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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde July 15, 2020

Trump does not fulfill pledge for mandatory minimum sentences for criminals re-entering US illegally

President Donald Trump has not delivered on his pledge to have mandatory minimum sentences for criminals caught trying to re-enter the United States illegally.

Trump supported a 2017 U.S. House of Representatives proposal, Kate's Law, that sought to increase penalties for immigrants who came back into the country illegally and had criminal records. That bill passed largely along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. But the Senate has not approved related proposals.

Federal law prohibits immigrants from coming into the United States without permission. The first illegal entry offense is a misdemeanor that carries a six-month maximum penalty. Subsequent illegal re-entry after deportation, removal, exclusion, or denial of admission is a felony and carries greater penalties, especially if the person has a criminal history.

The law — unchanged during Trump's time in office — says that an immigrant convicted of illegally re-entering the country and who has no criminal history can face a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Immigrants convicted of illegally re-entering the country and who have criminal convictions can face up to 20 years in prison. (Someone with convictions for three or more misdemeanors involving drugs, crimes against the person, or both, or a felony conviction can face up to 10 years in prison; someone with an aggravated felony conviction can face up to 20 years in prison.)

Overall, illegal re-entry offenses increased nearly 40% from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019, and the average sentence imposed decreased from 16 months in 2015 to nine months in 2019, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Congress has not passed a law setting mandatory minimum sentences for criminals coming to the United States illegally, despite Trump's early advocacy for it. Given that this promise has not been fulfilled, we rate it Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde January 10, 2019

No new public push from Trump for mandatory minimum sentences for illegal re-entry

President Donald Trump has not followed through on his promise to ensure that immigrants with criminal records who re-enter the country get "strong mandatory minimum sentences."

Trump applauded the House of Representatives in June 2017 when it passed a bill named Kate's Law along party lines. That proposal said immigrants shall face up to 25 years in prison if they made it back into the United States after being deported and if they were convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping, a felony related to slavery or terrorism, or three or more felonies of any kind.

The bill sought to raise maximum sentences for criminals who re-enter the country to a range of 10 to 25 years, up from 10 to 20 years under current law. The length of those sentences depend on prior convictions.

After the House passed Kate's Law, Trump urged the Senate to take up the bill. But the proposal has stalled. Senators have not passed Kate's Law or a related version. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a related bill in January 2017, but the bill never moved.

"...8 Dems totally control the U.S. Senate. Many great Republican bills will never pass, like Kate's Law and complete Healthcare. Get smart!" Trump tweeted July 29, 2017.

Since then, Trump has not publicly pushed for Kate's Law as strongly as he did in the few months after he took office. He referenced the proposal in midterm campaign rallies during attacks on Democrats who voted against it. Still, the bill isn't closer to Trump's desk for signing into law.

Trump and lawmakers might renew their push for Kate's Law. But without more progress on this promise, we are changing its rating to Stalled.

Our Sources

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde June 29, 2017

House passes bill for stricter penalties for criminal immigrants who re-enter country

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose stricter penalties for deported immigrants convicted of crimes who re-enter the country.

HR 3004, known as "Kate's Law," passed largely along party lines 257-167 on June 29, 2017.

Penalties in the bill apply to any foreigner who has been "denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed, or who has departed the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding, and subsequently enters, attempts to enter, crosses the border to, attempts to cross the border to, or is at any time found in the United States."

The law is named after Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman fatally shot in 2015 in San Francisco. Authorities said her killer was an immigrant in the country illegally who had been deported five times.

Individuals shall face up to 25 years in prison if they are found again in the United States after being deported and if they were convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping, a felony related to slavery or terrorism, or three or more felonies of any kind, according to the bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

The bill also outlines consequences, such as prison time and fines, for immigrants who re-enter and have been convicted for three or more misdemeanors or a felony. The length of imprisonment increases based on the severity of the previous sentence.

Goodlatte's bill would amend Section 276 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which already lays out imprisonment penalties for criminals who re-enter the country. But current law is more narrow. For instance, an individual who re-enters the country can be imprisoned up to 10 years if they had been convicted for three or more misdemeanors involving drugs, crimes against the person, or both.

The new bill widens the categories of crimes for which immigrants will be penalized. Goodlatte's bill defines misdemeanors as "any criminal offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of not more than 1 year under the applicable laws of the United States, any State, or a foreign government."

Under current law, the maximum sentences for criminals who re-enter the United States range from 10 to 20 years, depending on previous convictions. The new bill sets those maximum sentences from 10 to 25 years.

"This law will enhance criminal penalties for those who repeatedly re-enter the country illegally," said President Donald Trump on June 28 during an immigration roundtable discussion that included the father of Jamiel Shaw, Jr., a 17-year-old fatally shot by a gang member living in the country illegally.

The bill also said any immigrant previously denied admission or deported, or who left the country while he or she had an outstanding deportation order, and who returns to the country shall be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both. That's even if the individual does not have a criminal conviction.

The bill is co-sponsored by 17 other Republican representatives. A similar bill, also named "Kate's Law," was introduced in January by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

The House bill passage is a step toward Trump's promise, but it still has to go through the Senate and reach Trump's desk to sign into law. We continue to rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 22, 2017

Bills have been introduced in House, Senate

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said he would work to enact "Kate's Law," which would mandate stricter sentences for aliens who had been removed from the United States but who re-enter the country illegally.

The law -- named for Kate Steinle, who was murdered in July 2015 in San Francisco by a man who had re-entered the country after being deported -- had stalled during the previous Congress.

We couldn't find any indication that Trump as president had specifically called for Congress to pass such legislation, either on his first day in office or any time since. However, the effort to pass the law through Congress is under way, whether Trump has gotten involved or not.

Legislation specifically titled "Kate's Law" has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The Senate bill, S. 45, is sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and co-sponsored by another 10 Republican senators. The House bill, H.R. 361, is sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and co-sponsored by 15 other Republican lawmakers. Both bills broadly fit the definition Trump laid out during the campaign.

A previous version of the bill passed the House, 241-179, but died in the Senate.

The bills haven't even been considered by a committee yet -- which would typically be the first major step on the path to being voted on by the full chamber -- so there's still a long way to go until the bills could be passed and signed by the president. But it's enough for us to rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde January 20, 2017

Trump promises new minimum mandatory sentences for certain criminals

As part of his stern stance on illegal immigration, Donald Trump plans to have his administration impose mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted of illegally re-entering the country.

Trump has argued that too many immigrants illegally in the country are committing crimes and making their way to the United States as a result of inadequate border security and lax law enforcement.

"On my first day in office, I am also going to ask Congress to pass 'Kate's Law' – named for Kate Steinle – to ensure that criminal aliens convicted of illegal re-entry receive strong mandatory minimum sentences," Trump said during an immigration speech in Phoenix in August 2016.


Trump has said "there is only one core issue in the immigration debate and it is this: the well-being of the American people."

Stronger U.S. borders, the enforcement of current immigration laws and tougher policies will prevent deaths of Americans by people who don't have legal permission to be in the country, he has said.

Thousands of Americans have been killed by immigrants illegally in the country, Trump has claimed. He has cited as an example 32-year-old Kate Steinle, killed in San Francisco. A Mexican man who had been deported five times is charged with second-degree murder in Steinle's death and has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set to start Feb. 17.


Trump would need Congress to pass measures that set mandatory minimum sentences.

Trump has expressed support for Kate's Law, a bill introduced in the Senate in 2015 that among other things, sought to amend law to establish a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for individuals who re-enter the country after being removed "following a conviction for an aggravated felony or following 2 or more prior convictions for illegal re-entry."

Trump also has suggested an End Illegal Immigration Act that would set a two-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for individuals who illegally re-enter the United States after being deported.

Individuals who illegally re-enter and who have felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or have previously been deported twice or more, would have to serve a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, Trump said.

Under current law, someone convicted of illegally re-entering the country and who has no significant criminal history can face a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Individuals convicted of illegally re-entering the country and who have criminal convictions can face up to 20 years in prison.

A total of 15,715 people were convicted of illegal re-entry in fiscal year 2015, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The average sentence served was 16 months.


Trump has not outlined costs for this proposal.

Using data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Molly Gill, director of federal legislative affairs for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, estimates it can lead to $1.3 billion a year in incarceration costs.

Estimates for similar proposals also have come in the multi-billion-dollar-a-year range.

A letter sent to Senate leaders in July 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union, and more than 20 other human rights and advocacy organizations in opposition to Kate's Law, estimated costs would be "$3.1 billion over the next 10 years just for people with a prior aggravated felony conviction" and require the opening of more federal prisons at additional costs.

The American Bar Association in July 2015 also sent lawmakers a letter opposing several proposals with a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal re-entry, pegging their costs at nearly $2 billion a year.


Trump's plan is likely to face opposition from organizations seeking to reform the criminal justice system.

New mandatory minimum sentences for immigration offenses would be expensive, make immigration enforcement more difficult and divert public safety resources, Gill contends.

Senate and House Democrats may oppose Trump's plan, and its potential costs may raise concerns from fiscal conservatives, Gill said.

Criminal law experts also told us this plan will likely revive talks about private prisons -- President Barack Obama's administration in 2016 decided not to renew contracts with private prisons for federal inmates, citing concerns over their effectiveness and safety.

"If a Trump Administration increases the penalties for illegal entry/re-entry, then there will necessarily be an increase in the number of detainees, and that may re-open discussions of using private facilities to house those individuals," said Phil Torrey, a lecturer on law and senior clinical instructor with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.


A timeline depends on Congress' support and passing of a bill that backs Trump's goal.

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