Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The last amendment to the $30 billion homeland security bill approved Tuesday by House lawmakers would have denied federal money to so-called “sanctuary cities” that have passed ordinances freeing law-enforcement officials from reporting illegal immigrants.

After 90 minutes of debate, it failed to win approval but received 102 of 424 votes, all from Republicans who have espoused a hard line on punishing illegal immigrants.

“It is unbelievable that there could even be one ‘no’ vote,” said Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Republican who introduced the amendment.

“It was simply a provision that required cities to enforce a federal law already on the books. This is the kind of thing that will become an issue at re-election time. I really don’t know how anybody can defend that vote.”

At stake was anti-terrorism funding for Seattle, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco, as well as smaller municipalities such as Portland, Ore., and Long Beach Calif. The cities do not require their police to report illegal immigrants to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, even when they are arrested or convicted of crimes.

Advocates of the ordinances say they are designed to ensure illegal immigrants can report crimes without fear of being handed over to federal authorities.

“Immigration is too sensitive an issue to be improvised on the floor of the House without lengthy discussion,” said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican and member of the Homeland Security Committee.

“And it appears that the majority of Congress feels that way,” said Mr. Diaz-Balart, whose Miami district is among the most Hispanic in the country. “Just before passage of the homeland security bill was not the appropriate time to discuss this.”

Angela Kelley, deputy director at the National Immigration Forum, which is an advocate for immigrants and refugees, said the amendment only would have added to police officers’ responsibilities and endangered immigrant families.

“All that amendment would have done is place more immigrant families at risk,” she said. “If police are made to become immigration agents, it will make it more difficult to catch illegal aliens who commit crimes.”

The amendment “didn’t fly” because a lot of cities would have been cut off from the anti-terrorism funding, said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA, which supports strict enforcement of illegal immigration.

She added that the amendment was simply making upholding federal law a requirement.

“It would make perfect sense for Congress to pass this amendment, since the law is already on the books,” Miss Jenks said.

In February, officials from New York and Houston were chastised during a hearing on local sanctuary provisions by a House Judiciary subcommittee.

The hearing was prompted by the December rape of a woman in Queens. Four of the five men charged in the case were illegal immigrants and three had prior convictions that, in keeping with federal law, would have allowed their deportation.

As a result of the crime, New York repealed its sanctuary resolution, which had been in place since 1989.

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