Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler and Natalie Andrews
June 29, 2017
WASHINGTON—Cities and counties that don’t help federal immigration authorities could lose millions of dollars in federal grants under legislation the House was set to pass Thursday, as Republicans ramped up their battle against so-called sanctuary cities.
The legislation represents the administration’s most aggressive effort yet to force local communities to cooperate with President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration-enforcement policies.
Mr. Trump and his administration regularly spotlight undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, and on Wednesday he met with their victims to urge passage of the bill. “You lost the people that you love because our government refused to enforce our nation’s immigration laws,” he told the group.
The bill, along with a companion enforcement measure, represent a contrast with the comprehensive immigration legislation long pushed by Democrats and some Republicans. Those proposals typically combine enforcement measures with pro-immigrant provisions such as the legalization of people living in the U.S. illegally. But Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress have showed little interest in a bipartisan approach.
Both measures were expected to pass the House on largely party-line votes Thursday, but they face strong opposition in the Senate, where they would need Democratic support to pass.
The first bill, called the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act,” primarily aims to persuade local jurisdictions to hold people in jail when asked to do so by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Proponents in the Trump administration and elsewhere say releasing criminals who should be deported makes communities less safe, They add that asking a jail to hold someone for up to 48 hours is a reasonable request.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R. Wis.) said Thursday the bill was an example of GOP lawmakers keeping promises to toughen U.S. immigration laws. “By flagrantly disregarding the rule of law, sanctuary cities are putting lives at risk and we cannot tolerate that,” Mr. Ryan said.
Many local communities don’t honor these ICE “detainer” requests today for a range of reasons. Some say cooperation would undermine trust in law enforcement in immigrant communities, making legal and illegal immigrants less likely to report crimes. Some cite court rulings that found local communities are liable if someone such as a U.S. citizen is wrongly held based on inaccurate information.
The Obama administration also wanted local jurisdictions to honor detainer requests, but tried to persuade rather than pressure local leaders to go along.
Under the legislation, jurisdictions would lose federal grants from the Justice and Homeland Security departments if they enact policies restricting assistance with the enforcement of federal immigration law.
In addition, it attempts to change the legal incentives for cities and counties. It protects those that honor detainers from being sued, by promising the federal government will take jurisdiction’s place in potential lawsuits. And the bill enables crime victims to sue jurisdictions that don’t comply if they are harmed by someone who is released.
“Why would the Republicans be for federalizing local law enforcement?,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.), saying that it goes against the GOP’s usual goal to restrict the power of federal government in local jurisdictions. “They should trust the local law enforcement to administer local laws as they see fit.”
A second measure also up for a vote Thursday would increase penalties for people with felony convictions who are deported from the U.S. and then return. Dubbed “Kate’s law,” it’s named for Kate Steinle, who in 2015 was killed in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times before and kept coming back.
“Repeatedly deported offenders represent disproportionately a great deal of crime,” said Darrell Issa, a California Republican. “America will be safer and people will be in the countries they came from, rather than this country if we enforce our laws.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said many members oppose allowing illegal immigrants who have committed a crime back into the country but fear the bill overstates the problem. Others noted that people could be punished simply for arriving at a U.S. port seeking asylum.
“It’s stupid, it has nothing to do with the criminal act that was done against Kate Steinle, which was a terrible thing,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.) in an interview. She said elements in the bill intended to prevent illegal immigration wouldn’t have prevented Ms. Steinle’s death.
Write to Laura Meckler at firstname.lastname@example.org and Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com
Corrections & Amplifications
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) is the House minority whip. In an earlier version of this article, he was incorrectly identified as the House minority leader.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com