JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — As President Donald Trump rolls out plans to build a wall on the Mexican border and considers blocking refugees, Missouri lawmakers are trying again to pass a bill aimed at cracking down on deported immigrants who come back and commit crimes.
Under the proposal pitched Thursday by Republican Sen. Mike Cunningham, immigrants who are deported but come back and commit any assault or felony offense would face up to 10 years in prison for "illegal re-entry." The bill directs those inmates to be transferred to federal immigration authorities as soon as possible.
The proposal died in the House after passing the Senate when it was introduced last year, but Trump's election could add momentum to such efforts in Missouri and elsewhere.
"It makes it easier for things like this to pass because already the hatred has been brought to the surface," said Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates Executive Director Aimee Abizera, who fled the genocide in her home country of Rwanda. "People feel like they have a right to do it."
Missouri appears to be the first and only state to consider such a proposal, said Nick Bullock, spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Earlier this week, a bill moved forward in Florida's Senate that seeks to increase sentences for crimes committed by immigrants living in the country illegally. It proposes that immigrants who commit felonies and misdemeanors face charges that are a degree higher so the sentences are harsher.
An immigrant rights group said that it wasn't a coincidence the bill was approved by the committee the same week the Trump administration announced new actions on immigration.
In blue states, Trump's policies have led to pushback. A New York legislator wants to block the state from signing contracts or investing in companies hired to build a border wall, and state and local officials in California have blasted a Trump policy targeting immigrant-protecting sanctuary cities.
Cunningham proposed the Missouri bill last year amid frustration among some lawmakers over former Democratic President Barack Obama's handling of immigration issues. In arguing for the bill, Cunningham has cited Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, a Mexican national charged last year with the high profile fatal shootings of five men in Missouri and Kansas. Cunningham called Serrano-Vitorino the "scum of the Earth."
"We've had some egregious crimes committed by these people," Republican Sen. Brian Munzlinger said Thursday. "Hopefully the feds will step up so we won't ever have to use this law. But until they do, it gives us another alternative."
Efforts on the state level to crack down on immigrants living in the country illegally have previously run into court challenges.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down key provisions of Arizona's crackdown on immigrants but did not throw out the state provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States without documentation. The court prohibited police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges.
Opponents to the Missouri bill on Thursday also raised constitutional questions about the role of the state in immigration enforcement. ACLU of Missouri lobbyist Sara Baker told a panel of senators during the hearing that if the bill is challenged, it "almost surely" would be struck down.
Abizera and others also raised concerns that the measure could be used more broadly against immigrants who don't commit violent crimes.
"It's already considered to be criminal when you enter here without status," Abizera said. "And so when (Cunningham) says we're going after criminals, practically we're going after immigrants."
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report from Miami.