Will the Senate uphold the ‘sanctuary city’ polices that killed Kate Steinle?
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Before breaking for the Fourth of July recess, the House of Representatives approved two bills designed to rein in state and local sanctuary policies that prioritize the protection of criminal aliens over public safety.

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The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act would penalize jurisdictions that flout federal immigration laws by withholding targeted federal grants; hold sanctuary jurisdictions accountable by allowing those who are victimized by criminal aliens to sue those jurisdictions; and clarify the “detainer” authority wielded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Detainers allow the agency to take custody of criminal aliens who have been apprehended by local law enforcement when local officials would otherwise release them.

The second bill, known as Kate’s Law, was named for Kate Steinle, who was killed by an illegal alien felon who had been convicted five times but ultimately turned loose by San Francisco authorities. The proposal would increase penalties against deported aliens who return to the United States illegally. A watered-down version of the bill was approved with bipartisan support in the House when 24 Democrats joined with Republicans in pushing it to passage.

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The proposals are now headed to the Senate, where they may meet the same fate as Kate Steinle, Jamiel Shaw Jr., Sarah Root and countless other victims of criminal aliens. Under Senate rules, it requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, but Republicans only control 52. That means at least eight Senate Democrats will have to defy their leaders and put principle, common sense and public safety ahead of their party’s agenda.

 

That’s unlikely to happen unless Republican leaders take the unusual step of demonstrating true leadership, and President Trump decides to use his Twitter account to promote the public good instead of waging personal vendettas. In other words, it will require a sustained effort to force Senate Democrats to explain to the American public why they would rather shield criminal aliens from deportation than protect the innocent victims of reckless sanctuary policies.

Moving Democrats to the “yes” column will also require aggressive pushback against the biggest fallacious argument offered by opponents of these two measures. Sanctuary policies and refusal to honor ICE detainer requests for criminal aliens do not make immigrants – legal or illegal – reluctant to report crimes or provide information to police. No law enforcement department in the country asks about the immigration status of victims or witnesses, nor should they.

The situation is quite the opposite. It’s fear of retribution by criminal aliens (often members of violent gangs) who are turned back onto the streets by sanctuary policies that prevents people in immigrant communities from stepping forward. Cracking down on sanctuary jurisdictions and deterring deported criminals from returning to the country illegally would likely elicit greater trust in law enforcement, not less.

Keeping criminal aliens out of the country is a policy that clearly enjoys broad public support. Immigration was a key issue in the 2016 campaign. It was one of the reasons that President Trump was able to pull off an unlikely electoral upset, and it was why Republicans defied political prognosticators by retaining their majority in the Senate. 

There are ten Senate Democrats who face reelection next year in states carried by President Trump and several more in states he narrowly lost. These political realities should give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE and the White House the leverage they need to pry votes away from Democrats in Congress.

But are they prepared to use it? The Republican leadership team’s track record on immigration indicates that they are very willing to decry sanctuary and other policies that coddle illegal aliens, but reluctant to do much else. Even after the revolt staged by the party’s base in 2016, it will likely require some not-so-gentle reminders from those same folks that they will not tolerate a lackluster effort by the Republican leadership to get the No Sanctuary for Criminals and Kate’s Law legislation to the president’s desk. 

The legislation heading to the Senate is about accountability on the part of local officials who make and enforce sanctuary policies at the cost of public safety, and on the part of criminal aliens who return to this country and victimize more Americans. If 60 senators cannot come together to approve the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act and Kate’s Law, then those who stood in the way should also be held accountable. 

Robert Law is the director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.


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