On Wednesday in Miami, Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the recent decision of Miami-Dade County to end its sanctuary policy. At the same time, he criticized Chicago’s sanctuary policy and its filing of a federal lawsuit against the Justice Department in the wake of the Department’s denial of federal law enforcement grants to sanctuary jurisdictions.
It’s been a long time coming. Sanctuary cities didn’t start in the 2010s. They didn’t start in the 2000s either. They started in the 1980s, with the most notorious case being San Francisco, which enacted its “City and County of Refuge” Ordinance in 1989. That ordinance prohibited city officials from using city funds to assist the federal government in enforcing federal immigration laws.
As a result, many known illegal aliens who had been arrested for the commission of significant crimes have been released back into the public, rather than being handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Such policies have had deadly consequences for U.S. citizens.
The San Francisco sanctuary ordinance led to the release of Salvadoran illegal alien gang member Edwin Ramos, who had been arrested for a gang-related assault and an attempted robbery. Ramos then went on to gun down Michael, Matthew, and Andrew Bologna (a father and his two sons) in a brutal shooting in 2008. The San Francisco sanctuary ordinance also resulted in the death of Kate Steinle in 2015. Steinle was killed by illegal alien Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican who had been previously deported from the United States five times and who had been released from San Francisco custody into the public rather than being turned over to ICE. Lopez-Sanchez shot Steinle when she was walking on a San Francisco pier with her father. In both cases, American citizens were killed by illegal alien criminals who had been permitted and encouraged to remain in San Francisco by the sanctuary policy. Their deaths could have been prevented if San Francisco had turned the illegal aliens over to ICE.
And the list goes on. All across America, citizens have been killed or injured by illegal aliens sheltered by sanctuary cities and counties.
In 1996, long before these deaths, Congress had already decided to do something about sanctuary cities. It was intolerable that cities like San Francisco were directly undermining federal law by providing refuge to illegal aliens. The Republican Congress, along with President Bill Clinton, enacted a federal statute that bars cities from “prohibit[ing], or in any way restrict[ing], any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” The law also requires the federal government to respond to any inquiry from a city or county about any alien’s legal status.
The 1996 law was clear — sanctuary policies were expressly prohibited by federal law. There was only one problem with the law: Congress assumed that cities would follow the newly enacted anti-sanctuary law, so there was no need to include in it a penalty for cities that violated it. Of course, this assumption proved to be incorrect, as more and more cities across the country continued to adopt sanctuary policies. In the vast majority of these cases, the sanctuary cities were Democrat-controlled jurisdictions.
For years, these sanctuary policies took one of two forms. They were either “don’t ask” jurisdictions like Los Angeles, in which police are prohibited from approaching a person to ask his immigration status, or “don’t tell” jurisdictions like San Francisco, in which police were prohibited from telling federal immigration authorities about an illegal alien’s presence or status. Then, in 2014, a new form of sanctuary jurisdiction emerged. It’s a jurisdiction that refuses to comply with an ICE “detainer request” — a request from ICE that a particular illegal alien in state or county custody be held and transferred to ICE.
There are now approximately 340 cities and states in the United States that have adopted sanctuary policies. These policies pose a direct threat to the safety of the American public – causing the release of approximately 1,000 alien criminals back onto the streets every month. 9,295 criminal aliens sought by ICE were released by sanctuary jurisdictions in a nine-month period in 2014. A shockingly high number of those illegal aliens who were released – 2,320 – were subsequently arrested for another crime within the same nine-month period. It is painfully clear that sanctuary cities and counties create a grave safety risk for the citizens who live in them.
Enter the Trump Administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday that sanctuary jurisdictions would no longer be eligible to receive federal funds from the Byrne Justice Assistance grant program — a $380 million program. The denial of federal money changes everything. Many cities and counties across the country are addicted to these funds. When they are denied the ability to feed at the federal trough, they come to their senses regarding sanctuary policies. That’s what happened in Miami-Dade County. Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he repealed Miami-Dade’s 2013 sanctuary policy because he didn’t want to risk losing federal funds.
The next step is for Congress to deny an even broader array of federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions, putting in the teeth that were missing from the 1996 law. The House of Representatives passed such a bill at the end of June 2017. But the Senate has yet to vote on it. It appears that the Senate Republican leadership is in no hurry to bring the issue to the floor. Senate Democrats have made clear that they will oppose the bill, just like they opposed similar bills in 2015 and 2016. Democrat Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey even said, “I will do whatever I can” to stop the bill.
The states also need to act. Many cities and counties that are not dependent on federal funds still receive huge infusions of money from their respective states. Access to those funds also needs to be denied to sanctuary jurisdictions. I drafted a bill – SB 158 – that barred sanctuary jurisdictions in Kansas (of which there are currently four) from receiving state money. It passed easily out of the relevant Senate committee. But the Republican leadership of the Kansas Senate inexplicably failed to bring the bill to a vote of the full Senate.
Unfortunately, many politicians don’t realize that it’s a matter of life and death. They seem unmotivated to act until someone else dies at the hands of an illegal alien in a sanctuary jurisdiction. The longer state legislators and U.S. Senators wait, the greater the likelihood that another preventable death will occur.
The time has come to act. President Trump made it a top priority during his campaign, and the American public signaled their agreement by electing him. The U.S. Senate needs to take a vote. If Democrats vote no, then they need to be held accountable by the voters of their states in 2018. And every state needs to pass a bill like Kansas’s SB 158. Then, and only then, can legislators say that they have done all that is possible to prevent needless deaths in sanctuary jurisdictions.
Kris W. Kobach is the elected Secretary of State of Kansas. An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the 10 ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty. In 2017 President Trump named him Vice Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. His website is kriskobach.com.