Immigration bill: Gang label amendment goes down

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), left, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) during a committee meeting on immigration reform.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The Senate Judiciary Committee continued its markup of a bipartisan immigration reform bill Monday, rejecting an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have barred undocumented immigrants who are merely suspected of belonging to a gang, but not convicted of a crime, from legalizing their status.

Deporting immigrants who have serious criminal records makes sense as a matter of public safety. The Times’ editorial page has supported such policies. But Grassley’s amendment wouldn’t have furthered that goal. Instead, it sought to exclude immigrants who are suspected of gang membership from legalizing simply because their names appeared on a gang database or on an injunction.

Los Angeles pioneered the use of gang injunctions and databases as a way to help neighborhoods plagued by violence regain control of their streets. But these lists and civil restraining orders aren’t perfect tools. Individuals can find themselves on such lists because of factors like tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant.


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The trouble is that once an individual is put on such lists, getting one’s name removed is notoriously difficult. Under Grassley’s amendment, anyone on such a list would have been forced to prove they were wrongly placed in the database or seek to have their names removed, both of which are notoriously difficult to do.

Moreover, Grassley’s provision would have shifted the burden of proof from a presumption of innocence to one of guilt. That’s hardly fair.

While Grassley’s amendment failed to win enough votes this time around, I suspect some other version may come up again in the near future.


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