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House panel passes tough enforcement-focused immigration bill


June 18, 2013: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sponsor of the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, left, talks with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

A Republican-controlled House committee has approved a tough, enforcement-focused immigration bill that would boost criminal penalties against anyone in the U.S. illegally.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 20-15 Tuesday night to support the legislation, which would make it a federal crime to be in the country illegally, instead of a civil offense. It would also empower state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure enforcement of the law.

Democrats call it dangerous and disappointing, especially coming as the Senate considers a comprehensive immigration bill that opens the door to citizenship for millions.

Protesters shouted "Shame, shame!" as the committee began its consideration of the bill earlier Tuesday.