The state Senate has passed a proposal to increase punishment for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

Under the measure, people deported for committing a crime who re-enter Missouri and commit a violent crime are charged with a new offense called “Illegal Re-entry”.

Sen. Mike Cunningham (R-Rogersville)

The penalty would be a class C felony, with imprisonment from three to ten years.  Rogersville Republican Mike Cunningham, who sponsored the measure, says it’s been misunderstood.

“We’re not targeting people that have overstayed their visa, or who are productive members of society” said Cunningham.  “I’ve heard fears that this bill may cause undocumented (people) problems living in Missouri.  That’s not what we’re after.  We’re after those that have committed assault or a violent felony.”

Democrat Jason Holsman of Kansas City worked with Cunningham to craft the language in the measure.  He thinks it’s important  to restrict the escalated penalties only to “violent” criminals.

“I just want to make sure that once the House gets done doing whatever ever they do to it, that we come back to the policy of this, and try to protect that position.”

Holsman’s concerned conservatives could attempt to extend the stiffer penalties to non-violent criminals.

“They start going farther and farther to score political points with folks at home.  And they’re not really interested in the larger picture.”  Holsman was one of three Democrats who voted in favor of the bill.

Among the six Democrats opposing the measure was Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur.  She claims it uses undocumented people to scare citizens.

“This bill, once again, in my belief is a politically motivated bill designed to strike fear in the hearts of our citizens of the state of Missouri.”  Schupp also thinks the bill could cost the state more money because those convicted would get long prison sentences here instead of being deported.

The measure passed by a 24-6 margin.