July 01, 2016

Senate rejects vote on mandatory minimum legislation

The Senate did not garner the 60 votes necessary July 6 to consider S. 2193, a bill the ABA opposes because it would have unintended impacts on both immigrants and state and local law enforcement as well as on an already overburdened federal justice system.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and blocked by a 55-42 vote, would increase the current two-year maximum sentence for illegal reentry into the United States to five years; create a new five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal reentry into the United States by individuals with prior aggravated felony convictions or at least two prior illegal reentry convictions; and impose a new illegal reentry penalty of up to 10 years for anyone who had previously been denied admission or deported at least three times.

The bill is known as the “Stop Illegal Reentry Act” or “Kate’s Law,” after Kate Steinle, who was killed by an illegal alien who had been deported from the United States five times but had reentered the country.

The proposal would amend current law, under which persons convicted of illegal reentry are subject to a sentence of no more than two years, except for those who have criminal records, who could receive up to a 20-year sentence. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines also provide for increased and severe sentences for those with serious prior criminal records who   reenter the country.

“The proposed legislation does not take into account any circumstances that may be particular to an individual’s case, such as U.S. family members, asylum seeker status or other vulnerabilities,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said in a  July 6 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).  “Mandatory minimum sentences are ‘one size fits all’ justice and, by definition, will produce sentences that do not fit the particular facts and circumstances of both the offense and the person who committed it,” Susman wrote. “By treating all offenders the same, mandatory minimum sentences frequently produce irrational and excessive punishment and contribute to unwarranted sentencing disparity.”

He noted that data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons predict that a new sentencing regime for individuals with prior aggravated felony convictions would cost taxpayers as much as $3.1 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, nine new federal prisons would have to be built to accommodate the additional prisoners.

Susman added that the  increased penalty might well lead members of immigrant communities to hesitate to report crime, fearing that local law enforcement will turn over persons under suspicion to federal immigration officials. 

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