Mayors press Congress to oppose sanctuary city bills

Nearly two dozen mayors representing some of the largest U.S. cities are pressing Congress to resist efforts to rein in sanctuary cities, which are under fire since the alleged killing of a young San Francisco woman by an undocumented felon earlier this month.

In a letter to the bipartisan leaders of both chambers, the mayors argue that, while the death of Kathryn Steinle was tragic, local officials are better poised than Congress to dictate their public safety policies.

"Our cities and counties are home to millions of immigrant residents who live, work, and contribute to the vitality of our communities," the letter reads. "As local leaders, we are uniquely positioned to make the best decisions about serving our residents and ensuring public safety."

Spearheaded by Cities United for Immigration Action, a group of advocate lawmakers, the letter was signed by 20 mayors from around the country, including Bill de Blasio (New York City), Rahm Emanuel (Chicago), Michael Nutter (Philadelphia), Muriel Bowser (Washington, D.C.), Ed Murray (Seattle) and William Peduto (Pittsburgh).

The campaign arrives a day before House Republicans are expected to pass legislation to withhold certain federal grants from states, cities and law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with federal officials in the detention or transfer of undocumented criminals.

Several bills in the Senate, including one sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyDrug pricing debate going into hibernation GOP leaders host Trump's top deputies Key Republican wants details on Ohio State attacker MORE (R-Iowa), propose similar prescriptions for eroding so-called "sanctuary" laws.

The issue has become a political football following the death of Steinle, who was shot on July 1 while walking with her father along San Francisco's touristy Embarcadero. Police have arrested Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant with a history of felony convictions who had been deported to Mexico at least five times.

In April, local law enforcers had freed Lopez-Sanchez, despite a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials that they be informed of any such release so they could launch deportation proceedings. A local sheriff cited San Francisco's sanctuary status as the reason ICE was not notified.

Republicans have pounced, blaming both the local sanctuary laws and the Obama administration for what they say is a failure to enforce existing immigration statutes.

"We have a serious problem here, and I believe it's directly from the top of this administration," Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump’s White House is a step backward in racial progress The people have spoken: Legalizing cannabis is good Republican policy GOP rep: Trump has 'extra-constitutional' view of presidency MORE (R-Ala.) said Tuesday during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue.

Most Democrats, though, view the issue much differently. Along with immigrant rights advocates, they argue that the sanctuary laws are necessary to foster trust between local police and members of the community who might otherwise be wary of cooperating with law enforcers for fear of being deported.

The mayors said the Republican legislation risks politicizing Steinle's death and "fueling an anti-immigrant sentiment."

"Over-broad immigration enforcement undermines safety for all," the mayors wrote. "When immigrant residents can report crime without fear of deportation, immigrants are more willing to engage with local police and government institutions, our streets and neighborhoods are safer, and those who commit crime are more likely to be brought to justice."

The other mayors endorsing the letter are: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Baltimore), Ras Baraka (Newark), Charlie Hales (Portland), Javier Gonzales (Santa Fe), Mark Kleinschmidt (Chapel Hill), Kevin McKeown (Santa Monica), Dawn Zimmer (Hoboken), James Diossa (Central Falls, R.I.), Paul Soglin (Madison, Wis.), Pedro Segarra (Hartford, Conn.), Adrian O. Mapp (Plainfield, N.J.), Fredrick Sykes (West Covina, Calif.), Domenick Stampone (Haledon, N.J.) and Nan Whaley (Dayton, Ohio).