Utah Passed a Law to Protect Noncitizens From Automatic Deportation

Utah is known for its red rock canyons, steep ski slopes, and a mega-majority Republican legislature. And now it can be recognized as one of just a handful of states to pass legislation that helps noncitizens avoid deportation if they are convicted of a misdemeanor.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 25, clarifies that misdemeanor convictions in Utah can no longer be interpreted as aggravated felonies for immigration purposes, avoiding automatic deportation for a crime as simple as shop-lifting. To make this happen, the bill reduces the maximum possible sentence for misdemeanors in Utah by a single day — from 365 days to 364 days. In an era when lawmakers often pass splashy message bills that create little impact, the new law is just the opposite — a nuanced piece of legislation that spans the twin chasms of criminal justice and immigration reform, while improving the lives of thousands of Utah residents.

Utah is by no means the first state to enact this sensible policy change. We now join states such as Nevada, California, and Washington that have passed so-called 364-day laws, with the goal of reducing the immigration consequences of convictions for noncitizens. But Utah is one of the few Republican-led states to make this change. Utah also surprisingly reached the finish line ahead of both Colorado and New York, two states that adopted similar protections in March.

Should your state try to follow Utah’s lead? It’s only necessary if your state defines the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor as 365 days or longer.

Under federal immigration law, a state misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of a year or more is treated as a felony for immigration purposes. This results in devastating and unintended consequences that automatically strip immigrants — including green card holders, refugees, and victims of domestic violence — of their status and subjects them to mandatory deportation.

A person need not even receive a full 365-day sentence to trigger this harsh penalty. Automatic deportation kicks in as long as the maximum allowable sentence is equal to a full year or more, even if the person’s actual sentence was 20 days in jail or was completely suspended.

Even worse, federal law denies immigration judges any discretion on whether these harsh penalties are imposed. Until Congress restores discretion to consider individual circumstances before subjecting a person to deportation, the only solution is for states to clearly delineate that misdemeanors carry a maximum 364-day sentence.

Despite some indications that prosecutors would oppose the bill in Utah, no resistance materialized to the bill as it passed both chambers by unanimous votes. One reason might be because this legislation removes the overhanging burden of mandatory deportation from low-level criminal trials. Defense attorneys are mandated by the Sixth Amendment to consider the potential immigration consequences of a guilty plea.

Before this law was passed, defense counsel would sometimes mistakenly advise their noncitizen clients to accept a misdemeanor plea deal, not realizing that immigration consequences could trigger removal. When the mistake was discovered, desperate individuals might seek to have their criminal cases reopened. The passage of this bill removes the draconian immigration consequences of such plea agreements, increasing transparency and fairness during the trial and plea process.

As more states approve laws like Utah’s to protect noncitizens from these catastrophic immigration penalties, it tells the federal government that we value efficiency, fairness, and common sense in our criminal and immigration systems. It also tells noncitizen members of our community that the bedrock of our justice system — equal justice under the law — applies to them as well.

And that is something that all Utahns can support.

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Anonymous

I am not a Christian.

Anonymous

What is Christian? Do you take care of the illegal aliens or put them in your home? Which is against the law? Do take the American homeless and take them into your home? Do you have American foster children that you take care of and in your home without receiving welfare or food stamps? Do help the drug abuser and do have in your home? Are you a good Christian and not judge people just like did? Did you never commit a sin in your life?

Anonymous

The name of your Organization is American Civil Liberties Union right? So I don't understand why is your organization involved in issues that involve, citizens for another countries, that are trying to illegally enter the US territory, You should be protecting Americans, please explain?.
I am confused?

Anonymous

I believe is time that all Churches start paying Income Taxes.

Anonymous

I also believe that all churches should pay taxes. They want to be tax free but they put illegal aliens in churches so they aren’t being deported. The Catholic Church and Mormon Church have more money and other holdings such as land and art work all tax free.

Anonymous

Trump needs to stop illegal aliens from sending remittance back to their countries. That will stop illegal aliens from coming to America.

Anonymous

The government is going start testing the illegal aliens/asylum seekers DNA to see if they are true families members it about time. The illegal aliens/asylum seekers need to start paying for their application for living in America and job application. They also need to pay for their medical services instead of American taxpayers well in detention.

Anonymous

The name of the game for asylum seekers/illegal aliens is MONEY and nothing more. How much can they get well in living in the USA and send home. It about how stupid the American citizens are and believing in them. And dropping one to ten or more anchor babies. None of them want to learn English. It about free medical care, food stamps,WIC and chips for their illegal children. American citizens are the most stupid people on earth.

Anonymous

Put a chip in illegal aliens and asylum seekers/dreamers, tsp and visa overstayed people like they in dogs and cats so they can be found. Also put a chip in every visa person so that the government can keep track of them so that they cannot overstayed their visas and put chip in deported people so that they can be found before they can get in America.

Anonymous

My parents were good LDS folks who believed we should share the gospel and share the benefits and blessings America had to offer. They sponsored families from other nations, refugees, assisted with noncitizens, even so much as sharing our home with them. They were extremely naive in believing that because they were doing good things for the less fortunate, that nothing bad would happen. They were wrong. My sisters and I paid the price. I am still paying for it to this day. Don't tell me I'm racist because I want people to be vetted and processed before they come here. It is not immoral to demand reasonable assurances and protection from unknown people with unknown alligiance.

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