Senator Lara Introduces Bill to Prevent Unnecessary Deportation of Legal Immigrants for Misdemeanors

Senator Ricardo Lara, who represents parts of Long Beach, has introduced Senate Bill 1242 to ensure that legal residents who have committed low-level misdemeanors cannot be deported due to discrepancies between state and federal law, his office announced today.

“No family should be torn apart because of a minor legal technicality,” said Lara in a statement. “Two years ago, California aligned state and federal law by lowering the maximum sentence of a misdemeanor to 364 days, protecting against unnecessary deportations. SB 1242 accomplishes the same goal retroactively. By applying this change, we will prevent a minor technicality from having drastic and harmful human impact.”

Federal law classifies a misdemeanor as a crime punishable for up to 364 days, while anything longer is defined as a felony, according to a release issued by Lara’s office. Previously, California defined a misdemeanor as a crime punishable for up to 365 days. In 2014, Lara’s SB 1310 aligned the definition of a misdemeanor between state and federal law, however the federal government didn’t recognize the state’s definition. Due to this technical difference, thousands of legal residents, who had committed low level and non-violent crimes were subject to unnecessary deportation, according to the release.

“This legislation simply applies current law to all Californians regardless of how old these misdemeanor cases may be,” said California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) President, Matthew Guerrero in a statement.

Guerrero added that SB 1242 secures law uniformity, stating that the California Legislature already clarifies that the federal government cannot be allowed to misclassify low-level misdemeanors as felonies, which “can result in automatic deportation of life-long lawful residents and [the] breakup of families.”

Legal residents have always been subject to deportation if they commit specified crimes determined by federal statute, while in 1996, Congress’ Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act expanded the list of crimes that a legal immigrant can be deported for to include an aggravated felony, according to the release.

SB 1310 aligned state and federal law, but solely on a prospective basis. Thousands of legal residents in California convicted of a misdemeanor prior to 2015 can still be deported for minor crimes, due to the technical difference between state and federal law.

“CHIRLA is proud to be working with a broad coalition and Senator Ricardo Lara to advance SB 1242 to ensure that a one day difference in a misdemeanor sentence does not have unrepeatable immigration consequences for legal immigrants to become citizens or apply for legal status,” said Angelica Salas, president of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, in a statement.

For more information about, SB 1242, click here.  

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.