- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2017

The House approved a bill Thursday to speed up deportation of immigrants deemed to be a part of gangs, calling the legislation a critical step in trying to stem the rise of MS-13 and other violent transnational crime organizations whose deadly reach is increasing.

The legislation would give Homeland Security the power to identify and officially deem dangerous groups as gangs, and would let authorities detain immigrants who belong to those gangs until they can be deported.

But it proved deeply divisive, with the 233-175 vote falling mainly along party lines.

Democrats who opposed the bill said they feared it would scoop up people who weren’t gang members and deny immigrants their rights.

Republican leaders, however, said immigrants would retain their rights to fight their deportation in courts, and said something needs to be done to stop gangs.

“MS-13 has turned my district into killing fields,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, referring to Mara Salvatrucha, the Central American criminal organization that has become increasingly violent in U.S. communities.

The White House said President Trump supports the bill.

“President Trump has always made the safety of Americans his highest priority, and encourages the Senate to take quick action and pass this bill,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But clearing the Senate could be difficult.

Just 11 Democrats in the House backed the bill, and if that translates to the upper chamber, there’s more than enough opposition to filibuster the bill.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, said the legislation was part of a GOP push to “label Latino youth as machete-wielding menaces.”

“This is not a bill to curtail violence or make the country safer, it is a political bill to allow Republicans in the House to make speeches about urging Americans to fear young immigrants,” he said.

Police say that while local gangs kill over disputes, often involving drugs, MS-13 is a different threat. Gang members kill for intimidation or to enforce discipline within the gang.

MS-13 has also created a massive extortion racket, demanding money from local immigrant families and businesses and warning of reprisals to their relatives back in Central America if they don’t pay up. The transnational nature of the gang, and the nature of Central American migration, makes the threats credible, police said.

Thursday’s bill would prevent migrants from claiming asylum or other special protections if they’ve been part of a gang. Analysts said some migrants who took part in criminal gang activity use their former gang membership as the basis to say they now need to remain in the U.S. to avoid getting entangled with their former cohorts.

The bill would still preserve the usual judicial process, meaning anyone snared in the gang designation could still argue their deportation case to an immigration judge.

Democrats, though, said they feared religious organizations and others that do immigrant outreach could end up being targeted as aiding gangs, and said they feared civil rights violations from giving Homeland Security more powers.

“This bill will promote widespread racial profiling,” said Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., a Virginia Democrat who represents the inner suburbs near Washington, D.C.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican and neighbor of Mr. Beyer’s, pointed to an MS-13 murder in 2015 in Alexandria — part of Mr. Beyer’s district — where she said a man was “left nearly decapitated.”

“Criminal alien gang members are growing in our region and around the country, and wreaking havoc,” said Ms. Comstock, the sponsor of the bill.

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