Sanctuary cities would have a tougher time protecting undocumented immigrants. Immigrants who try to re-enter the country illegally would find stiffer punishment.
That’s the sort of get-tough-on-immigration policies President Donald Trump has eagerly sought, and Thursday, the House went along, largely on party line votes. It approved two measures to implement his plan; the bills now go to the Senate, where they appear in for a tougher time.
The road will be bumpier, if not impossible, in the Senate because 60 votes will be needed to cut off debate, and Republicans control 52 seats. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who in the past worked to fashion a bipartisan compromise on immigration, said he had “no idea” of the bills’ prospects.
For some time, most Republicans, led by Trump, have argued cities that allowing sanctuary status should see their federal grant dollars restricted. Democrats counter that local law enforcement agencies have enough to do without having to become federal immigration agents.
One House bill, Kate’s Law, was approved by a 257 to 167 vote. It would increase prison sentences for illegal immigrants who reenter the country after being deported.
The legislation is named after 32-year-old Kate Steinle who was killed two years ago in San Francisco by undocumented immigrant Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez.
The sanctuary cities measure passed by a 228 to 195 vote.
There's some debate about what "sanctuary city" means and different cities have different rules. San Francisco, for example, prohibits the use of city money to assist ICE in enforcing federal immigration law. In Sacramento, a 1985 city council ordinance prevents cops and city employees from asking about immigration status.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has touted Sacramento as a sanctuary city and promised to fight Trump on immigration.
“We are not going to use our law enforcement officers to arrest, detain and deport kids, college students and law abiding adults who happen to be undocumented,” he said during a visit to Washington, D.C. in March. “This is mean politics. It’s coarse, it’s intended to get a reaction from people. And that’s not the way we roll in Sacramento and in California.”
The bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” requires Immigration Customs and Enforcement to establish probable cause before issuing a detainer.
Detainer requests give ICE clearance to pick up undocumented immigrants from local jails and bring them into federal custody for questioning and potential deportation.
The bill also compels cities to fully cooperate with ICE by withholding federal grants from jurisdictions that fail to respond to detainer requests.
Republicans were adamant. “Our government should and always will put the safety of the American people first,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
“Cities offering sanctuary for criminals will no longer be ignored, and criminals who threaten our citizens and reenter our country with no respect for our laws will be punished.”
Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., had a different view. “Our local police should not be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws,” she said. “The expectation that our local law enforcement work as a deportation force only weakens public safety.”
In April, a federal judge blocked an executive order that attempted to withhold funds from jurisdictions identified as sanctuary cities.
“There are major cities in this country where I can’t even send my officers to go into the jail to interview somebody that’s been arrested for gang activity,” Matthew Albence, executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing recently.
Albence mentioned New York, Chicago and San Francisco, where Steinle was killed, as major jurisdictions that are notorious refusing to comply with ICE detainer requests.
San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee reinforced the city’s sanctuary city policy after Steinle’s death and after Trump signed his executive order punishing sanctuary cities in January.
“Let me be clear: San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policy protects residents regardless of immigration status and is not intended to protect repeat, serious and violent felons,” Lee said in 2015 press release after Steinle’s death.
During a heated exchange with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly earlier this month, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., raised the issue of federal money being conditioned on compliance with immigration laws.
Specifically, she said if local law enforcement agencies are forced to comply with ICE orders that don't have probable cause, they could open themselves up to lawsuits.
Harris, a former California attorney general who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee told McClatchy Thursday, “Local enforcement should not be held captive around this administration’s misplaced priorities and we can not pull back resources from local law enforcement to be able to do its job which is fundamentally to protect public safety in their community.”
Contact: Katishi Maake at 412-926-8792 or Anshu Siripurapu at 202-383-6009