- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

Few pieces of immigration legislation have been more egregiously distorted than the alien smuggling provisions that were included in H.R. 4437, the immigration reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in September thanks in large part to the diligent efforts of Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican.

In an effort to deter the Senate from taking such a serious approach to the problem of illegal immigration when it debates the issue, open-borders advocates led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services have embarked on a PR campaign to depict the Sensenbrenner bill as a mean-spirited effort by Republicans to target persons who provide humanitarian assistance to illegals. As illustrated by the Op-Ed by David Iglesias, the United States attorney for New Mexico, which appears on the facing page, nothing could be further from the truth: This section of H.R. 4437 is aimed squarely at criminals who attempt to smuggle people into the country for profit while leaving them to die in the desert or suffocate in the back of a truck.

Mr. Iglesias points out that the Sensenbrenner bill is a much-needed improvement over current law, which is miserably inadequate when it comes to dealing with the brutalization of illegals at the hands of smuggling rings. In one case, a smuggler crammed 21 such aliens into a Chevy Suburban. When the vehicle crashed in New Mexico, one person died and 12 others were injured. The smuggler received a sentence of just 37 months behind bars. Under H.R. 4437, the sentence would be a mandatory 10 years to life imprisonment. In other cases, boat operators bring aliens from China to Central America (a journey during which they are crammed onto squalid, overcrowded vessels and face such dangers as drowning and assault from pirates.) But in many instances, smugglers not directly involved in bringing these people across the border into this country cannot be prosecuted, because they have not violated U.S. law. As Mr. Iglesias points out, the Sensenbrenner bill would make it possible for U.S. attorneys to prosecute such criminals.

The legislation also contains provisions that would make it a federal crime to defraud immigrants and would impose new penalties for those involved in organized passport and immigration fraud rings, thereby giving prosecutors added legal tools to bring to justice everyone involved in predatory behavior such as human smuggling. These are things that reasonable Americans of goodwill — whatever their party affiliation or views on immigration — should be able to agree on.

But unfortunately that is not the case. Church organizations (with the assistance of some know-nothing libertarians who liken H.R.4437’s provisions on alien smuggling to the pre-Civil War Fugitive Slave Act) continue to make the unfounded charges the legislation is directed at providers of humanitarian assistance. But, like current law, the bill’s provisions apply only to people who act recklessly or knowingly; if someone is not engaged in profit-making activity or thwarting law-enforcement efforts to prevent alien smuggling, Mr. Iglesias points out, they have nothing to worry about under this legislation: The federal government has more important things to do than to waste time prosecuting someone who simply provides basic necessities to an immigrant.

In short, Mr. Sensenbrenner and other supporters of H.R. 4437 deserve thanks, and those clergymen who have lined up in opposition to a serious effort to crack down on the coyotes who prey on illegals have some soul-searching to do.

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