A Florida House panel Monday approved a proposal that would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit types of violent crimes.
Under the bill (HB 83), approved in a 7-5 vote by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, crimes such as sexual battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed burglary and murder would all be reclassified to higher penalties when committed by people illegally in the country.
For example, a first-degree misdemeanor would be bumped up to a third-degree felony, while a crime that is typically a third-degree felony would become a second-degree felony.
Opponents argued the bill is likely unconstitutional because it treats people differently for committing the same crimes.
"This bill, as it is formed, falls short," said Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami. "It will most likely be found to be unconstitutional if it does pass. It does target immigrants unjustly." But bill sponsor Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said his goal is to protect the safety of American citizens and said the only way to tell if the bill is constitutional is to pass it.
"Many sides have speculated whether it is, and others have speculated whether it isn't," Eagle said. "I will just state that is purely speculation. We have different branches that work together, and we have checks and balances. In my belief, we have something here that could be constitutional. We will never know until the courts address that."