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DES MOINES — Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, has proposed federal legislation calling for the deportation of individuals seeking to enter the United States who have been convicted of violent sexual crimes.
Speaking to Iowa reporters Wednesday, the Red Oak Republican said the U.S. immigration system is strained to its limits, which has made it difficult to properly vet people entering the country — particularly those who have been charged or convicted of sexual crimes.
While Democrats and Republicans disagree over many policy areas, she hoped consensus could be developed to make “sexual assault and aggravated sexual violence” a disqualifying act for entry, including “those given the temporary status of ‘humanitarian parole.’ ”
Ernst said her proposed “BE GONE” Act, or the Better Enforcement of Grievous Offenses by un-Naturalized Emigrants, gives law enforcement the ability to deport those who have been convicted of sexual violent crimes or sexual assault and who are trying to immigrate.
“It’s not in law right now,” she said during a teleconference. ”Right now, the current laws on the books don’t effectively target those who have been convicted of sexual assault and sexual violence. We desperately need to update these laws to make sure we block sexual predators from immigrating to the U.S.”
Specifically, she said, it would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 to include sexual assault and other forms of aggravated sexual violence as a disqualifying crime for foreign applicants for residence in the United States, and deportable for non-citizen resident immigrants.
“A key challenge and easy fix we must address immediately is ensuring sexual predators and criminals are identified, stopped and deported,” said Ernst. “This measure is a common-sense solution to modernize the immigration system and combat sexual violence and those seeking to exploit our laws.”
Currently, Ernst has 11 Republican co-sponsors for the bill and is hoping to attract bipartisan support.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the co-sponsors, said the act would explicitly add sexual assault and aggravated sexual violence to the definition of “aggravated felony” in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the act, individuals who commit aggravated felonies are deportable from the U.S. and subject to expedited removal.
“The crisis at our southern border has gotten out of control, with record-breaking illegal border crossings in recent months,” he said. “On top of that, there are circumstances where we’re letting folks into our country who have not been properly vetted.
“We should not allow sexual predators into our country. Plain and simple. This common-sense legislation will provide additional federal protections to help keep predators off our streets.”
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James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.