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Senate Fails to Advance Controversial Changes to Immigration Law

The Republican controlled United States Senate recently was unable to garner the votes necessary to advance two bills altering immigration law and begin debate on the issues.

One of the bills at issue—S.3100, known as the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act”—would have blocked federal housing and community development money (from the Community Development Block Grant Program and certain Economic Development Assistance Programs) from going to any so-called “sanctuary cities.” “Sanctuary city” generally refers to any municipality that prevent police from assisting immigration officials in attempting to deport immigrants in the nation illegally.  The bill received a vote of 53-44 against it proceeding forward; 60 votes were required to begin debate on the issue.

Similar bills were proposed in the House and the Senate in 2015. The House version passed; the Senate version did not. At the time, President Barack Obama threatened to veto either version if Congressed passed them up to his desk.

Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who sponsored the bill, was unhappy with the bill’s failure. “These leaders understand this issue is not about immigration,” Toomey said in a weekly Republican address on C-Span. “It is about public safety. The vast majority of immigrants in America would never commit any such crime — but any very large group of people is going to include some terrible people within it. And with about 11 million illegal immigrants in our country, there will be some who are violent criminals.”

The other Bill—S.2193, proposing “Kate’s Law”—would have amended the Immigration and Nationality Act and established a 5-year mandatory minimum prison term for an immigrant who reenters the country after being removed following a conviction for an aggravated felony or two or more prior convictions for illegal reentry.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sponsored the law.

The bill was inspired by 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot in July 2015 on a pier in San Francisco by a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally. The shooter had previously been convicted of several felonies and had been deported several times. That tragedy also fueled the debate around sanctuary cities, as the shooter was released by the sheriff’s department in San Francisco despite a request by the U.S. Justice Department that he be held for deportation.

That bill failed 55-42, along party lines.

Democratic senators were strongly opposed to the two bills. “Senator Toomey’s legislation would simply create more problems. It wouldn’t solve anything,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “[Senator Cruz’s bill] would enact unnecessary mandatory minimum sentences. It would cost billions, billions of new dollars, increase the prison population and siphon funding from state and local law enforcement. Worst of all, this sort of partisan piecemeal approach undermines bipartisan efforts to enact badly needed reforms on our criminal justice system”

Immigration Rights activists also argue that if local authorities are required to cooperate with immigration officials, immigrants will trust police less.

The Executive Branch has previously spoken out on other versions of the sanctuary cities defunding bill, stating that the bill was flawed. The White House statement of policy on the bill said, in part: “[T]he bill would condition Federal money on State and local governments allowing their law enforcement officials to gather citizenship and immigration status information from any person at any time for any reason. The Administration believes that such blanket authority would threaten the civil rights of all Americans, lead to mistrust between communities and State and local law enforcement agencies, and impede efforts to safely, fairly, and effectively enforce the Nation’s immigration laws.”

To find out how any recent controversies or changes in immigration law may affect you and your immigration process, contact a trusted immigration lawyer at Maximilian Law Inc.