The White House and top Democrats oppose the legislation, which some argue could result in the deportation of legal residents even without a conviction.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ed Case crossed party lines this week to vote in favor of GOP-led legislation that would make it easier to deport immigrants accused of assaulting law enforcement officers.
The bill, known as the POLICE Act, would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it a deportable offense to assault a police officer, firefighter or other first responder.
It passed the House 255-175 on Wednesday with unanimous Republican support and 36 Democrats voting for it, including Case, despite concerns from the White House and other prominent figures in the party that worry it could unfairly target immigrants who live here legally.
Case explained his vote in a written statement to Civil Beat.
“I viewed the bill as reinforcing a basic concept: that we should not allow noncitizens who do not comply with our laws to remain in our country,” Case said. “This is especially important now with serious crimes committed against our law enforcement officers.”
His explanation is at odds with most others in his party, including Hawaii Congresswoman Jill Tokuda who voted against the bill.
U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, took the House floor before the vote to express his misgivings.
Nadler said that an assault on a law enforcement officer is already something that could result in deportation and that if the proposed legislation closed an actual gap in federal law that Democrats would “gladly support it.”
Instead, he described it as a stunt meant to take advantage of the fact that it was National Police Week in Washington.
“Unfortunately, this bill represents another unserious attempt by my Republican colleagues to target and scapegoat immigrants, and to score cheap political points,” Nadler said.
“It’s important to remember who this legislation is targeting. This is not about undocumented immigrants who are of course already removable, and this is not about people who are seeking to enter the United States. This is about people who have come here the so-called right way. We are talking about lawful permanent residents, people who have put down roots in our communities.”
Among the concerns, Nadler said, is not solely targeted at those convicted of assaulting an officer. Deportation can occur if someone admits to taking part in the assault, which, he said, “throws our whole notion of due process on its head.”
Democrats offered an amendment to require a conviction before deportation, but it failed 209-255 with only one Republican supporting the change. Both Case and Tokuda, who represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, voted in favor of the amendment.
Biden’s White House similarly opposed the legislation.
On Wednesday, officials issued a policy statement saying that while the administration “believes that anyone who assaults a law enforcement officer should be punished appropriately” there are concerns that the bill could “sweep up even non-violent or unintentional conduct, resulting in deportation of even long-term lawful permanent residents with otherwise unblemished records.”
The bill faces an uncertain future as it heads to the Senate, which is in Democratic control.