The House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would significantly expand the grounds for deporting undocumented immigrants convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). By a vote of 274-150, the House approved H.R. 6976, the “Protect Our Communities from DUIs Act,” which would make a DUI conviction grounds for both deportation and denial of admission to the United States.
The bill is part of a broader push by Republicans in Congress to take a harsher stance on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. They argue that existing laws are too lax and allow serious offenders, like drunk drivers, to remain in the country after serving their sentence.
The legislation specifically targets loopholes between state and federal DUI laws that can complicate deportation efforts. It would also expand the definition of a deportable DUI offense to include misdemeanors. Currently, only aggravated felony DUIs are grounds for deportation.
Sponsor Rep. Barry Moore (R-AL) and other supporters say the bill is needed to protect public safety. Moore cited alarming drunk driving statistics, noting that every 45 minutes someone in the U.S. dies in an alcohol-related crash.
“I lost two of my young newlywed constituents to an illegal immigrant driving under the influence of alcohol. It should not have happened, and this bill will help prevent similar needless deaths moving forward,” said Moore.
The bill faced vocal opposition from most Democrats, 150 of whom voted against it. Critics like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) denounced the legislation as “racist” and “fear-mongering” towards immigrant communities.
Many argue the bill violates due process rights by making misdemeanor offenses grounds for deportation. They say it reflects an anti-immigrant agenda rather than a genuine effort to improve public safety.
“They don’t want to solve the problem; they want to keep the problem going as a campaign issue,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), suggesting Republicans are using the legislation for political gain.
The White House also opposes the bill, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it inconsistent with the administration’s immigration enforcement policies, which focus resources on threats to national security and public safety.
If signed into law, the DUI immigration bill would have severe implications for undocumented immigrants convicted of drunk driving offenses. Even a single misdemeanor DUI conviction could now lead an undocumented immigrant to permanent deportation. Previously, only aggravated felony DUIs – which often involve injury, death, or repeat offenses – were deportable.
“This legislation unfairly punishes immigrants who make mistakes with the harshest penalty possible – exile from their families and communities,” said Serena Pramila, attorney with the National Immigration Justice Center.
The expansion would be retroactive, so any immigrant with a past misdemeanor DUI would also face deportation whenever they encounter immigration authorities. Critics argue this amounts to an unfair “double punishment” long after they completed their criminal sentence.
For undocumented immigrants with roots and family in the U.S., deportation effectively amounts to lifelong banishment and permanent separation from loved ones.
With House approval, the DUI immigration bill now moves on to the Senate, where there are no current plans to address it
Still, the legislation reflects a political climate that is increasingly hostile to undocumented immigrants. Even as recent years saw growing public support for policies like DACA and paths to citizenship, Republicans in Congress continue introducing bills that take a punitive stance.
For immigrant communities, it serves as a reminder of their precarious place in American society. A single mistake behind the wheel, however regretful, could now carry a heavy price – exile from the place they call home.