A criminal sentencing bill that bars judges from softening sentences to avoid a deportation hurdle passed the House of Representatives Thursday after passionate debate.
The bill, HB218, was intended to add offenses against correctional officers to a sentencing law that includes only peace officers, but an amendment added the more controversial deportation component.
“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.
The decision comes on the heels of an Alaska Court of Appeals case last fall. The court in that case ruled a three-judge sentencing review panel has the authority to alter sentences to help a criminal avoid deportation.
Under federal law, a non-citizen who commits an “aggravated felony” becomes deportable if his sentence exceeds 364 days.
An motion to remove the deportation amendment failed 15-24, and the total bill passed by a 30-9 margin.
“Someone who is a visitor or has a green card or is a long-term resident should have to follow the same rules (American citizens) do, and they shouldn’t get any extra benefit by being a resident versus a U.S. citizen,” said Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, the bill’s primary
“By allowing this to be a mitigating circumstance, we’ve gotten away from that equal protection of those who are visiting our country as well as citizens,” said Majority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage. “We’re not stripping people away from their families because they’re just here or because of some fear — we’re holding them to the same standards as we would any other citizen because they violated the law.”
Opponents of the clause contended that citizens and residents are not the same because only one faces an added consequence.
“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.”
For others, the objection was centered on the impact of the deportation on the criminal’s family.
“I understand we need to be concerned about the victim, but how is the victim harmed by somebody getting 364 days that will keep the person from being deported and save their family rather than getting 365 days and being deported and breaking up their family,” Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, asked the body.
“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 everyday. The real pain is going to be on the family.”