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Florida Senate Committee Approves Tougher Sentences for Some Convicted Undocumented Immigrants

The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.
Nick Evans
The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.

Legislation by a St. Augustine lawmaker targeting illegal immigrants convicted of certain crimes in Florida barely made it out of a senate committee Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson wants non-citizens and undocumented immigrants to face stiffer sentences for crimes than a U.S. citizen would. It would apply to both serious misdemeanors and felonies like aggravated assault and murder.

Credit Nick Evans

Scott McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s said it’s unconstitutional and violates at least three parts of the U.S. Constitution, including the equal protection clause.

“I think you have an equal protection violation because you are discriminating against a person by sentencing them more based on their nationality or their national origin," he said. "And that is prohibited.”

Mike Sheedy, with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he’s concerned the proposal could break up families.

“We do have concern that elevating a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony, there’s probably be some inadvertent negative effect on family stability," he said. "It’s very difficult to imagine a future pathway to citizenship open to felons.”

While the proposal would likely face a court challenge if passed by the full legislature, Sen. Hutson maintains it’s constitutional. If the measure makes it to the governor and signed into law, Florida would be the first state to have such a law on the books.

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Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.