Immigration bill does not criminalize assistance efforts, say legislators

.- A group of legislators are striving to assure the U.S. Catholic bishops that a new and much criticized immigration reform bill “does not criminalize humanitarian assistance efforts … nor did it intend to.”

The bill, they wrote in an April 5th letter, is the “House's good-faith effort to bring human traffickers to justice” but it “will not be the final product on this issue.”

The letter was sent by House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.), House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), and House International Relations chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

“We can assure you, just as under current law, religious organizations would not have to ‘card’ people at soup kitchens and homeless shelters under the House bill's anti-smuggling provisions,” they wrote.

“Prosecutors would no sooner prosecute good Samaritans for ‘assisting’ illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under the House bill than they would prosecute such persons for ‘encouraging’ illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under current law, which has existed for nearly 20 year,” they continued.

The three legislators said they supported H.R. 4437 in December because it would be a solid first step in preventing illegal immigration, helping law enforcement agents gain control of the borders, and re- establishing respect for immigration law.

They “wholeheartedly concur” with the bishops’ assessment that “human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery,” they wrote.

However, the “current alien-smuggling laws are inadequate in the fight against these sophisticated coyotes and snakeheads who rape, rob, beat, and abandon their human ‘cargo,’ and also poison our communities through drug trafficking,” the legislators argued.

They said border-area U.S. Attorneys have asked for the tools in H.R. 4437 to aid them in their fight against alien smuggling.

The legislators promised to keep communication open with the bishops as Congress considers the issue. They also said they remain committed to reducing the penalty for illegal presence in the U.S. from a felony to a misdemeanor.

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