House to vote on blocking federal grants to sanctuary cities

San Francisco, Immigration, Kathryn Steinle
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The House will vote this week on legislation that would deny funding to “sanctuary cities” that have policies designed to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation.

Sanctuary cities largely refuse to cooperate with federal immigration policies. Such laws have come under heavier scrutiny in the wake of Kathryn Steinle's death last month in San Francisco.

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Steinle, 32, was fatally shot while walking with her father along San Francisco's waterfront. The police have charged Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant with a history of felony convictions who had been deported five times, with the crime.

Legislation authored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would deny federal grant funding to states with policies that prohibit law enforcement from gathering information about individuals' immigration status or that contradict federal statute.

A vote on the bill is likely Thursday, according to a GOP leadership aide.

Republicans have long accused the administration of lax enforcement of immigration laws, but they have amplified the charges in the wake of Steinle's death.

The issue has also been highlighted in the 2016 presidential race, most notably by Republican businessman Donald Trump.

Steinle’s father will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, along with family members of other victims of crimes committed by people in the U.S. without documentation. 

In March, the Federal Bureau of Prisons had released Lopez-Sanchez to the San Francisco Police Department for an outstanding arrest warrant on drug charges. Within weeks, the local authorities dropped those charges and released Lopez-Sanchez without informing federal immigration officials, despite their requests to be notified and his status as a top deportation priority of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Supporters of the sanctuary laws, including many Democrats, say they help local law enforcement by encouraging cooperation from those in the community who might otherwise remain silent for fear of being deported.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities urged lawmakers on Monday to oppose any measure that undermines sanctuary cities.

“It is our strong belief that effective policing cannot be achieved by forcing an unwanted role upon the police by threat of sanctions or withholding of law enforcement assistance funding as has been proposed,” the groups wrote in a letter.

Critics of the sanctuary laws, including many Republicans, say they create havens that encourage people to enter the country illegally, overstay their visas and other criminal behavior.

While Democrats have said passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation could help the matter, GOP lawmakers argued that they can’t trust the president to adopt reforms in good faith.

Also scheduled to testify before the Judiciary panel Tuesday are Laura Wilkerson, the mother of Joshua Wilkerson, a Texas teenager killed by an illegal immigrant in 2010; Brian McCann, the brother of Dennis McCann, killed by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk in Chicago in 2011; and Michael Ronnebeck, the uncle of Grant Ronnebeck, an Arizona convenience store clerk gunned down in January, allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant with a long criminal record.

Rebecca Shabad contributed. 

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