- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska House passed a sentencing bill Thursday barring judges from handing out softer sentences to individuals so they can avoid deportation.

The Juneau Empire reported (https://bit.ly/1cZtcRF ) that the controversial deportation amendment was attached to a bill intended to add offenses against those who attack correctional officers.

According to federal law, a non-citizen who commits an “aggravated felony” becomes deportable if the sentence is longer than 364 days.

An attempt to remove the amendment failed 15-24 and the total bill passed the House by a 30-9 vote.

Last fall the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled a three-judge sentencing review panel has the authority to alter sentences to help a criminal avoid deportation.

“We have created an even playing field for all Alaskans when they go to a judge and plead their case, and I believe we’ve done the right thing,” Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said shortly after a move to strip the deportation component failed.

Speaker Mike Chenaut, R-Nikiski, who sponsored House Bill 218, said foreign visitors or those holding a green card should not get any extra benefits than American citizens.

Opponents said the analogy was flawed for it was comparing apples to oranges when it came to circumstances resulting from deportation.

“You can’t compare the two groups in the population, because one group is subject to deportation and the other isn’t,” said Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage. “So you can’t say it’s a denial of equal protection.”

Opponents also pointed to the impact of deportation on the criminal’s family.

“The punishment doesn’t just go to them,” Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, added. “It goes to the children who are playing by the rules and working hard going to school every day. The real pain is going to be on the family.”

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