Rep. Diane Black, R-TN, has filed a bill that would make illegally crossing the U.S. border a felony crime. Currently, first-time illegal crossing is a misdemeanor offense.
The Zero Tolerance for Illegal Immigration Act would also rescind federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities and direct the money to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Black’s office says the bill is designed to disincentivize illegal border crossing.
“If you try to cross the border illegally, you would be charged with a felony,” Black said. “But if you then later try to cross the border the legal way, having a felony would then preclude you from having a green card.”
Read more: See the full text of Rep. Black’s bill
“The United States government should never prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens,” Black said. “We must have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to illegal border crossings and sanctuary cities, and we must give ICE the resources they need to do their job as they protect our nation.”
Doris Meissner, the Senior Fellow and Director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, reacted to the proposed bill.
“This does strike me as more of a political statement than a real practical strengthening of the tools that are at hand,” Meissner said.
But Black said she’s not pandering to her party hoping to gain support.
“I’ve been working on all these issues dealing with immigration for a long time,” Black said.
Black is a four-term congressman representing the Nashville area. She is currently a candidate in the hotly contested Tennessee governor’s race. Tennessee’s primary election is set for August 2.