WASHINGTON – So-called sanctuary cities that would lose certain law enforcement grants under legislation passed by the House don't face any imminent cutoff of funding because of the bill’s uncertain prospects in the Senate.
The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act passed by the House Thursday in a largely party line 228-195 vote would deny some Justice Department and Homeland Security grants to cities deemed to be sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. It also would make it easier for local police to detain these immigrants.
Grants covered by the bill include the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) which reimburses state and local governments for the costs of incarcerating unauthorized immigrants.
The House Judiciary Committee doesn't have an estimate of how much federal grant money might be redirected away from sanctuary cities if the legislation eventually becomes law, a spokeswoman said Friday in an email.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors opposed the bill.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is president of the conference, sent a letter to House lawmakers calling it a “bad bill for our cities and their residents and for our nation.’’
“It would jeopardize public safety, preempt local authority, and expose local governments to litigation and potential findings of damages,’’ Landrieu wrote.
Senate Republicans failed in the last Congress to achieve the 60-vote supermajority needed to break a filibuster on similar legislation.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated in an email Friday he has no indication when the issue might be considered by the Senate in this session.
In the meantime, President Trump’s effort to crack down on this issue through a Jan. 25 executive order has been blocked by a federal court ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in San Francisco ruled in April that the White House effort to withhold funds to cities and other jurisdictions constituted an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
There is no official federal definition of a sanctuary city, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The policies in these jurisdictions range from limiting local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to restricting some types of information that can be shared about an alien with federal law enforcement.
“At least five states (California, Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont); dozens of cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, DC; and hundreds of counties limit their assistance to federal immigration law enforcement agencies,’’ CRS said in a Feb. 15 report, citing estimates by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
CRS said it was “difficult to track the exact number or current policies of sanctuary jurisdictions at any given point, because jurisdictions may periodically change their policies regarding their level of cooperation with ICE.’’
During Thursday’s House debate House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the legislation will encourage cities to discontinue sanctuary policies that flout notices issued by ICE to allow federal agent to take into custody aliens already in law enforcement custody.
“These irresponsible policies have led to a sharp drop in ICE’s intake of aliens from criminal detention facilities, which forces ICE agents to engage in the far more time-consuming and dangerous task of picking them up on the streets,’’ Goodlatte said. “This, among other factors, led to a drop in the number of criminal aliens removed from the interior of the United States from almost 87,000 in fiscal year 2014 to approximately 63,500 the following two fiscal years.’’
House Democrats who opposed the bill said it would not make communities safer.
“The ultimate experts on community safety are communities themselves, and hundreds of them have determined that, as community trust increases, crime decreases,’’ said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. “This is because immigrants will come out of the shadows and report crimes to local law enforcement when they are not threatened with deportation.’’