By Mike Lillis - 07/22/15 03:05 PM EDT
House Democratic leaders are slamming GOP legislation aimed at discouraging sanctuary cities, characterizing the proposal as “The Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWATCH LIVE: Trump speaks at second Pa. rally of the day There's no money for infrastructure, so cities must think differently Conservative leader says next president can't abandon free trade MORE Act” in a bid to embarrass the Republicans bringing the measure to the floor this week.
The proposal, which would withhold federal law enforcement funds for state or local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents, comes in response to this month’s fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle along the San Francisco waterfront, allegedly by an illegal immigrant with a long criminal history.
Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul, stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy when he launched his GOP presidential bid in June with accusations that most Mexican immigrants are criminals — remarks he’s amplified since Steinle’s death.
The Democrats are citing Trump to highlight their criticisms that the Republicans’ bill represents a similar attack on immigrant communities.
“We can do all the politicking we want. We can do the so-called ‘Donald Trump Act,’ which simply denies the cities and towns their dollars to hire police officers while attacking immigrant communities,” Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraClinton makes new push to win the House Dems bullish on Hispanic support, turnout The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday in reference to the GOP’s floor agenda. “Or we can actually do things that improve the lives of Americans.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) piled on, accusing the Republicans of exploiting the Steinle killing to promote a long-held agenda of “making the local police an arm of the federal government.”
Lofgren emphasized that Democrats want a thorough review of policies related to illegal immigrant criminals — a review that she and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested of the administration on Tuesday. But she also warned that the GOP bill, by blurring the lines between federal and local law enforcers, would erode community trust at the expense of public safety.
“With community policing, you need to make sure that the entire community is free to call the police, to serve as a witness, to be part of fighting crime,” said Lofgren, the Senior Democrat of the Judiciary Committee’s subpanel on Immigration and Border Security. “This bill would obviate that, and if you didn’t comply by becoming the immigration police you would lose all of the federal funding that help[s] you enforce the laws.”
The issue of sanctuary cities has gained national prominence since the death of 32-year-old Steinle, who was killed on July 1 while walking with her father along San Francisco’s popular waterfront.
The suspect, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was released in April by local law enforcers who, citing San Francisco’s sanctuary status, defied a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials that he be held while they launched deportation proceedings.
On Capitol Hill, Steinle’s death has prompted a flurry of legislative activity, largely among Republicans aiming to eliminate local sanctuary laws.
Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyReport: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas Cotton not ruling out 2020 White House bid Ben Stein revives ‘Ferris Bueller’ role for Grassley ad MORE (R-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday that, like the House bill, would tie certain federal grants to the willingness of states, cities or law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal officials in holding or transferring undocumented criminals.
“There is no good rationale for noncooperation between the feds and state and local law enforcement,” Grassley said Tuesday during his panel’s hearing on the issue.
Upping the pressure on Congress, Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, urged the Senate panel to move on legislation “to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good.”
“Due to unjointed laws and basic incompetence of the government, the U.S. has suffered a self-inflicted wound in the murder of our daughter by the hand of a person that should have never been on the streets in this country,” he said.
Still, the Republican proposals have found strong critics among local law enforcers, many of whom say they simply don’t have the authority to detain illegal immigrants beyond the time allowed by local law, federal detainer or none.
Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, noted the regional considerations surrounding the sanctuary cities debate. Condemning the Republicans’ bill, he argued the importance of unhindered communication in combating problems — including sex trafficking, domestic abuse and gang violence — unique to multicultural urban areas, like his district in Queens.
“It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Crowley said.