First time offenders who come into the U.S. illegally are generally charged with a misdemeanor – but a new bill aims to change that.
Legislation introduced by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., Tuesday would make illegal entry into the U.S. a felony offense, something she said would act as a “disincentive” to people who are thinking of crossing the border.
“The United States government should never prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens,” Black said in a statement. “By no longer creating incentives to come to our country unlawfully, we also discourage families from sending their children on an often dangerous journey to reach our southern border.”
A felony record would hinder an individual attempting to come into the U.S. legally as it would prevent that person from obtaining a green card, Black told Fox News.
"We are a compassionate nation and we are a country filled with compassionate people. I've been abroad and I've seen the hardships that people go through, but we've got to have some kind of control and order," she said.
Dubbed the “Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry Act,” Black’s bill would also mandate employers use the E-Verify system to ensure employees are in the country legally and allowed to work in the U.S. Additionally, it redirects funding from so-called sanctuary cities to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“It’s so simple,” Black said of her bill. “It just takes some of the [issues] we’ve talked about for years and puts it all in one bill.”
Black, who has served in Congress since 2011, is also running for governor in Tennessee.
The congresswoman's new border security push comes on the heels of the Justice Department's enforcement of its own "zero-tolerance" policy, which was first introduced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April.
The immigration policy received swift backlash when thousands of minors were separated from their families after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. After national outrage, Trump signed an executive order in June allowing families to remain together in detention.