Bill aims to remove barriers to citizenship
Legislation would bring federal immigration law in line with nationwide immigration reform efforts
– U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representatives Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) announced the introduction of the Fair Adjudications for Immigrants Act, which would remove certain barriers to naturalization and citizenship, and prevent the unfair removal of immigrants based on a previously dismissed or pardoned conviction.
The bill would ensure that past criminal convictions that have been expunged, vacated, or pardoned by the sentencing court, would not block immigrants from a path to naturalization or weigh against an immigrant in removal proceedings. In the Senate, the Fair Adjudications for Immigrants Act is co-sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“For far too long, our immigration laws have put the American Dream further out of reach by making it nearly impossible for immigrants, especially those with resolved convictions, to become citizens. We can no longer turn a blind eye to them,” said Senator Padilla. “We must ensure that our immigration system is fair and that a previously dismissed or pardoned conviction neither prevents an immigrant from being able to naturalize nor factors into any removal decisions.”
“Our immigration system is broken. And for far too long, our nation’s immigrants have been unjustly denied a legal pathway to citizenship and still face deportation due to criminal convictions that have been pardoned, adjudicated, or suspended. This is unfair, unjust, and unacceptable,” said Congressman Espaillat. “No one deserves to be ostracized for their troubled past or a conviction that’s been thrown out – and no one should be denied their chance at the American Dream because of it either. It’s my hope that by passing this bill, we can begin to rebuild this country’s immigration system from the ground up, making it more equitable and accessible for all who call this nation home.”
“Immigrants should not be barred from naturalization and risk deportation because of a past criminal conviction that is no longer valid in court,” said Congressman Castro. “Unfortunately, our nation’s immigration system is deeply broken and often makes it more difficult rather than helpful for immigrants to obtain a legal pathway to citizenship – Congress must pass reforms. This bill takes critical steps to prevent unjust deportations and help aspiring new Americans pursue their dreams.”
“The United States immigration system imposes the harsh penalty of detention and deportation as a second punishment for people emerging from the criminal legal system, destabilizing families and communities. This injustice is even more pronounced when the underlying conviction has been vacated or pardoned or otherwise erased in the criminal legal system yet remains valid for immigration purposes. We applaud the introduction of the Fair Adjudications for Immigrants Act, which would ensure no one is deported from their loved ones because of a conviction or sentence no longer recognized by the criminal court,” said Heidi Altman, Director of Policy at National Immigrant Justice Center.
“The INA’s broad and distorted definition of ‘conviction’ has resulted in unjust and deeply harmful immigration repercussions for countless people, further fueling this country’s cruel detention and deportation machines,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project. “The National Immigration Project is proud to endorse the Fair Adjudications for Immigrants Act because it is a critical step in ensuring immigrants are able to benefit from criminal justice reform, have a second chance at rebuilding their lives after contact with the criminal legal system, and ultimately receive fair and humane treatment in the United States.”
Specifically, the bill amends the definition of “conviction” in the Immigration and Nationality Act to “a formal judgment of guilt of the noncitizen entered by a court,” and excepts the following circumstances from being considered a conviction:
- An adjudication or judgment of guilt that has been dismissed, expunged, deferred, annulled, invalidated, withheld, vacated, or pardoned by the President of the United States or the governor of any state,
- Any adjudication in which the court has issued a judicial recommendation against removal, an order of probation without entry of judgment, or any similar disposition,
- A judgment that is on appeal or is within the time to file direct appeal.
This bill would apply retroactively to any conviction, adjudication, or judgement entered before, on, or after the enactment of this bill. The bill also establishes that the grounds of inadmissibility and deportability do not apply to an immigrant with a criminal conviction if, after having provided notice and an opportunity to respond to the prosecuting authorities, the sentencing court issues a recommendation to the Secretary of Homeland Security that the immigrant not be removed on the basis of the conviction.