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Feeding Private Prisons

While we are gawking at Trump, the House is drafting an immigration bill that will change the penalty for being in the country illegally from a civil infraction (subject to deportation and possibly a fine) to a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If this bill passes, it will instantly create 11 million felons in this country. Instead of mass deportation, this sets up a mass transfer of civilians into federal prisons.

To get all these newly-created felons, the bill would create new police powers for ICE to arrest suspects without warrants. It also funds body armor and assault rifles for every ICE agent, and provides money to hire 10,000 new ICE agents.

That is an awful lot of money spent on filling up prisons, and even more money spent on running them. As always, who benefits? Private prisons, who have been lobbying congress particularly aggressively lately.

Two versions of this bill are being marked up in the House Judiciary Committee right now. It may never become law, or the bill may be changed drastically before it is passed. But that it is even being seriously discussed in Congress at all is frightening.

HR 2431 is one of the several variations in the Judiciary Committee, and one of the milder ones. In that version the penalty for overstaying a tourist visa is only 6 months in federal prison (but unlawful presence becomes a felony). Proposed bill S 1640 ups the penalties to 20 years. The bills are in the “mark up” phase in the Judiciary Committee, where the committee brainstorms all sorts of ideas and tries to create a single bill that can be sent to the full House. The stuff I outlined above are some of the more drastic proposals that Republican representatives on the committee are proposing.

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