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Immigration bills approved by House would increase penalties under 'Kate's Law' and punish sanctuary cities

Immigration bills approved by House would increase penalties under 'Kate's Law' and punish sanctuary cities
Two immigration bills passed by the House on Thursday would fulfill President Trump's campaign promises if they became law, but the Senate has killed similar legislation. (Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

There would be tougher penalties for people repeatedly caught illegally crossing the border and millions of dollars less in federal funds for so-called sanctuary jurisdictions such as Los Angeles under two House immigration bills approved Thursday.

Both bills would fulfill President Trump's campaign promises if they became law, but the Senate has killed similar legislation and is unlikely to be able to reach the 60-vote requirement to pass the bills.

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The House voted 257 to 167, with 24 Democrats crossing party lines, to pass "Kate's Law," which would create harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for people who repeatedly enter the U.S. illegally.

It is named after Kathryn Steinle, who allegedly was shot and killed in ​​​​San Francisco in 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant who had repeatedly entered the country illegally and was released from jail by sheriff's officials despite a request by immigration officials to keep him behind bars.

Two California Democrats, Reps. Jackie Speier (D- Hillsborough) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

Swalwell grew up with Steinle and is still in touch with her family, he said.

"This bill is not perfect, and it's shameful that the Republicans did not allow any debate…. But it does improve our ability to punish individuals who repeatedly break the law and to deter those who may do so," Swalwell said in a statement.

The House also voted 228 to 195, largely along party lines, to pass the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," which would bar cities and states that don't cooperate with immigration authorities from getting certain Department of Justice and Homeland Security grants, including some related to combating gangs, preventing drug crimes and stopping terrorism.

Several California cities and counties refuse to honor requests from immigration authorities to detain prisoners so they can be picked up for deportation after they have served their sentences.

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws, and several cities have created funds to pay for lawyers for those facing deportation. San Francisco and other California communities have already gone to court to challenge Trump's executive order to withhold federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and attorneys general from 10 other states filed a supportive brief Wednesday.

Republicans say sanctuary cities shelter people in the country illegally, violating federal immigration law and promoting crime.

"Is the purpose of our government to protect the American people first? Or is the purpose of our government to protect felons who have entered our country illegally, broken our laws and threatened our people?" House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said. "I wish this was an exaggeration. But American citizens have died because some local governments have refused to uphold our laws."

Democrats say that the bills paint all immigrants as criminals and scapegoats, and that immigrants here illegally would refuse to report crimes or cooperate with police if they feared deportation.

"It's a dog whistle against Latinos; I think everyone understands that," Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) said. "We look at these people and see them as good citizens, see them at Little League and the soccer games. We don't want to see them in prison; this is ridiculous. That's not the kind of state we are. We're going to push back."

Similar legislation passed the House under President Obama but died repeatedly in the Senate. It's not clear having a president friendly to the issue will help this time around.

Trump has embraced families of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally. He mentioned Steinle in a speech, and anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric was a hallmark of Trump's 2016 campaign.

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"We're calling on all members of Congress to honor grieving American families by passing these lifesaving measures in the House, in the Senate, and then sending them to my desk for a very rapid signature," Trump said during a White House meeting with crime victims Wednesday.

Times staff writer Lauren Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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