My sister, Linta Varghese, on the Sensenbrenner bill, in Samar Magazine:
Under current US law, being in the country without status is a civil violation. HR 4437 proposes to change this to a criminal act through the creation of a new federal crime: unlawful presence. This in effect will criminalize the entire undocumented population of the United States, and would permanently bar them from re-entry. HR 4437 not only proposes to criminalize undocumented immigrants, but through a preposterously expanded definition of alien smuggling it also criminalizes organizations and individuals that work with this population. Under the new definition, alien smuggling includes helping someone that is known to be undocumented. Thus, organizations that provide services, refugee groups, churches, legal service providers and other charitable organizations are on par with criminal organizations that exploit desperate people and smuggle them into the United States.
In keeping with the expansion of criminality, the bill changes minor crimes into aggravated felonies which are grounds for deportation. Under this, newly considered aggravated felonies include driving under the influence, being undocumented, assisting someone who is undocumented, and minor roles in other people’s criminal activity. This provision would apply to both undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants who have lived here for decades.