House passes ‘Kate’s Law’ and bill targeting sanctuary cities

The House passed legislation on Thursday to crack down on illegal immigration and enact a key priority of President Trump’s known as “Kate’s Law.” In largely party line votes, the House approved two bills. One would cut off some federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities; the other would impose tougher sentences on criminals who have entered the U.S. illegally multiple times.

“For years, the lack of immigration enforcement and spread of sanctuary policies have cost too many lives,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the author of both bills.  

The sanctuary city bill passed 228-195, while the sentencing bill passed 257-167.

Three Democrats defected from their party to support taking away grants from the sanctuary localities: Reps. Matt Cartwright (Pa.), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Collin Peterson (Minn.). Seven Republicans voted against the bill: Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Dan Donovan (N.Y.), Peter King (N.Y.), Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).

House Democratic leaders encouraged members to oppose the bill to withhold funds from sanctuary cities, but didn’t apply as much pressure on “Kate’s Law,” which establishes higher penalties for criminals who have entered the country illegally.

Twenty-four Democrats voted for “Kate’s Law.” Amash was the only Republican to oppose it.

The sentencing legislation is named after Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot in 2015 in San Francisco by a man who had had seven previous felony convictions and was deported to Mexico on five previous occasions. Trump had invoked the shooting on the campaign trail to promote his immigration agenda, including at his speech at the Republican National Convention last summer when he accepted the party’s presidential nomination.  The convention featured speeches from parents whose children were killed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally, and the White House has tried to keep a focus on the issue since then.

Three of first lady Melania Trump’s guests at the president’s address to Congress in February were people who had family members killed by undocumented immigrants. During his address to Congress, Trump announced a new Homeland Security office called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) to assist victims of crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally.

Trump earlier Thursday called the two immigration bills “vital to public safety and national security.”

“I’m calling on all lawmakers to put the safety of American families first. Let’s pass these bills through the House, through the Senate, and send them to my desk. I will give them the fastest approval, the fastest signature, that you have ever seen.”

Despite the House passage of the two bills on Thursday, Democrats are likely to present a roadblock in the Senate. Republicans would need at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster on either of the measures. Senate Democrats successfully blocked similar bills in 2015 and 2016.

Law enforcement groups have expressed opposition to the proposal blocking federal grants to localities with sanctuary policies. The National Fraternal Order of Police this week wrote to House leaders warning that “withholding needed assistance to law enforcement agencies — which have no policymaking role — also hurts public safety efforts.” 

“It is unjust to penalize law enforcement and the citizens they serve because Congress disagrees with their enforcement priorities with respect to our nation’s immigration laws.”

The bill includes a provision that ensures immigrants in the U.S. illegally who are charged with a serious crime are detained during their deportation proceedings.    It also requires that localities comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain suspects for extra time, since some jurisdictions currently don’t always cooperate. The extended detentions allow immigration enforcement authorities to pick up suspected criminal immigrants from local jails.

Democrats further accused proponents of the bill of stoking anti-immigrant attitudes. 

“These bills are nothing new and they are not really about immigration or fighting crime,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez  (D-Ill.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said during House floor debate. “They are about racial profiling and putting Latinos, quote unquote, in our place.” 

The House votes come at a time when Republicans have failed to make headway on Trump’s push to authorize funds for a new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump administration pushed for funding for the border wall during negotiations over a government spending bill this spring, but were unsuccessful. The 2018 budget proposed by the White House calls for $1.6 billion for constructing the wall. The proposal funds about 60 miles of a wall, mostly along the Texas border.

– This story was updated at 5:58 p.m.