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Mr. Hunter acknowledged that his bill faces an uphill battle in the House, where Democrats hold a substantial majority. Asked about the proposal Wednesday, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to comment, noting the legislation had yet to be introduced.

On Wednesday, senators voted 55-43 on a parliamentary move that blocked Sen. Jim DeMint from raising the issue as part of a debate over extending unemployment insurance.

But the South Carolina Republican is likely to try again on upcoming bills.

“It makes no sense in a free country, in a democracy where we’re built on the rule of law, for the federal government to try to intimidate the people of Arizona, who are only trying to protect themselves,” Mr. DeMint said.

A 2007 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general found 15 cities that don’t regularly inform federal authorities when they arrest an illegal immigrant, and 10 cities that wouldn’t regularly tell authorities when a known illegal immigrant was being released from custody, either of which could be viewed as shielding illegal immigrants from detection.

The IG report said two jurisdictions - Oregon, and the city and county of San Francisco - acknowledge themselves as sanctuaries. It also said many cities categorized as sanctuaries include language in their policies requiring local authorities to cooperate to the extent required by federal law.

  • Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.