House panel approves tough immigration bill

Associated Press
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People shout out against the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act in the hall outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. The committee in the Republican-led House is preparing to cast its first votes on immigration this year, on a tough enforcement-focused measure that Democrats and immigrant groups are protesting loudly. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican-controlled House committee has approved a tough, enforcement-focused immigration bill that would boost criminal penalties against anyone in the U.S. illegally.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 20-15 Tuesday night to support the legislation, which would make it a federal crime to be in the country illegally, instead of a civil offense. It would also empower state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure enforcement of the law.

Democrats call it dangerous and disappointing, especially coming as the Senate considers a comprehensive immigration bill that opens the door to citizenship for millions.

Protesters shouted "Shame, shame!" as the committee began its consideration of the bill earlier Tuesday.