Many nations harsher on illegals

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Defending his House-passed immigration bill that sparked street protest by millions of immigrants, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee issued a report Friday showing that several countries are harsher than the United States in their treatment of illegal immigrants and their employers.

The Law Library of Congress study of immigration laws in six countries found that all but Brazil have criminal penalties for illegal entry and presence within their borders.

In four of the countries – Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Egypt – employers can be jailed for up to three months to up to three years for hiring illegal immigrants.

“With all the blustery rhetoric coming from opponents about a ‘harsh’ and ‘draconian’ House bill …, I note that five out of the six countries studied – including Mexico – make illegal entry and unlawful presence a criminal offense,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

The House bill, written largely by Sensenbrenner, would make being in the country illegally a felony. It already is a misdemeanor to enter the country illegally, and re-entering the country after being deported also is a crime.

Illegal presence in the U.S. is now a civil offense.

After street protests and demonstrations last month, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., pledged that illegal immigrants would not be prosecuted as felons in a final House-Senate version of the bill if it gets that far.

A bill considered by the Senate last month did not include criminalizing being in the United States illegally. Instead, it would have allowed many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to remain, work and eventually become legal residents after paying fines and back taxes and learning English.

The Senate bill faltered just before Easter but leaders in both parties have said they would bring it up again this month.

The Law Library study found that prison sentences for being in the country illegally ranged from up to three months in Egypt to up to three years in Japan. Employers were most severely punished in Japan, facing up to three years in prison for hiring undocumented workers.

Sensenbrenner said the six countries studied were chosen to provide racial and geographic diversity.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law, complained that Sensenbrenner’s study didn’t look at the resources the six countries devoted to enforcing their immigration laws.

“I don’t know what lesson one could draw from them,” he said, adding that U.S. spending on border enforcement has increased fivefold since 1986 and manpower devoted to it has more than tripled. Chishti’s institute supports guest worker programs for immigrants.

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