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New Bill Tightens DUI Immigration Consequences: Impact on Noncitizens in Pennsylvania

Town Law Publishing Feb. 8, 2024


The House of Representatives recently passed a bill aimed at tightening the regulations that impact noncitizens with driving under the influence (DUI) convictions in relation to their immigration status in the United States. The legislation, which garnered support from both sides of the aisle with a vote of 274-150, including 59 Democrats and all 215 Republicans, seeks to address the discrepancies between state and federal laws that occasionally allow DUI convictions to be overlooked in immigration cases.

This move comes in the backdrop of existing legal frameworks where DUIs can already serve as a basis for deportation under certain conditions. It highlights the challenges noncitizens face in adjusting their status if convicted of such offenses. The new bill, however, expands the scope by making any misdemeanor DUI offense a reason for deportation and a barrier to adjusting one's immigration status. Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) emphasized the gravity of DUI offenses and the potential deadly consequences, expressing concern over the current system's failures to consistently deport noncitizens found guilty of DUI.

The implications of this legislation are significant, particularly for those within the U.S. attempting to change their legal status. It underscores a broader critique by the GOP regarding the Biden administration's enforcement priorities, which have been accused of being too lenient on DUI offenses. Although the administration's guidelines do not prevent the deportation of individuals with DUIs, they suggest a prioritization of cases where the individual poses a public safety, national security, or border security threat. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has advocated for a more targeted enforcement approach, considering the severity of the crime, any associated violence, the time elapsed since the offense, and evidence of rehabilitation.


Understanding DUI Laws in Pennsylvania (PA)

In Pennsylvania, DUI laws are strict, with penalties varying based on the number of offenses and the blood alcohol content (BAC) level at the time of arrest. For first-time offenders, consequences can range from probation to imprisonment, fines, and mandatory alcohol highway safety school participation. Repeat offenders face harsher penalties, including longer jail terms, higher fines, and the installation of ignition interlock devices.

Pennsylvania categorizes DUI offenses into three tiers based on BAC levels: General Impairment (.08 to .099%), High BAC (.10 to .159%), and Highest BAC (.16% and higher). Penalties increase with each tier and the number of offenses. Additionally, Pennsylvania has a zero-tolerance law for drivers under the age of 21, where any measurable amount of alcohol in their system constitutes a DUI offense.

The recent bill passed by the House underscores the federal government's intent to ensure DUI convictions are consistently considered in immigration cases, reflecting a nationwide emphasis on public safety and the serious repercussions of DUI offenses. For noncitizens residing in or intending to move to Pennsylvania, it's crucial to understand both the state's DUI laws and the potential immigration consequences of such convictions.