When it comes to crossing the border illegally, first-time offenders can currently be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to six months in prison. But the Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry Act, introduced today by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), would make the offense a felony, punishable by up to a year and day behind bars.
"What this bill does is it sets up a huge disincentive," Black tells the Washington Examiner. "There is already a process set up and they should be using what the process is." Black is currently running for governor.
Black's bill could cost taxpayers billions of dollars. In the 2017 fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 415,000 people crossing the Southwest border illegally, according to the agency's website. The Bureau of Prisons says incarcerating the average federal inmate in 2017 cost more than $36,000.
Using those figures, it would cost more than $14.9 billion for the government to imprison every immigrant caught crossing the border illegally for one year. Even if Black's legislation cuts the number of people apprehended in half, taxpayers would still be left footing a hefty bill.
In addition to changing the penalty for entering the U.S. illegally, Black's legislation would take away federal funding from sanctuary cities that don't cooperate with federal border agents and redirect the money to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.