We can stop sanctuary cities

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When I publicly expressed my support for Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, I was one of the very first members of Congress to do so. I was impressed by his frank assessment of the troubles facing our country, and most importantly, his willingness to take on the issue of illegal immigration. It is clear that those of us who want to secure our borders and enforce immigration laws will now have an ally in the White House.

My firm stance against illegal immigration is likely why I was elected to Congress in the first place. While mayor of Hazleton, Pa., I became known as the first mayor in the country to pass a local ordinance which cracked down on landlords and businesses that rented to or hired illegal immigrants. I have authored, co-sponsored, or supported any number of bills in Congress dealing with illegal immigration, but one issue in particular stands out as being particularly troublesome: sanctuary cities. I am gratified to know that President Trump shares my view that local jurisdictions should not be able to thumb their noses at our immigration officials.

{mosads}It was more than 10 years ago when the problem of sanctuary cities had a direct impact on our small town of Hazleton. I was still mayor in 2006 when a 29-year-old city man, Derek Kichline, a father of three, was murdered in front of his own house by an illegal alien. The killer was a habitual criminal who had been arrested and released a number of times, including by the known sanctuary city of New York. It was then that I began what has been, at times, a very lonely crusade against illegal immigration and policies that condone or encourage such lawless behavior.

When I got to Congress in 2011, the very first piece of legislation I introduced was the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, which would cut off all funding for at least one year to jurisdictions that resist or ban enforcement of federal immigration laws, or refuse to cooperate with immigration officials. The attorney general would compile an annual list of such cities and issue a report on any particular state or locality upon request from a member of Congress. A state or local government would only regain federal funding eligibility after the attorney general certified that its laws and policies were in compliance with federal immigration statutes. There was not the political will in Congress to advance the bill in 2011, and it never made is way out of committee.

In July of 2015, the nation again saw the inevitable result of sanctuary cities policies when 32-year-old Kate Steinle was murdered while walking with her father in the sanctuary city of San Francisco. The man who killed her with a stolen gun was an illegal immigrant with seven felonies, who had previously been deported five times. About a week later, I reintroduced my legislation during the brief period of time when there was heightened public awareness of the sanctuary cities scourge. Again, sadly, there was not the will in Congress to pass the bill.

So as we open the 115th Congress, I have introduced the legislation once again, judging that the landscape has changed following a national election in which combating illegal immigration was a central theme. President-elect Trump’s strong opposition to sanctuary cities is a good indicator that we have a better chance for success than we ever have before. Throughout the campaign and following his victory, President-elect Trump and I discussed our shared goals in this area. This time, I believe, we can find the will in Congress to pass the bill.

One of the principal duties of the government is to protect its citizens, and the idea of sanctuary cities runs completely counter to that responsibility. When I first introduced my sanctuary cities bill in 2011, there were just about 80 sanctuary cities across the country. Today, just six years later, there are more than 300. Too many mayors and local governments think that they are above federal law and place their own ideology ahead of the safety of their residents. My bill will stop that practice by saying to these sanctuary cities, “If you refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, you will lose your federal funding.” To me, it is simply common sense. And thankfully we now have a president who agrees. 

Rep. Barletta is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

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