What a Difference A Day Makes: How Misdemeanor Sentencing In Connecticut and Elsewhere Impacts Immigration
Connecticut’s Sentencing Commission recently recommended that the state legislature reduce the maximum sentence for misdemeanors committed in the Nutmeg State by one day, from 365 days to 364 days in jail. The sole purpose of what might appear at first glance to be a very small technical change is to protect criminal aliens. The Commission even said so themselves.Under federal immigration law, aliens convicted of certain types of felonies (including legal aliens in the U.S. on visas and green cards as well as illegal aliens) get pushed to the front of the line in the deportation process in various ways. Any felony conviction for a “crime of moral turpitude,” i.e., one involving dishonesty such as theft or fraud, makes an alien automatically deportable. A conviction for an “aggravated felony,” which federal law defines to include theft, burglary and violent crimes, as well as a list of others, makes deportation mandatory; possibly even more importantly, it also makes detention in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody mandatory while an alien’s case is being heard by an immigration court.In short, felony convictions strictly limit the ability of immigration courts to do anything with criminal aliens other than to deport them and to keep them off the street until they’re deported, while misdemeanor convictions typically allow them to remain out on bond, have their status adjusted, be granted asylum or “parole,” have deportation or removal “withheld,” “stayed” or “canceled,” and otherwise be given all sorts of additional opportunities and incentives to remain in the country as well as to disappear.Federal law repeatedly defines a felony for immigration purposes as any crime that has a maximum sentence of “at least one year” or “one year or longer.” But in some places, that seemingly straightforward definition has proven to be the proverbial loophole you could drive a truck through. Washington State in 2011, Nevada in 2013, California in 2014 and Oregon in August of this year have all passed laws making a one-day reduction to 364 days, so their misdemeanors no longer carry a maximum sentence of “at least one year” and can’t be counted as felonies under immigration law. A bill introduced in New York in February would do the same thing. And in Denver in May, the city council apparently decided that helping protect criminal aliens was just too urgent to even wait for the state and reduced maximum sentences for its own “midlevel” city ordinance violations, equivalent to misdemeanors, down to 300 days.A misdemeanor doesn’t necessarily always mean “not a serious crime.” Class A misdemeanors currently punishable by up to a year in jail in Connecticut include such crimes as Criminally Negligent Homicide, Assault, Strangulation, Threatening, Stalking, theft (“Larceny”) of between $1,000 and $2,000, intentionally causing property damage (“Criminal Mischief”) of between $250 and $500 in value, Telephone Fraud, Unlawful Restraint, Rioting causing injury or property damage, Making A False Police Report, Interfering With An Emergency Call, Cruelty to Animals and Abuse of An Elderly, Blind or Disabled Person, among others.Criminals who do things like these, even when some of them are already in the country illegally, are evidently who the Connecticut Sentencing Commission thinks still aren’t being shown enough leniency and need even more chances: more time to stay here illegally, more opportunities to disappear while their cases are being heard, and more opportunities to reoffend. Add that on top of Connecticut already being a sanctuary state, and it’s a recipe for disaster.The legislature gets back on February 7, 2018, and should reject the Commission’s recommendations.
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