Senator Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, hopes to “weed out” undocumented violent felons through a constitutional amendment that is meant to strengthen and protect communities by putting the issue to the voters.
The new legislation, which was announced last week in the state Senate, would let voters decide whether or not violent felons who reside in the United State illegally should be deported once they are released from prison, and the issue would be placed on the ballot in 2018. If approved, the mandate would become part of the California Constitution.
“Immigration remains an unresolved issue in California — one worthy of a robust debate,” said Berryhill. “But we should start where we agree: Violent felons should not be allowed to remain in our neighborhoods. I agree wholeheartedly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in both houses, who have expressed the same sentiment.”
The constitutional amendment would call for increased cooperation between the California Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, requiring the DOJ to send the records of all individuals convicted of violent felonies to ICE for the purposes of identification and deportation following the completion of their prison sentence. Once deported, any person convicted of a violent felony would be guilty of a deportable offense upon their return to California, which the DOJ would be required to report to ICE.
“The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not criminals,” said Berryhill. “But it only takes one person, one crime, to destroy a family — so one is too many.”
The bill would also bar any undocumented person convicted of a violent felony from receiving aid from various state-funded assistance programs and would permanently revoke driving privileges, removing incentives to return. A violent felony is defined by Penal Code section 1192.7 and includes crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.
“By focusing on the existing list of violent felonies, I believe I have found an area where we can all agree,” said Berryhill. “We can debate the rest later, but this is an area where we can all agree and it should be done now for the safety of our state.”
On Tuesday, Berryhill asked Senate and Assembly colleagues from both parties to support the measure, as the constitutional amendment would need strong bipartisan support from both houses of the Legislature.