House moves to make it easier to deport alleged gang members

The House on Thursday passed a far-reaching bill that would make alleged gang membership a deportable offense for noncitizens living in the U.S.

The Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act was approved largely along party lines, one week after it was introduced by Republican Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Peter King of New York, Raul Labrador of Ohio and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., was the only Republican to vote against the bill. Eleven Democrats voted in favor of it.

The measure would make noncitizens who are believed to be gang members, or are suspected of having committed crimes with a gang, eligible for deportation, even if they have not themselves been accused of any crime. Authorities would be empowered to classify as a gang any group of five or more people who have committed or conspired to commit certain crimes, from felony drug offenses and violent crimes to bringing in or harboring people who are in the country illegally.

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A look at the MS-13 crime organization
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A look at the MS-13 crime organization
Shackled gang members stand in a line upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A former gang member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends a tattoo removal session at the National Youth Institute (Injuve) in San Salvador, on July 1, 2016. The tattoo removal project, promoted by the government of Salvador, is attended daily by dozens of people - mostly young former gang members seeking to put an end to the stigma that associates them with the dreaded gangs. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Shackled gang members wait upon arrival at the maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on December 1, 2016. Twenty gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on December 1 to Zacatecoluca. The Salvadoran authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Alleged members of the 18 gang gesture as they walk during their presentation to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
An alleged member of a gang gestures as he is transported after being presented to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A bomb squad specialist gets ready to make a controlled explosion after suspicious artifacts were found in Habitat, a colony 25 km south of Tegucigalpa, on May 4, 2016. Security forces participating in Operation Hurricane found several explosive devices in an area controlled by gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang captured by soldiers during an operation to recover neighborhoods controlled by gangs, in Quezaltepeque, a town 15 km from San Salvador, on June 7, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the escalation of violence plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the MS-13 gang are detained near the crime scene where two men, Jose Wilfredo Navidad and Nestor Alexander Rivera, were killed as they rode a motorcycle on their way to work, in San Salvador, El Salvador January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum security jail in Zacatecoluca, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A police officer paints over a graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the Montreal neighborhood in Mejicanos, El Salvador December 9, 2015. The El Salvadorean police is conducting an operation to erase graffiti associated with gangs as part of a strategy to regain control in gang-controlled areas in this neighborhood, according to the police. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang are guarded by policemen upon their arrival at the Quezaltepeque jail in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Two women and a child walk near a wall covered in graffiti and showing the letters "MS", which stand for street gang Mara Salvatrucha, in a neighborhood in San Salvador April 22, 2014. Church leaders in El Salvador on Tuesday said they want to revive a fragile truce between the country's powerful street gangs in order to curb a resurgence of violent crime. The 2012 truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and rival gang Barrio 18 helped cut the Central American country's murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day, a 10-year low, from around 12 a day. REUTERS/Jessica Orellana (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)
Carlos Tiberio Ramirez, one of the leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends the Day of the Virgin of Mercy celebrations at the female prison in San Salvador September 24, 2012. About 2008 female inmates, 40% of them belonging to the MS-13 and 18 Street (Mara 18) gangs, interacted with their families as part of the celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Mercy, the patron Saint of prisoners, local media reported. During the event, the spokesmen and leaders of the two largest gangs in the country, MS-13 and 18st, gave a news conference to mark the 200-days of an unprecedented truce signed on March 19, that authorities say has cut the homicide rate in half in just four months. REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)
A convoy of military lorries transports inmates of the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (Ms-13) gangs from the Tamara National Penitentiary to the El Pozo II medium security prison in Moroceli, El Paraiso department, 70 km east of Tegucigalpa, on May 16, 2017. The transfer of some 650 inmates was decided after the evasion of 22 members of the Barrio 18 gang from the penitentiary. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Parolees paint over graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha's gang in San Salvador, during an operation to take back gang-controlled neighborhoods, on August 16, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the violence escalation plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' gang are kept in restraints in court in Guatemala City on July 28, 2015. At least three mara members were shot by rival gangsters while they were held under custody in a special jail located in the basement of the Supreme Court building. AFP PHOTO JOHAN ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), is pictured on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, one year after the cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), held on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, after one year of cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Mara Salvatrucha gang member attends a press conference where leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 declared the city of Quezaltepeque a peace zone or 'Sanctuary City' for gang related violence, on January 31, 2013 at the Quezaltepeque prison, 25 kms west of San Salvador. Gang leaders and members have been involved in a gang truce to reduce crime in El Salvador. AFP PHOTO/ Juan CARLOS (Photo credit should read Juan CARLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos Tiberio Valladares, a.k.a. sniper, leader of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, attends a press conference at the Female Jail in San Salvador, El Salvador on September 24, 2012. The leaders of the Mara 18 and Salvatrucha offered a press conference during the celebration of the 200 days of truce between them to reduce murder. AFP PHOTO/Jose CABEZAS (Photo credit should read Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages)
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR: Picture of a member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, presented before the press after his arrest in San Salvador, 17 March 2005. Violence from street gangs, known in the region as 'maras,' are considered the most pressing security issues in large cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras - countries which will take part in the Anti-Maras Meeting on April 1st, in Tegucigalpa. Many of the Central American gangs have members living in the United States, and during his recent visit to Guatemala, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a possible increase in US aid for the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and gang violence in the region. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 12: (U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT AND NEWSWEEK OUT) Photos of gang members and the names of their gangs are shown by U.S. officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a press conference announcing the results of their efforts after arresting 95 members of Hispanic gangs from an operation that began in January 2005 on May 12, 2005 in New York City. The gang members are illegal residents and will be deported to their countries of origin. Of 33 gang members arrested in the past 72 hours, 11 are members of the most violent gang, Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13). Many of the 95 members arrested since January 2005 are members of Mexican mafia groups living in New York, Yonkers and Long Island. ICE officers are part of the federal government's Department of Homeland Security. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
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The bill would also make it easier for an immigration official to bar noncitizens from entering the country if there's "reason to believe" they are or were part of a gang.

President Donald Trump and top members of his administration have repeatedly associated illegal immigration with criminal gangs and violent crime. They have focused particular attention on MS-13, a gang started by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but which is believed to have ramped up in strength after thousands of its members were deported from the U.S. to El Salvador under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"Gang violence is a threat to communities across our nation and we must provide law enforcement more tools to combat this public safety problem," Goodlatte said in a statement. "Federal authorities have found that members of violent transnational gangs, like MS-13, are largely foreign born nationals. We must prevent our nation's immigration system from being exploited by dangerous gang members seeking to bring crime and illicit activity into our neighborhoods."

The measure appears to stand little chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans hold just 52 of the 60 votes needed to approve a bill.

However, its approval in the House comes as senior lawmakers and the White House furiously debate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that has allowed about 800,000 young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children to obtain temporary work permits.

The Trump administration announced last week that it would rescind DACA, but it gave Congress six months to come up with long-term legislative fix to save the program and its beneficiaries, who are often referred to as "Dreamers."

The act approved Thursday could be seen as an opening salvo to set the boundaries of the debate, a move that may show one area where Democrats may have to compromise in order to save DACA.

The White House, in a statement, said that the president would sign the bill as passed, arguing that it would "promote public safety by providing law enforcement needed tools to help ensure that criminal alien gang members are deported quickly and never again allowed to enter the United States."

Democratic lawmakers, immigration advocates and civil liberties groups were sharply critical of the measure. The act, they say, gives authorities too much leeway to classify a group as a gang. Police and immigration officers, they contend, have already been overzealous in apprehending people they believe to be are affiliated with gangs but have not been accused of other crimes.

Some high school students in New York told NPR in August, for example, that they were falsely accused of being in a gang; some were detained and now face the threat of deportation.

"The pressing issue facing Congress regarding young immigrants should be a clean legislative fix for Dreamers, not policies like this bill that seek to enact sweeping and unconstitutional new powers to criminalize young immigrants and racially-profile Latinos," Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the ACLU, said in a statement. "The violation of the rights of minors that came to this country fleeing violence because of the color of their skin is already too common, completely unjust, and unwarranted. We cannot let this policy become law."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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