Home Part of States Newsroom
News
Citing border crisis, House votes to deny restitution to undocumented immigrants who are trafficked

Share

Citing border crisis, House votes to deny restitution to undocumented immigrants who are trafficked

Feb 26, 2024 | 3:07 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
Share
Citing border crisis, House votes to deny restitution to undocumented immigrants who are trafficked
Description
Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, seen here speaking on the House floor on Feb. 21, 2024, raised concerns Monday that House Bill 5031 would violate the 14th Amendment, which deals with citizenship. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Undocumented immigrants who become victims of human trafficking or smuggling in West Virginia wouldn’t be eligible for financial restitution, according to a bill that passed out of the House of Delegates on Monday.

House Bill 5031 would alter state laws on human trafficking and put penalties for human smuggling of undocumented immigrants on the same level.

While voicing support for the bill, Del. Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, cited the border crisis, as migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border have risen to record highs during President Joe Biden’s administration.

“This bill is the start of a reckoning that this country has to come to grips with,” Zatezalo said. “It’s important for people to understand that the smuggling of illegal immigrants such as what is happening at the border … is nothing less than the reintroduction of slavery into the United States. People are basically indentured servants when they come here.” 

The legislation defined human smuggling as knowingly transporting undocumented immigrants into West Virginia or harboring those already in the state. 

The definition wouldn’t include any person hired by another state who transports an undocumented immigrants through the state as long as the undocumented immigrants don’t remain in the state.

While state human trafficking laws require the state to pay restitution to victims, the bill would ban restitution for people who are undocumented. 

“Restitution shall be provided by illegal alien offenders to the State of West Virginia.” the bill said. 

Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor was one of two Republicans to vote against the measure after clarifying that undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be able to receive restitution. 

“The victim has no ability for restitution just because of their status?” she questioned. 

The 11 House Democrats voted against the measure. 

Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, raised concerns that the bill would violate the 14th Amendment, which deals with citizenship. 

“I think that alone makes it unconstitutional,” he said.

Garcia continued, “Someone who has been really hurt, if you vote for this bill, you are taking the ability away from them to receive restitution … it’s a really inhumane way to look at a problem that we have with immigration.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.