The Senate will vote next week on legislation that would block congressional funding to cities and municipalities that don’t comply with immigration-related requests from the federal government.
Since the killing in San Francisco last July of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle and the arrest in her death of an illegal immigrant from Mexico with multiple deportations, Republicans in Congress have sought to punish local jurisdictions that have “sanctuary” policies limiting their cooperation with requests from federal immigration officials.
Police charged Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez with Steinle’s murder. The San Francisco sheriff at the time of Steinle’s death, Ross Mirkarimi, carried out a policy that barred communication with immigration authorities in virtually all circumstances.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is the sponsor of the sanctuary city bill coming before the Senate for a procedural vote as early as next Wednesday. He describes the bill as intended to address what he views as a public safety issue.
“Ultimately it’s about keeping our communities safe,” Toomey told reporters during a conference call Thursday, adding:
It’s crazy for a city or municipality to willfully release dangerous criminals just because the person is here illegally. It defies common sense, and we need to end these policies for the sake of our security.
Toomey, who is up for re-election, represents a state whose major city, Philadelphia, limits its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Along with Toomey’s bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled a vote next week on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that also is meant to address Steinle’s death.
That measure, known as “Kate’s Law,” would increase mandatory minimum prison sentences for immigrants convicted of repeatedly entering the country illegally.
“It defies common sense and we need to end these policies for the sake of our security,” says @SenToomey of “sanctuary” cities.
In October, the Senate voted on these two measures as one combined bill, but the effort failed after Democrats expressed opposition especially to “Kate’s Law.”
The bills will be voted on separately this time. The votes are procedural, meaning 60 votes are required to invoke cloture and move forward with debate on either measure.
Supporters of sanctuary policies note that because of a 2014 federal appeals court ruling, which said that complying with immigration requests is optional for localities, those jurisdictions are free to enact their own policies.
In addition, some local law enforcement officials have expressed concern that they would be legally liable if they accidently held a U.S. citizen without a warrant at the request of federal immigration authorities.
To address this issue, Toomey said his legislation specifies that local jurisdictions cannot be sued for complying with requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
A person who believes his constitutional rights have been violated can still sue, but the local agency could not be held liable.
The federal government encourages local jurisdictions to cooperate with immigration requests, which recently have changed in substance.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama, as part of his executive actions on immigration, issued a directive to end a controversial program called Secure Communities. That program had required local law enforcement to hold arrested illegal immigrants for deportation, even without probable cause.
Critics of the program, created in 2008 under President George W. Bush and expanded by Obama, said it punished immigrants arrested for less serious crimes such as minor traffic violations.
With the Priority Enforcement Program, which replaced it, local authorities are supposed to notify ICE only when they plan to release someone on whom federal officials have requested information.
ICE, however, can still issue a detainer if it believes it has probable cause to deport an illegal immigrant who has been arrested, even if the person hasn’t been convicted.