Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of Kate’s Law (H.R. 3004).

Chairman Goodlatte: Mr. Speaker, for too long, illegal reentry of criminal aliens has been viewed as a minor felony with only a fraction of these repeat offenders ever seeing the inside of a federal courtroom.  Section 276 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides federal prosecutors with the tools necessary to truly deter criminal aliens from reentering the United States.  Unfortunately, the section simply does not go far enough to act as a deterrent.  Criminal aliens view the risk as worth the reward as most charged under this section of law are given miniscule sentences that bely the severity of the crime.  Aliens who reenter the United States after being removed demonstrate a flagrant disregard for our immigration laws and pose a tremendous threat to public safety and national security in every community nationwide.

This Congress has heard from countless victims and family members of victims whose lives were forever changed or completely destroyed by criminal aliens preying on our citizens.  This bill is named in memory and in honor of Kate Steinle.  On July 1, 2015, Ms. Steinle was enjoying an evening at a popular attraction in San Francisco with her father.  As three shots were fired, Ms. Steinle collapsed screaming.  Her father, Jim, performed CPR until paramedics arrived but she ultimately succumbed to the severe damage caused by the bullet and she died hours later.  Her murderer was arrested an hour later and identified as a middle-aged criminal alien who had been removed from the United States and had returned at least five times.  The gun used had been stolen from a federal officer with the Bureau of Land Management.

Mr. Speaker, these horrific events must be better deterred and prevented.  No legislation can prevent every tragic situation but this Congress has a duty to take every action possible to mitigate this harm and danger.  It is in this vein that I am proud to bring Kate’s Law to the House Floor today.  This bill seeks to amend and greatly improve Section 276 of the Immigration and Nationality Act by enhancing the maximum sentences for criminal aliens who seek to reenter the United States.  While any alien reentering this country is subject to a sentence of up to 2 years, current law only subjects certain criminals to enhanced penalties.  Specifically, only criminal aliens previously convicted of an aggravated felony as defined in our immigration laws, controlled substance violations, crimes against other persons, or certain felonies would trigger an enhanced sentence of either 10 or 20 years.

Kate’s Law closes the loophole into which so many criminal aliens fall.  The bill provides that a criminal alien, previously convicted of any three misdemeanors or any felony would, upon conviction for illegal reentry, be subject to a maximum sentence of 10 years.  Aliens previously convicted of a crime for which they were sentenced to at least 30 months would, upon conviction for illegal reentry, be subject to a maximum sentence of 15 years.  Aliens previously convicted of a crime for which they were sentenced to at least 60 months, would, upon conviction for illegal reentry, be subject to a maximum sentence of 20 years.  And aliens previously convicted for murder, rape, kidnapping, a peonage offense, or any three felonies, would, upon conviction for illegal reentry, be subject to a maximum sentence of 25 years.

These are significant enhancements to our immigration laws and are long overdue.  I would be remiss, however, if I failed to mention a caveat added to the bill.  If enacted, Kate’s Law adds important affirmative defenses for aliens charged under this section.  If an alien can prove that they had the express consent of the Secretary of Homeland Security to reapply for admission or that an alien previously denied admission and removed was not required to obtain such consent, than the alien may present that as an affirmative defense to the illegal reentry crime.  This safeguard will ensure that only aliens who illegally reenter the United States may be convicted and sentenced to enhanced penalties under this section.  This is missing from the current statute and I’m sure my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree that due process protections such as this add to the efficacy of such a measure.

Nothing that this Congress can pass will ever bring Kate Steinle back nor take away the pain suffered by her family and countless other victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.  Kate’s Law, however, will offer a deterrent against future criminal aliens who seek to illegally reenter the United States.  Knowing they may face up to 2 years in federal prison is one thing, but the possibility of a sentence of 10, 15, 20, or 25 years will have the desired effect.

I agree with many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that we must take many other steps to address our immigration system.  This Congress must pass strong measures to ensure that immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States remains a priority. Kate’s Law is an essential component of that larger effort to bring about true enforcement of our immigration laws and protect this nation from criminal aliens.

For more on the House Judiciary Committee’s efforts to improve our nation’s immigration laws, click here.

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