Senate Democrats block sanctuary cities bill

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. listens at right, as Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, where Democrats blocked the sanctuary city bill.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. listens at right, as Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, where Democrats blocked the sanctuary city bill.

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

California’s Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, joined fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate Tuesday to block legislation that would have withheld some federal funding from cities that shield residents from federal immigration officials.

Advocacy groups for immigrants urged members to reject the bill. But NumbersUSA, a group that wants to limit the number of immigrants in the country, said it would make sure voters knew which senators supported the bill.

Democrats were expected to continue preventing the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward. The vote was 54 to 45, with Sen. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) joining Democrats in opposing the bill.


The House passed its version of the bill in July. The White House has threatened that President Obama would veto either measure.

Republicans, led by presidential candidate Donald Trump, drew attention to the issue after the July shooting death of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally who had been repeatedly deported for non-violent felonies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had asked the city to turn over Lopez-Sanchez after a recent drug conviction.

Gabriela Villareal, policy manager for the California Immigrant Policy Center said in a telephone interview that the bill would have had a broad effect in California, with its large immigrant population and multiple sanctuary cities. The group supports pro-immigrant policy.

“It would have taken millions of dollars from cities in California,” she said. And that means, “it would have gone a long way to coerce local communities to act as an immigration authority.”

Boxer said after the vote that police officials warned that people in the country illegally would be afraid to report crimes if there were a chance they would be deported.

“They say, unequivocally, if you end sanctuary cities then you give sanctuaries to criminals,” she said. “This was the worst thing Sen. Vitter could do to law enforcement, and that’s how I feel about it and [I’m] so happy that we stopped it in it’s tracks.”


Vitter called the argument “simply a myth.”

Cities could still have a policy that they don’t inquire about a victim’s citizenship without being considered a sanctuary city, he said.

Vitter is running for governor of Louisiana. The primary is Saturday and the top candidates will advance to a runoff on Nov. 21.

The bill would have stopped some law enforcement funding and community development grants to states and cities that don’t hold immigrants for federal immigration officials.

The bill would have also mandated a five- to 10-year minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of a felony or drug-related misdemeanors who reenters the United States illegally.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said he’d like the Senate to consider the mandatory prison sentences again.

“You’ve got to send a strong message that we ought to not only enforce our immigration laws, but people that consistently violate them shouldn’t be out in the street killing people,” Grassley said.


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Boxer said she doesn’t expect it to come up again.

“You get five years if you try to get out of Mexico? There’s no support for that,” Boxer said.

Feinstein said in a statement that she supports mandating communication about violent criminals between local, state and federal law enforcement, but that Vitter’s bill would have applied to all immigrants in the country illegally, not just those with violent pasts.

“This is a standard that could be abused in another administration, and it is potentially a huge unfunded mandate to impose on states and localities,” she said.

Villareal called it a “scapegoat anti-immigrant proposal” and said it would cause immigrants to distrust law enforcement.

“We still have a long way to make sure that community trust is developed in terms of local law enforcement,” she said.


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