Sanctuary Cities Bill Blocked in Senate
On Tuesday this week, legislation (S. 2146) sponsored by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” by withholding funds from local governments who don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials failed to advance on a largely party-line vote of 54-45.
The White House indicated the President would have vetoed the legislation, writing in a statement of administration policy that the “bill fails to offer comprehensive reforms needed to fix the Nation's broken immigration laws and undermines current Administration efforts to remove the most dangerous convicted criminals and to work collaboratively with State and local law enforcement agencies.”
Sanctuary cities rose to national attention this July when 32 year old Kathryn Steinle was murdered at a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant who had seven felony convictions since 1991 and had been deported to Mexico five times.
Local law enforcement had earlier released Lopez-Sanchez after declining to honor an immigration retainer request from federal authorities.
Nearly 85 percent of all detainers issued in fiscal year 2014 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were for convicted criminals. According to a December 2014 ICE report, 10,182 detainers issued since January 2014 had been declined by state and local law enforcement officials in over 275 jurisdictions.
According to a July report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Some jurisdictions, through resolutions, executive orders, or local ordinances, have expressly defined or limited their roles and the activities of their employees regarding immigration enforcement.”
“There is absolutely no reason that any U.S. city should be allowed to ignore our nation’s immigration laws and provide a safe harbor for illegal immigrants,” Senator Vitter stated upon introduction of the legislation.
The bill would have made sanctuary jurisdictions ineligible for funding through the Justice Department’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
Additionally, the bill would have required DOJ and DHS to public quarterly reports on sanctuary jurisdictions and the number of detainers each had declined to honor.
It also would have established mandatory minimum prison sentences of five years for an individual who illegally reentered the country following conviction for an aggravated felony before removal from the U.S, while also increasing or modifying other penalties under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The maximum sentence for an initial illegal reentry would be increased from two years to five years, and the bill would waive civil liability against states and localities for actions taken to comply with federally issued detainers.
This summer, the House passed similar legislation (H.R. 3009) on a vote of 241-179.
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