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AOC, Progressive Colleagues Argue ‘Aggravated Felonies’ Label Punishes ‘Asylum Seekers’
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Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and 34 of her progressive colleagues sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Tae Johnson calling on ICE to change their “carceral approach” to the immigration crisis.

According to the May 14 letter, illegal aliens are being “further criminalize[d] and dehumanize[d]” when they are forced to rely “on the discriminatory criminal legal system.”

The 35 members of Congress take issue with some “asylum seekers” being convicted of “aggravated felonies.”

Second, the memorandum presumes that any immigrant who has been convicted of an “aggravated felony” is a public safety enforcement and removal priority. The definition of “aggravated felonies” is itself flawed — a relic of the racist War on Drugs — and should not hide the agency’s enforcement priorities. “Aggravated felonies,” a term specific to immigration law, include offenses that are neither “aggravated” nor “felonies” — for example, this category has been interpreted to include many state drug misdemeanors. “Aggravated felonies” as a category has been designed to ensure that people have as few rights as possible to fight detention and deportation. Moreover, we are concerned that the memorandum only requires that ICE officers have a “good faith belief” that someone has an aggravated felony conviction even while acknowledging that such a determination is “a complex question.”

The progressive members also take issue with “racial profiling” that allegedly takes place when an illegal alien is presumed to be an “active” participant in gang activity.

“Giving ICE the discretion to determine what qualifies as ‘gang activity’ doubles down on an arbitrary and discriminatory framework used by law enforcement,” the letter stated.

“We are in a moment of racial reckoning in this country, with communities across the country calling for an end to mass incarceration and racist policing,” the members of Congress wrote, adding that the Biden administration needs to “end mass incarceration, criminalization and deportation of immigrants.”

Noteworthy signatories include “Squad” members Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) Cori Bush (D-MO), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

According to the ICE Policy Manual, an “aggravated felony” includes:

  • Murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor
  • Illicit trafficking in controlled substance
  • Illicit trafficking inf firearms or destructive devices
  • Money laundering offenses (over $10,000)
  • Explosive materials and firearms offenses
  • Crimes of violence (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)
  • Theft offense (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)
  • Demand for or receipt of ransom
  • Child pornography offense
  • Racketeering, gambling (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)
  • Prostitution offenses (managing, transporting, trafficking)
  • Gathering or transmitting classified information
  • Fraud or deceit offenses or tax evasion (over $10,000)
  • Alien smuggling
  • Illegal entry or reentry by removed aggravated felon
  • Passport, document fraud (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)
  • Failure to appear sentence (offense punishable by at least 5 yrs)
  • Bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking in vehicles
  • Obstruction of justice, perjury, bribery of witness
  • Failure to appear to court (offense punishable by at least 2 yrs)
  • Attempt or conspiracy to commit an aggravated felony

While not all of these “aggravated felonies” are heinous crimes, completely doing away with the distinction would mean child predators, rapists, and murderers would be more likely to exploit our southern border, especially as the border crisis rages on.

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