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Federal Legislation Seeks New Way Forward On Immigration Policy

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A comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced by Illinois Congressman Jesús ‘Chuy’ Garcia in December is now working its way through Congress. The New Way Forward Act aims to end mass detentions and deportations of immigrants through advancing several key overhauls to judicial practices and federal immigration authority. The bill is cosponsored by 43 House Democrats, four of whom serve on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, including Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) The bill was referred to the subcommittee Jan. 30.

The New Way Forward Act seeks to fundamentally remake the foundations of America’s deeply broken and racist immigration and criminal justice systems. The bill would restore judicial discretion and due process by giving immigration judges the power to consider people’s individual circumstances and even positive values in a removal case — something current statute actually prohibits.

It would also implement a five-year statute of limitations for removal, up from one year in current law — meaning those that had served a jail sentence for convictions carrying a five-year sentence. It would stop the practice of mandatory deportations for minor and often victimless crimes, convictions that are often accompanied by harsher punishments and sentences

“To secure the full human rights of all members of our communities, we need a new way forward for immigrant justice—one that ends senseless divisions of ‘good versus bad’ immigrants and recognizes that all communities deserve dignity, restoration and repair, not further criminalization,” Garcia said in a November statement

The New Way Forward Act seeks to decriminalize migration by ending federal criminal prosecutions for unlawful entry and reentry to the US. The bill would adjust the charges for illegal border crossings from a federal crime to a civil offense. “Such repeal is a critical and necessary step toward a humane and just approach to migration law and policy,” Garcia said.

It would also roll back harmful racial profiling tools like the 287(g) program, which emboldened former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies in carrying out 25 percent of the nation’s immigration detentions from 2001 to 2007. A federal judge ruled that Arpaio’s practices constituted racial profiling in 2013. The legislation also takes aim at racially charged language and “distorted legal labels” such as illegal alien — an initiative that even some lawmakers at the state level have undertaken. 

“Our country has developed a shameful practice of using the ‘criminal’ label as a way of stripping people of their rights and humanity,” Immigrant Justice Network coordinator Oliver Merino said. “It’s time to stop criminalizing immigrants and envision our communities free of mass detention and deportation. It’s time for a new way forward.”

Kaley LaQuea is an award–winning print and digital journalist who’s been creating content since 2008. She’s passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with caffeine and two cats: Totoro and Mononoke.