House Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of two bad immigration-focused bills yesterday that potentially punish those in the United States illegally with new harsh prison sentences and attempts to push cities into helping federal authorities deport people.
The first bill, popularly known as "Kate's Law," adds new criminal penalties and federal prison sentences to any immigrant who returns to the United States after being deported for criminal behavior. But it also threatens up to 10 years in federal prison for illegal immigrants who repeatedly return to the United States after being deported, even if they've committed no other crimes. It also forbids the immigrant from challenging the legitimacy of any prior removal orders.
The second bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," attempts to push cities, particularly so-called "sanctuary cities," into cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain and eject those in the country illegally.
President Donald Trump (and many, many other Republicans) made a big deal about fighting sanctuary cities—which generally don't ask residents or people who interact with government officials about their citizenship status—on the campaign trail.
But after Trump took office, his Department of Justice was faced with an awkward truth: Most sanctuary cities are not defying federal laws at all, and there's not much the government can currently do about them. Federal laws do not require that cities and local law enforcement assist immigration officials by detaining people the feds want to deport. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can ask cities to hold illegal immigrants for in "detainer orders." But they're requests. Cities have their own rules about when they'll comply with such orders (often requiring court orders or a warrant for cooperation).
Ultimately after the Department of Justice started threatening federal grant money to sanctuary cities, they ended up discovering that really only a handful of governments (eight cities and one county) are behaving in a way that was even remotely in defiance of federal authority.
What the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act" does is forbid municipalities from stopping local law enforcement officials from helping federal immigration officials by complying with detainer orders. In areas of immigration enforcement, it overrules the ability of cities to control the behavior of their own law enforcement officers.
The act also classifies specifically which grants the federal government would withhold from sanctuary cities that defy them. Previously the administration through executive order threaten to withhold all sorts of federal grants, but the courts have previously ruled such behavior unconstitutional. The grants have to be connected to enforcing the laws themselves. This act specifically defines which grants could be denied sanctuary cities.
The votes fell mostly across party lines—Republicans in favor of the two bills and Democrats against them. More Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to vote in favor of harsher criminal sentences for illegal immigrants than to cut federal grants from sanctuary cities, so make of that what you will.
Only one Republican voted against both bills, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Amash tweeted his reasons why. He found both bills to significantly violate the Constitution and the concept of federalism:
I voted no today on two bills that together violate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. I will always defend our Constitution.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 29, 2017
A spokesperson for Amash's office told Reason, "Rep. Amash supports securing our borders and has voted to defund sanctuary cities, but these bills go far beyond that and are unconstitutional."
Though the legislation passed the House, it has a challenge getting through a Senate where Republicans hold just a slim majority. As it stands, Republican Senators have their own ideas on what this legislation should look like, and they're combining Kate's Law with other punitive immigration policies in one massive bill designed to find more ways to throw people into federal prison.
These bills represent attacks on immigrants that aren't backed up by data. There is little evidence that illegal immigrants are a source of crime that justifies new, harsher federal criminal penalties and the data suggests otherwise. Furthermore, it's utterly inappropriate for the federal government to try to overrule a state or city's control over its own law enforcement officers.
Below, ReasonTV explains what Republicans don't understand about sanctuary cities: