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August 01, 2015

ABA opposes mandatory minimums for illegal reentry

Congress is taking a closer look at punishments for undocumented immigrants who have been deported but later illegally reenter the United States.

Several bills pending before the House and Senate would create new mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses. Current law subjects persons convicted of illegal reentry to a sentence of up to two years, unless the person has a criminal record. In those cases, the individual could receive a sentence of up to 20 years.

S. 1762 and H.R. 3011 would create a mandatory minimum for illegal reentry of five years, regardless of a person’s criminal record or other relevant circumstances, such as asylum-seeker status or a relationship with U.S. family members.

S. 1812 would create a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal reentry for anyone with a prior “aggravated felony” conviction, which is broadly defined to include crimes such as failure to appear in court as well as more serious offenses. 

The ABA, which has long supported sentencing reform and opposes mandatory minimums, sent a letter to Senate and House Judiciary Committee leaders on July 30 speaking against these proposals.

“As bipartisan commitment builds to reform our nation’s criminal justice system, including by reducing incarceration levels, it makes no sense to suddenly reverse course by creating new mandatory minimums that could lead to the construction of new federal prisons or create unprecedented overcrowding in the federal prison system,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote. He cited data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons revealing that increasing mandatory minimums for these offenses would cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion each year and add a net of 65,000 prisoners to the federal prison population – requiring that either 20 new prisons be built or that current prisons increase their capacities to 167 percent.

“Mandatory minimum sentences are ‘one size fits all’ justice and inevitably produce sentences that do not fit the particular facts and circumstances of both the offense and the person who committed it,” Susman said.

“By treating all offenders the same, mandatory minimum sentences frequently produce irrational and excessive punishments and contribute to unwarranted sentencing disparity,” he said. On a final note, Susman concluded that there “is no demonstrable link between federal mandatory minimums and any decline in crime.”  

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