Rabb bill would prevent needless deportations, keep families together

Would reduce maximum sentences by 1 day for some Pa. misdemeanors

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 6 – State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., plans to introduce a bill to prevent needless deportations and keep families together by adjusting the maximum one-year sentences for some Pennsylvania misdemeanors by one day.

"I was working on this legislation even before the controversy over the president's executive order on immigration, but certainly the heartlessness and sloppiness of that executive order has underlined the need for this bill," Rabb said.

Rabb said there is a discrepancy between state and federal law. In Pennsylvania, a third-degree misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to one year. However, the same crime is considered an aggravated felony under federal immigration law – which is a deportable offense – simply by carrying a possible sentence of one year.

Examples of third-degree misdemeanors include: disorderly conduct, loitering or simple drug possession.

"These are not minor crimes, but we have chosen to treat them as misdemeanors, not felonies, in Pennsylvania – and in many cases, the person convicted doesn't serve a full year. Yet they can still be deported on this basis even if they didn't serve the full year. This is absurd and I doubt it was the intent of state law. Unless we fix our law, a legal, tax-paying immigrant convicted of a crime considered a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania would be considered a felon under federal immigration law and face deportation," Rabb said.

"We should not allow families to be torn apart due to a technicality under federal immigration law. This legislation could potentially protect the 759,837 foreign-born residents living in Pennsylvania if they have not become U.S. citizens, are convicted of a minor crime and are sentenced to a year in jail. Pennsylvania’s legal, foreign-born population has increased nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2013 and plays a vital role in Pennsylvania’s economy. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant businesses in the state generated almost $2.2 billion in income per year. And I want to emphasize that we are talking about people who are here legally."

Rabb noted that Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Delaware, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties all have communities where 10 percent or more of the residents are foreign-born – "this is not just a Philadelphia issue."

From 2007 to 2016, Pennsylvania courts handed down 25,361 one-year sentences for third-degree misdemeanors, according to statistics from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Rabb said California, Washington, Nevada and Illinois have already passed laws similar to his legislation.