The House has approved legislation blocking certain federal grants for sanctuary jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
The bill passed 241-179 Thursday afternoon.
Introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the legislation came to the floor in response to the outcry over the murder of Kathryn Steinle earlier this year.
Steinle was shot on a San Francisco pier, allegedly by a multiple deportee illegal immigrant with a long criminal record. The illegal immigrant, Francisco Sanchez, had been released from San Francisco’s custody — less than three months prior to his arrest for shooting Steinle — due to the city’s sanctuary policy of not complying with federal immigration detainers.
The murder has sparked a national debate over sanctuary cities and immigration enforcement.
Earlier Thursday Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, testified before a House panel about the need for more immigration enforcement.
“Our family realizes the complexities of immigration laws, however, we feel strongly that some legislation should be discussed, enacted and/or changed to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good,” Steinle said.
The legislation that passed Thursday — the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act — would block federal law enforcement grants to cites and jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“The fact is, some cities decide to ignore our laws, and not only is that wrong, but it’s clearly dangerous as well,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters before the vote. “The House is acting today to put state and local officials on notice that we’ll no longer allow them to decide how and when to enforce our nation’s laws.”
“And I call upon the Obama administration to follow suit, to stop covering up for these ‘sanctuary cities,’ and enforce the laws that are there to protect the American people,” he added.
While conservatives say they would have liked to see more — the limited immigration group NumbersUSA opposed the legislation, explaining it was disappointed in the House’s “wholly inadequate” response. Supporters of the bill called it a step in the right direction.
Both House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) have said they received commitments from House leadership that Congress will take additional steps on immigration enforcement legislation.
“Rep. Hunter’s bill is an important first step. But there is much more we need to do to rebuild immigration enforcement in the United States,” Goodlatte said on the House floor before the bill’s passage.
Earlier Thursday, the White House issued a veto threat against the bill calling instead for comprehensive immigration reform and touting its new, controversial replacement for the Secure Communities program — Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). The administration expressed specific concerns about the impact of the legislation on civil rights.
“[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 White House’s statement of administrative policy reads. “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.”