House passes bill strengthening ability to block immigrants for DUIs

The House passed a bill Thursday strengthening laws to prevent noncitizens convicted of driving under the influence from immigrating to the country — or to deport them.

The bill passed with a 274-150 vote, with 59 Democrats joining all 215 Republicans in backing the legislation.

DUIs are already grounds for deportation in some cases, and it’s well understood by those seeking to gain residency that such a conviction can hinder the process of adjusting their status.

But the bill passed by the House targets conflicts between state and federal law that sometimes allow past DUI convictions to not be considered in an immigration case. And it also makes all misdemeanor DUI offenses a grounds both for deportation and making someone inadmissible for adjusting their status.

“With the seriousness of the crime and the potential deadly consequences, you would think that if an illegal immigrant was caught driving under the influence, they would be deported and barred from reentering the country – unfortunately, however, that is not always the case,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) wrote in a Thursday note previewing the bill.

The legislation, if further approved, would likely have the biggest impact on those already in the U.S. seeking to adjust their status.

The bill comes after the GOP has been highly critical of the Biden administration’s enforcement priorities, which provides guidance to immigration officers about who to target for deportation, complaining DUIs should be specifically listed.

While the priorities don’t place limitations on deporting those with a DUI, it encourages officers to focus on those deemed a public safety threat. It also prioritizes deporting those deemed a national security or border security threat.

“The fact an individual is a removable noncitizen therefore should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them. We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in the guidance.

The document likewise advises officers to consider the gravity of the crime, including any violence, and the time since the offense, including any “evidence of rehabilitation,” when weighing whether to deport someone.

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