not be killed by gangs.
This bill follows the false and tired narrative of the Trump administration, which has called immigrants rapists and murderers. It does not use intelligence and evidence to solve the real problem of organized crime.