/ Modified feb 1, 2024 4:09 p.m.

Bill that proposes adding federal criminal penalties for those evading law enforcement within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border passes House

Arizona Congressman Juan Ciscomani is the bill's sponsor.

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John DeSoto/AZPM Staff

A new bill called the Agent Raul Gonzalez Officer Safety Act would make it a federal crime to evade U.S. Customs and Border Protection or other law enforcement agents aiding CBP by motor vehicle within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill passed the House of Representatives Tuesday.

The bill is named after former Border Patrol agent Raul Gonzalez, who died during a high-speed chase in Texas, said the bill’s sponsor U.S. Representative Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ).

He said he wanted to add these criminal penalties to send a clear message, "That these high-speed chases will not be tolerated, and to engage in that kind of dangerous activity anywhere close to the border, that is obviously going to be linked with trafficking of people, mainly in this case, is something we want to send a strong message that we will not stand for that.”

The penalties range from up to two years in prison to life in prison if a fatality occurs as a result of the chase.

“When we talk about these smugglers that are driving at high-speed chases during these pursuits ... a lot of them are U.S. Citizens," Ciscomani said. "So, the penalties include both for the smugglers if they are here legally or illegally as well.”

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said that for 2022 and 2023, the Cochise County Jail has booked a total of 2,884 people for border-related crimes and 414 people for failure to yield.

"That is the impact that we're dealing with here, a cost of $9.4 million," said Dannels. "Out of the 2,884 border crimes ... only 154 were foreign-born or illegally in the country."

Ciscomani spoke of the death of former Border Patrol agent Freddy Ortiz, who died as a result of an all-terrain vehicle crash in Douglas on November 14 last year while on a call in response to suspected undocumented immigrants according to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

"When you have very little regard for the law from the cartels and the smugglers and how they treat people, they’re endangering everybody around them — obviously themselves as the drivers, but also, all the people around them and the people they’re trafficking as well," the Ciscomani said. "Nobody is safe with this type of activity.”

The Congressman said the companion Senate Bill is being led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. The House bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 56 Democrats and 215 Republicans.

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