Sanctuary Cities

These Republican Lawmakers Will Happily Abandon Federalism to Deport More Immigrants

Bill would keep states and cities from restraining police cooperation.


Max Herman/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom

Texas passed legislation forcing local police to help federal immigration officials detain people for deportation. California is considering legislation that's essentially the opposite. Now some Republicans are introducing federal legislation that overrules the states and dictates how local police officers participate in immigration law enforcement.

So, uh, federalism and state's rights? Never mind all that. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced H.R. 2431, the Davis-Oliver Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), and Ted Poe (R-Texas).

The bill has a lot of components to it, including an expansion of what counts as a deportable crime and the inclusion of illegal immigrants in the National Crime Center Database.

The bill also essentially attempts to overrule leadership of sanctuary cities or states by granting law enforcement personnel (local police) the same authority to investigate, identify, and detain illegal immigrants as federal immigration officials. The law makes it clear that local police would still lack the authority to deport immigrants on their own. But the law does say:

[L]aw enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal custody aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States to the same extent as Federal law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may also investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, or detain aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of a State or of a political subdivision of State, as long as those immigration laws are permissible under this section.

Further in the bill, it mandates that states and cities inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a "timely fashion" when they've apprehended somebody who is in the country illegally or is deportable. And it provides grants to help law enforcement agencies with implementing these procedures, so long as they put into place a written policy of assisting DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deporting immigrants.

In the fight over sanctuary cities (cities that generally don't check on the immigration status of those in custody), there has been quite a lot of confusion over what it means to resist or cooperate with the federal government and ICE on immigration laws. The federal government does not have the authority to force local police officers to assist them or detain deportable immigrants. There is a portion of the U.S. code that forbids states and cities from passing regulations or having policies that prohibit communication between local police and the feds about anybody's immigration status. That's it. It does not require police to assist ICE or even ask about citizenship status.

This bill would change and expand the wording of that federal regulation to forbid states and cities from having rules against assisting ICE and DHS in enforcing immigration laws. Under this change the law would be about much more than communication. Cities would be forbidden from telling police they couldn't hold immigrants to hand over to ICE for deportation. It also specifies which federal grants communities could lose if they do not cooperate with the bill. A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order threatening grants to sanctuary cities partly because the grants have to have some sort of connection to regulatory processes and the government cannot simply take grant money away in order to coerce certain behaviors.

Don't take this to mean the grants referenced are narrowly defined, though. Despite the fact that the bill is all about immigration enforcement, it would potentially threaten any Justice Department or DHS grant that was related to "law enforcement, terrorism, national security, or immigration or naturalization." So … that's probably a lot of them.

The law is named after two law enforcement officers killed by an illegal immigrant in 2014. As is typical in these cases, naming the law after dead people is intended to emphasize the worst scenarios in order to deflect away the broader increases in government authority. In reality, even most sanctuary cities will turn over illegal immigrants when the feds provide a warrant or in cases when they've committed violent crimes or felonies.

Arrests by ICE have dramatically increased in the first quarter of 2017, up 37 percent. While the majority of those arrests were for those convicted of crimes, there was also a massive spike of detentions of people who are in the country illegally but have committed no other offenses (and I know this will probably fall on the deaf ears of certain groups of people, but being in the country illegally is itself a civil offense, not a criminal one).

The House Judiciary Committee took up the bill this week, so it has a long way to go before becoming a law. Read the text here of the current version here, and the judiciary committee's summary here.