‘It’s a Civil Offense’: Democratic Congressman Falsely Claims Illegal Immigration Is Not A Crime


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green claimed during a committee hearing that illegal immigration was not a criminal act, but a civil offense. 
  • Former ICE acting director Thomas Homan explained to Green that, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, unauthorized entry into the U.S. is a crime — a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders. 
  • A growing number of Democrats are calling for the decriminalization of illegal entry, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. 

A Democratic lawmaker claimed during a congressional hearing that illegal immigration is not a crime, but rather a civil offense, prompting the former chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to tell him otherwise.

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing about the Migrant Protection Protocols, a program launched by the Trump administration in January, and how it has affected those seeking asylum in the United States. Numerous Democrats blasted the program, and criticized the Trump administration’s overall approach to managing the immigration crisis.

Former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan served as the only minority witness for the subcommittee hearing. While answering questions about the White House’s immigration agenda, he entered into a back-and-forth with Texas Democrat Rep. Al Green over the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and its relation to family separation.

“The interesting thing about your argument is that these people committed no crimes,” Green said to Homan, speaking about people who lodge an asylum claim after entering the country without proper authorization.

House Homeland Security Committee Holds Hearing On Border Security

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 22: Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Border and Marine Security subcommittee on Capitol Hill on May 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. Republican House members are calling for reform to asylum processes. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

“You enter the United States illegally, it’s a crime. It’s 8 USC — 8 United States Code 1325. It’s a crime to enter the United States illegally,” Homan quickly responded.

The Texas Democrat then claimed that unauthorized entry was not a criminal offense, saying that “It is not a crime. It’s a civil offense.” Homan, again, told to him that this claim is incorrect.

“No sir, it is not. It is a violation of criminal code Title 8 United States Code 1325 — illegal entry into the United States. The first offense is a misdemeanor. The second offense, if you’ve been ordered to remove and return, is a felony,” the former ICE chief explained.

“I agree with that,” Green said in response. “I don’t differ with you on that point.” He then brought the conversation back to the topic of family separation.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, unauthorized entry into the U.S. is, in fact, a crime. First time offenders are slapped with misdemeanor, which can land them up to six months in prison. The crime is upgraded to a felony for anyone who attempts to enter the country illegally more than once, and the punishment can be up to two years in prison.

A growing number of Democratic presidential candidates, aware that illegal immigration is a crime, are pushing for it to be decriminalized. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro not only wants to see illegal immigration become a civil offense, but he’s also called for the decriminalization of illegal re-entry.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have since also called for border decriminalization.

SAN YSIDRO, CA - MAY 7: Border Patrol agents patrol the area near where Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the media during a press conference at Border Field State Park on May 7, 2018 in San Ysidro, CA. Sessions was on a visit to the border along with ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan to discuss the immigration enforcement actions of the Trump Administration. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

SAN YSIDRO, CA – MAY 7: Border Patrol agents patrol the area near where Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the media during a press conference at Border Field State Park on May 7, 2018 in San Ysidro, CA. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

This is not the first time Homan has corrected a Democratic lawmaker on the criminality of unauthorized entry. During a congressional hearing in July, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attempted to conflate illegal entry with the legal act of claiming asylum. (RELATED: ‘You Work For Me! I’m A Taxpayer!’: Former ICE Chief Spars With Democratic Congresswoman)

“Mr. Homan, with all due respect, legal asylees are not charged with any crime,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the time. “Seeking asylum is legal.”

“If you want to seek asylum, you go through the port of entry. Do it the legal way,” Homan told Ocasio-Cortez during that July hearing.

At the end of the Homeland Security Committee hearing on Tuesday, Green requested additional speaking time to provide “clarification” about his earlier statements. The Texas Democrat suggested that he wasn’t questioning the criminality of unauthorized entry, but was arguing that claiming asylum is not illegal. He accused the Trump administration of treating asylum seekers like criminals.

Homan was not given an opportunity to respond to the statement.

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