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The DREAM Act is not the only immigration legislation Congress is debating. H.R. 3697 is expected to reach the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. This sinister bill gives U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) free reign to arrest and deport immigrants without having to worry about even basic civil rights protections. It could become a bargaining chip as Congress seeks to pass a permanent legislative solution for the 800,000 people at risk after the Trump administration terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Regardless of how this bill moves forward, advocates will be watching it as closely as we’re watching the DREAM Act. Three hundred and fifty immigrant, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, and anti-poverty organizations sent a letter this week telling House members to oppose the bill.

Anti-immigrant members of Congress have repeatedly introduced different iterations of this bill over many years. These proposals are meant to facilitate mass deportation and vilify entire communities of immigrants. None have passed, and few have made it as far as H.R. 3697, because they are inhumane, dismantle due process, and threaten the safety of people fleeing violence and war. But after some members of Congress recently stated that they would only support a DREAM Act that includes enforcement provisions, there is a perfect storm of political pressure and incentive brewing to make this bill, and others like it, more of a legitimate threat than ever before.

This bill has nothing to do with public safety. H.R. 3697 would put immigrants who lose DACA protection, their family members, and many other people in the crosshairs of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It will encourage racial profiling and further undermine smart, evidence-based approaches to gang prevention. It also would block access to protection and future lawful status for asylum seekers and other immigrants.

In written testimony submitted to members of the House of Representatives, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Immigration Legal Resource Center (ILRC), and National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) describe the impact HR 3697 will have on communities:

“Under this bill, people--including children--who have never committed or supported a single criminal act could be deported simply because of where they live or with whom they spend their time. The bill as written is so extreme that it will have a chilling effect on fundamental freedoms of association. H.R. 3697 was unquestionably drafted to target young Central American men and women for deportation, without regard to whether such deportation will return them to persecution or death.”

What does H.R. 3697 do?

The bill begins by defining “criminal gang” as any group, club or association of five or more people, any one of whom in the past five years have committed a broad range of offenses ranging from using expired identification documents to enslaving someone. It gives the Department of Homeland Security the power to designate any group as a “criminal gang” and target for detention and deportation anyone it claims to be a current or former member or participant of such a group. The bill does not provide any means for alleged individuals to challenge the “gang” label or seek release from ICE detention.

ILRC describes in the testimony what H.R. 3697 would have meant to a young woman the organization worked with after a workplace raid: “ICE claims that many of her coworkers are gang members. She doesn’t think this is true, but even if it is, she knew nothing about it. When ICE’s gang unit arrested her, they noted in her file that she has been identified as an affiliate of/active in a gang. ICE’s allegation was based exclusively on her employer and the alleged gang involvement of her coworkers.” If H.R. 3697 were in effect when the woman was arrested, she would be subject to mandatory detention and barred from accessing any available relief simply because of her job.

No mercy for survivors

H.R. 3697 does not contain any humanitarian exceptions, meaning that Central Americans fleeing extreme violence and gang recruitment in their home countries could flee to the United States for protection, only to be designated as gang members. In this respect, H.R. 3697 codifies the rhetoric the bill’s sponsors, who refuse to recognize the violence in Central America for the humanitarian crisis it is, have used since asylum seekers began arriving from that region en masse more than three years ago.

Maria, an NIJC client, fled to the United States after suffering repeated assaults in El Salvador. Before she even reached adolescence, she had endured a brutal gang rape that the police refused to investigate. Later, a powerful gang turned its sights on Maria. The gang threatened her family and forcibly tattooed her to identify her with the gang. Maria found no protection from the police, who beat her out of suspicion that she was a gang member. In the U.S., NIJC helped Maria win asylum protection. But if H.R. 3697 had been law when she arrived at the border, like the Salvadoran police, the U.S. government would have barred Maria from protection. She would have been sent back to El Salvador to be further brutalized.

Help stop H.R. 3697’s threats to our communities

H.R. 3697’s policies of detention and punishment based on guilt-by-association are similar to the practices of authoritarian regimes that asylum seekers describe when they flee persecution. This is not a law enforcement strategy used by healthy democracies, and it is alarming that it is so close to becoming law in the United States.

Join NIJC and 350 other organizations in calling on Congress to oppose H.R. 3697:
Call (202) 224-3121, ask for your representative, and tell them to VOTE NO on H.R. 3697!

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Here’s a sample script you can use:
Hi my name is [your name] and I’m calling to ask Representative [name] to vote no on H.R. 3697. This bill unfairly harms and targets children and families who have fled gang violence. ICE should not be able to detain and deport someone based on the mere suspicion they are associated with a gang. I ask that Representative [name] reject this bill and not be complicit in racist attempts to harm and demonize the immigrant community.