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House Passes Bill Cracking Down on ‘Dangerous Sanctuary Cities’

Legislation that would withhold several federal grants from states or localities that refuse to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts and threaten the safety of their communities.

The bill, Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (HR 3009), introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was passed by the House by a 241-179 vote. The bill strengthens enforcement of current federal law Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) authored, known as The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which made it illegal for jurisdictions to withhold information on immigration status that would lead to deportation.

“In the case of the sanctuary cities; in just eight months last year they released over nine thousand individuals, who have either been arrested or convicted of serious crimes," Smith said during a hearing on the matter prior to the vote on the legislation. "Two thirds of those nine thousand individuals had either committed or been arrested for serious crimes. In just the few months since they were released, one quarter have committed other crimes. How many others are going to commit more crimes in the coming months, if one quarter have already committed other crimes?"

“This administration last year released 30,000 criminal aliens," Smith stated. "Two thousand under the Constitution they had to release; but 28,000 were released voluntarily by this administration. They committed the worst crimes imaginable, thousands of crimes. So if anything, you’ve got an administration setting the example for sanctuary cities rather than preventing sanctuary cities from trying to enforcing immigration laws."

House Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) stated, “Sanctuary city policies needlessly endanger American lives by refusing to honor the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration laws. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s own foolish policies enable rogue local governments to defy federal immigration laws. All too often, these reckless policies create preventable tragedies.”

But, “Today,” Goodlatte said, “the House of Representatives took a good first step towards addressing this public safety problem, but more must be done. President Obama’s lack of interior enforcement has made the United States a sanctuary nation. As a result of the Obama administration’s foolish policies, hundreds of thousands of criminal aliens are currently roaming free in the United States.”

The House’s passage of the bill comes on the heels of the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee hearing Thursday to examine what it described as some of the “dangerous policies adopted by some state and local governments that refuse to honor the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration laws, and the Obama administration’s complicity in this problem.”

At a DHS oversight hearing last week Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson stumbled to answer questions from Rep. Smith regarding whether sanctuary cities violate federal law – which they do — and continued to argue that ICE detainers should not be made mandatory.

“Johnson refused to answer my question about whether sanctuary cities are violating federal law,” which, “They clearly are.”

Specifically, Smith and others have noted, non-federally binding sanctuary jurisdictions nevertheless refuse to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers or notification requests, “which are the tools that federal immigration enforcement agents use to pick up criminal aliens in local jails. Incredibly, policies implemented by Obama administration officials at DHS authorize sanctuary city policies. Under the administration’s ‘Priority Enforcement Program [PEP], the administration ratifies sanctuary jurisdictions by allowing states and localities to ignore detainer requests.”

According to the committee majority, the hearing “takeaways” are:

  • States and localities that defy federal immigration enforcement efforts needlessly endanger American lives by releasing criminal aliens back into our communities. All too often, these reckless policies result in preventable tragedies, such as the murder of Kate Steinle;
  • Immigration policy expert Jessica Vaughan testified the Obama administration’s new Priority Enforcement Program — which replaces Secure Communities — explicitly allows local jurisdictions to obstruct federal enforcement orders by ICE. She also testified Congress must step in to correct this problem by clarifying that ICE detainers are mandatory and implementing sanctions for jurisdictions that do not comply with federal enforcement orders;
  • Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones testified Congress can take legislative action to address many of the problems that face local law enforcement with regards to immigration policy. He stated ICE detainers should be made mandatory and that ICE should share its resources and databases with local law enforcement, among several other solutions;
  • Legislation authored by Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC)  — the Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act — is the best legislative solution to crack down on sanctuary cities and end the Obama Administration’s policies that encourage them. This Judiciary Committee earlier passed bill, but the full House has yet to vote on it.

In March, the committee approved the Davis-Oliver Act (HR 1148), “a comprehensive interior enforcement bill” that would make ICE detainers mandatory and would withhold specific federal grants from jurisdictions that refuse to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts, and requires the detention of dangerous criminal aliens.

“Last week, this committee held a DHS oversight hearing with Secretary Johnson as the sole witness. Many Members focused their questions on sanctuary cities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers and criminal aliens. So we have heard much of what the administration has to say about these issues,” Goodlatte said at today’s hearings.

“But today, we will hear perspectives on sanctuary policies that are distinctly different than what Secretary Johnson had to offer,” Goodlatte stated, noting, “I am honored to have the family of Kate Steinle testify today. Of course their perspective on this issue is one that we wish they never had to contemplate.”

“And the same is true for the countless other victims of criminal aliens that this committee has heard from over the past several years,” Goodlatte continue, like, “People like Jamiel and Anita Shaw, whose son was murdered by a criminal alien gang member who had been released from jail by Los Angeles law enforcement pursuant to Los Angeles’ sanctuary policy … And people like Sabine Durden whose son, Dominic, was killed in a car accident by an illegal immigrant who had two prior DUI convictions.”

Goodlatte stated, “These tragedies were preventable,” declaring, this “administration must reverse its wholesale and unprecedented shutdown of immigration enforcement … Because the result of that shutdown is that millions of unlawful and criminal aliens are not considered high enough ‘priorities’ for deportation, they are left in American communities.”

“In fact,” Goodlatte said, “in the last year the number of administrative arrests of criminal aliens has fallen by a third. And [DHS] continues to release thousands of such aliens onto our streets. ICE admitted to releasing 30,558 aliens with criminal convictions in 2014. Last week we publicized ICE data showing the recidivist activity of those criminal aliens ICE released in 2014 — 1,423 have already been convicted of new crimes like vehicular homicide, domestic violence, sexual assault, DUI, burglary and assault, among many others. And no doubt even more have been arrested for, and charged with, additional crimes.”

Goodlatte blasted Johnson’s solution, the Priorities Enforcement Program as “a failure.”

Even [DHS Secretary Johnson] admitted last week that five of ICE’s “Priority A” – meaning the worst offending — jurisdictions have refused to participate in PEP. And while 33 of the 49 Priority A jurisdictions have apparently agreed to participate in PEP, it remains to be seen how fully they will participate. The administration has admitted that when it says a jurisdiction has agreed to participate, that could encompass compliance with only a very small part of PEP,” Goodlatte said.

Johnson said ina statement late Thursday that, “I am pleased that the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has taken note of our initiative to ‘substantially transform the US deportation system.’ In November 2014, I announced our new enforcement priorities which focus our resources on public safety and border security, while deprioritizing those undocumented who have been here for years, committed no serious crimes, and have in effect become integrated members of society.”

Johnson said, “The report notes, correctly’ … that, “The overall impact of the new [policy] is to describe DHS enforcement priorities more precisely and more narrowly than was the case under the 2010 and 2011 guidance, while broadening the circumstances under which DHS personnel should exercise discretion – including by identifying reasons departmental personnel may choose not to deport people who generally fall within the enforcement priorities.”

“Critical to these enhanced efforts to bolster public safety through immigration enforcement is our new Priority Enforcement Program, which replaced the controversial and increasingly unworkable Secure Communities program,” Johnson responded, adding, “Here again, the report notes, correctly … if implemented as described … the PEP program will ensure that interior removals reflect enforcement priorities in the 2014 memo, and will increase the proportion of serious criminals among the removal population.”

Johnson declared that, “Secure Communities was not working, and leading to less cooperation with state and local law enforcement, not more. The new program is, so far, receiving an overall positive response from state and local jurisdictions who want to work with us again to promote public safety. I caution against any effort in Congress, in reaction to the tragic event in San Francisco, to federally mandate by legislation the conduct of state and local law enforcement, just as our efforts to re-generate cooperation are getting off the ground. Rather, I urge members of Congress to encourage state and local law enforcement in the states and districts they represent to join in the new PEP program." [Editor’s note: this statement was inadvertently attributed to Rep. Goodlatte in the original report]

“There is a clear answer to this problem,” Goodlatte said, and that’s, “Compliance with ICE detainers must be mandatory. Jurisdictions that violate that policy must suffer consequences. And most importantly — Congress must no longer allow the President the ability to simply turn off the immigration enforcement switch.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the ranking democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said today that the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, “also known as the ‘Donald Trump Act’ … would withhold Department of Justice grants specifically targeted to enhance public safety, support community policing and assist crime victims from states and law enforcement agencies that do not collect information regarding a person’s immigration status.”

While, “The recent killing of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco is a tragedy, and my thoughts are with her family during this very difficult time,” Roybal-Allard said in a statement, “Unfortunately, the majority has chosen to politicize this tragedy by bringing this misguided and unacceptable bill to the floor.”

“We can and should ensure that serious criminals who are enforcement priorities for ICE are not released from the custody of local law enforcement,” Roybal-Allard said, “However, it is misguided and counterproductive to force local law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status at any time and for any reason in order to receive critical public safety funding. It is also wrong and irresponsible that this bill misrepresents the immigrant community as one comprised entirely of criminals. In fact, decades of research show that immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes thannative-born persons.”

“Earlier this year,” Roybal-Allard continued, “many Republicans insisted that our Homeland Security Appropriations bill include anti-immigrant riders, and threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security if they did not get their way. Sadly, this bill is just more of the same from the majority, who apparently think it is more important to incite hatred of our immigrant population for political purposes than it is to keep our communities safe and secure."

In concluding, Roybal-Allard stated, “If we truly want to deal with our broken immigration system, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform that treats immigrants humanely, focuses on deporting those who threaten national security, and better secures our borders. Unfortunately, the House majority has no interest in passing such reforms and instead chooses to rob local law enforcement of the money they need to keep our constituents safe from harm.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Joanne Lin swiftly weighed in, saying, "This bill criminalizes immigrant communities, jeopardizes public safety and undermines the ability of local police to combat crime and safeguard against racial profiling. Knee-jerk reactions like this lead to bad public policy. The Senate should reject such misguided legislation."

“There is a segment in every population — including the undocumented population — that will choose crime, drugs, violence and gangs as a way of life. Worse yet, in many instances they victimize other undocumented persons because they know that their victims are often too afraid to call police for help because of their uncertain and ever-changing place in our communities," the Judiciary Committee was told Thursday by Sacramento County, California Sheriff Scott Jones. "I and most other public safety leaders in California have no interest in enforcing immigration law. Our focus is keeping communities safe and ensuring that the entire community (including our undocumented population) is protected and willing to call us if they need help."

“Of course, that presupposes that there are people or entities that are concerned with enforcing immigration law,” he stated, and who “are interested in protecting our communities from dangerous undocumented immigrants,” and, who “are adequately identifying them, detaining them when necessary and removing criminals that the rest of my community needs to be protected from.”

But, he stressed, “none of that is happening to any satisfactory degree.”

“The problem with the current immigration policy,” he stated, “can fundamentally be simply stated as there is no coherent, sustainable immigration policy. Worse than that, there is anti-policy (an unwillingness to support even current promulgated policy and law, or challenge contrary policies), and each state has their own policies and laws on immigration.”

Jones said, “Secure Communities, until it was repealed with the November 20, 2014 Executive Memo, was designed to identify each undocumented person prior to their release from custody, by allowing ICE to serve detainers on local jails to hold those who were arrested for new crimes in custody for ‘no more than 48 hours,’ if there was reason to believe they were in the country illegally. This resulted in identifying and removing many criminals that had extensive criminal and violent histories. Presumably, the current administration felt that this cast too broad a net and repealed Secure Communities in favor of the Priority Enforcement Program, or ‘Secure Communities lite.’ Under PEP, only the top priority undocumented persons are targeted for removal. Unfortunately, prior removal, multiple felony arrests, youths with extensive gang activity, misdemeanor convictions and many felony convictions (as long as they aren’t ‘aggravated felonies’) won’t get you in the first priority. This, coupled with many states’ rush to reduce felonies to misdemeanors, means thatmany undocumented criminals do not even rise to the level of concern or care for the federal government and its law enforcement agencies.”

“Further,” Jones told lawmakers, “even those in the first priority that are targeted for removal are often released pending their court proceedings, and escape their fate altogether … But even those offenders in the first priority are escaping consequence.”

Jones’ testified that, “The success of either Secure Communities or the watered down Priority Enforcement Program is absolutely dependent upon ICE being able to adequately identify each undocumented person who is arrested to determine which priority they fall under. It is crucial to remember that ICE does not allow local law enforcement access to their database(s), so we know neither someone’s criminal history if under an alias, nor their immigration offenses or status. We are completely dependent on ICE for this information and enforcement. As such, both programs have local jails submitting fingerprints to ICE, which in turn gives their local agents definitive information on which they can act. In the past, they relied on ICE detainers when necessary to have the local jails hold the undocumented arrestee for ‘no more than 48 hours’ so ICE could determine with accuracy who the arrestee is and whether further action would be appropriate.”

“The detainers were served for those inmates held on local charges that ICE had already determined were worthy of further action by ICE,” Jones explained. But, “Until this administration, the ‘shall’ language in the statute was interpreted and enforced by the federal government as mandatory.”

“However,” he continued, “many states more recently asserted that the mandatory language of detainer law is merely a ‘request’ and not a legal demand. Although several years ago the federal government asserted this law was mandatory, the federal government has continued its historic capitulation on immigration issues. During the last couple years, the federal government refused to take a position on whether detainers are mandatory or suggestive even when directly asked by law enforcement, and recently have capitulated to advocacy groups that the detainer is merely a request.”

“Thus,” Jones said, “arrestees are not being kept in custody long enough to determine their proper identity and whether they qualify for removal or further action by ICE. While their newer ‘Request for Notification’ may be effective for many sentenced inmates with a certain release date, those that are arrested on fresh charges who get citation releases, who are released on their own recognizance, who bail out, or who get released from court are not subject to such requests for notification because they are getting out too quickly and without enough advance notice to ICE to respond to the jails and assume custody of these offenders. According to ICE officials, in-custody arrests are down 95 percent from just a year ago. That means that the overwhelming majority of undocumented persons who are arrested on local charges — no matter how severe — are released right back into the community without any review or action by ICE, regardless of which ‘priority’ they fall under. Once back in the community, ICE can either choose to utilize precious resources to go find them again, or simply allow the cycle to continue.”

“ICE has said they’ve rolled out a new ‘request for notification’ that should help,” Jones said, but, he noted, “It will not. It does nothing more or further to ensure offenders are kept long enough for ICE officers to respond to the jails and assume custody. It is merely a codification of the existing policy change that they will not treat the detainers as mandatory.”

Jones said, “Because of the … failure of PEP and the detainer system, it is very difficult to cooperate with ICE in keeping known and dangerous offenders off the street. There is cooperation that goes on, however, in terms of notification prior to release when feasible. Cooperation at the line level is and remains excellent despite the policy roadblocks that are continually put up. Our goals at the line level remain the same — to keep our communities safe. It is important to note that many cities and even states — such as California — even without the designation are de facto sanctuary jurisdictions … for those jurisdictions such as San Francisco that put a greater value on their undocumented population than the safety of their American one, the consequences on public safety can be far more dire. In most of these jurisdictions, there is no cooperation or communication with ICE officers, so the dangerous outcomes detailed above are even more exacerbated.”

Continuing, Jones stated that, “Although all jurisdictions have to walk a fine line between state law and federal law on immigration, these jurisdictions flagrantly enact ordinance and law that is overtly contrary to federal law. The federal government should not permit this because it is putting communities at grave risk — not to mention that the only entity legally entitled to pass immigration laws is the federal government. Yet, the federal government continues to capitulate their plenary authority … And their responsibility — to enforce existing laws or create policy applications to keep communities safe.”

“The federal government has been dealing with the problem of sanctuary cities for decades. That is precisely the reason we addressed this problem in 1996 legislation I authored with some of the strongest immigration enforcement measures ever passed,” Smith, chairman and founder of the House Border Security Caucus and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stated in an op-ed published Thursday. “The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act made it illegal for these sanctuary jurisdictions to withhold information about immigration status that might lead to deportations. Still, sanctuary cities have violated this law with the release of thousands of illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. And the law also is routinely ignored and not enforced by this administration.”

Smith wrote, “Obama administration policies … have actively undermined current laws. As far back as 2011 and 2012, the Obama administration changed policies to prevent the apprehension and deportation of illegal immigrants. ICE stopped requiring local law enforcement to hold illegal immigrants beyond their sentences, which has allowed thousands to be released before immigration officials can take them into custody.”

“As a result of these policy changes,” Smith wrote, “tens of thousands of criminal immigrants who should have been deported were released into our communities. According to crime data released by ICE, out of more than 30,000 criminal convictions associated with illegal immigrants in 2014, nearly 14,000 were convicted of driving under the influence. Homicides totaled more than 150. Nearly 8,500 were convicted on serious drug charges and more than 1,000 sexual offenses and assaults.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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