Sen. John Thune
Earlier this week, Senate Democrats blocked the Senate from considering a bill that would have responded to serious crimes being committed by undocumented immigrants within the United States. The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act would have penalized sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States by withholding certain federal funds, beefing up our current re-entry laws, and protecting local law enforcement officers who comply with federal immigration orders. But Senate Democrats said “no” to that common-sense approach.
Right now, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 340 jurisdictions across our country have official policies discouraging cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers. Among other things, that means that these jurisdictions regularly ignore what are called detainers – requests from DHS to hold an individual for deportation, usually for 48 hours. While a majority of cities require law enforcement officials to comply with these requests, officials in sanctuary cities regularly ignore them. As a result, approximately 1,000 undocumented criminals are released each month.
There is a terrible human cost to sanctuary cities’ decision to refuse to cooperate with U.S. immigration law. Kate Steinle, for one, paid that cost when she was murdered on a San Francisco pier while walking with her father on July 1, 2015. She was shot by an undocumented immigrant who had been convicted of no fewer than seven felonies prior to the city of San Francisco’s decision to ignore a DHS request and release this man into the population. And Kate Steinle is not alone. Unfortunately, too many similar events have occurred throughout the country.
The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, which has strong support from law enforcement organizations and victims’ families, would withhold federal funds under three grant programs and redirect those funds to jurisdictions that comply with federal immigration laws. It would also provide crucial legal protections to law enforcement officers that would allow them to cooperate with federal immigration authorities without fear of lawsuits, and it incorporates provisions of Kate’s Law – named after Kate Steinle – which would increase the maximum penalty for illegally re-entering the United States after being deported.
What happened to Kate Steinle on that pier in San Francisco should never have happened, and it likely could have been prevented if San Francisco had chosen to respect DHS’ request to hold her killer until immigration officers could pick him up. I hope that the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act will eventually move forward in the Senate and that we will be able to send a version of this legislation to the president. It’s past time to start ensuring that dangerous criminals like Kate Steinle’s killer don’t end up back on our streets.