- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2015

The House will vote this week on legislation to punish sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, moving quickly to force the Obama administration to take action as victims of crime linked to illegal immigrants come forward to tell their stories.

Cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities would lose federal funding from several Justice Department grant programs, including one that pays to hire police officers and another that pays local jails for housing illegal immigrants.

“There’s one way and one way only to get sanctuary cities to comply with federal law, and that’s to withhold some of the federal funds they actually want,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who wrote the bill. “Plain and simple, if they want the federal money, then they need to comply with federal law.”

The sanctuary issue has developed quickly after the July 1 shooting of Kathryn Steinle, a young woman who was killed as she walked with her father along a street in San Francisco. Police have accused an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times but who was out on the streets under San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.

Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, is among victims’ families who are scheduled to testify to the Senate on Tuesday.

Immigration authorities, federal prison officials and San Francisco have pointed fingers of blame at one another over the release of Juan Francisco Sanchez. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was denied requests to take custody when he was released by the federal prisons and then by San Francisco.

The latest incident, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, involved two illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic who police suspect were involved in a shooting that killed a nurse on July 4. Both of the illegal immigrants had been caught by federal authorities but were able to avoid deportation.

One man had been deported but sneaked back across the border, and the other was released while awaiting his deportation hearing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed.

More than 350 jurisdictions across the country have some sort of sanctuary policy limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, the Migration Policy Institute estimates.

They have put the Obama administration in a tricky position. Just a few years ago, top Obama officials supported a crackdown on sanctuary cities.

John Morton, who was the head of ICE at the time, testified to Congress that he wanted to punish Cook County in Illinois, which includes President Obama’s home city of Chicago, by withholding money until local officials dropped their sanctuary policy.

“With regard to the annual request by Cook County to be reimbursed for the cost of detaining individuals who are here unlawfully and have committed crimes, obviously I find that position to be completely inconsistent with them not allowing us access to and removing those very same individuals,” Mr. Morton testified. “And my own position is going to be that if we do not have access to those individuals we will not be able to verify their request for the year.”

Immigrant rights activists rallied behind the sanctuary policies, arguing that having local police support immigration enforcement built a wall of distrust between immigrants and police.

Under pressure, Mr. Obama and his top lieutenants now say they oppose the idea of forcing cooperation by withholding money.

“I think that would be a huge setback in our ability to work with state and local law enforcement, and I would suspect they agree as well,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress last week.

Mr. Johnson said he is making the rounds asking for cooperation and has had some success persuading recalcitrant communities to sign up for a new enforcement program that doesn’t deport as many illegal immigrants and focuses only on the most serious criminals.

The ask-nicely strategy has plenty of critics in Congress, who point out that Mr. Johnson tried to cajole San Francisco to drop its sanctuary policy, to no effect.

Julie Myers Woods, who was ICE director under President George W. Bush, said asking for help is a good step, but communities may need further pressure.

“It’s always better to get voluntary cooperation, but if that is not possible, part of the role of the federal government is to incentivize desired activity. A law removing law enforcement funding for communities that don’t cooperate could serve as a powerful incentive,” she told The Washington Times in an email.

Mr. Hunter’s bill would do just that by disqualifying sanctuary states, cities and counties from obtaining Community Oriented Policing Services grants, State Criminal Alien Assistance Program money and other Justice Department funding.

Democrats are likely to oppose the bill, arguing that local sanctuary policies aren’t the problem and that the solution is to legalize most illegal immigrants to free up authorities to target bad actors among the 11.5 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the U.S.

“I support the sanctuary,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat whose district is centered in San Francisco, told reporters last week while extending prayers and sympathy for the Steinle family.

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities each announced its opposition to punishing sanctuary jurisdictions.

“Shifting the federal responsibility of enforcing civil immigration law to state and local governments diverts critical resources from their law enforcement agencies, compromises public safety, and hinders local police department efforts to work with immigrant communities in preventing and solving crimes,” the mayoral and city groups said in a joint letter to members of Congress.

Many of the jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies say they are reacting to pressure from immigrant rights advocates who went to court and won a ruling that said local police could not hold illegal immigrants beyond the time they would otherwise be released just so immigration authorities could pick them up.

The Obama administration has accepted that policy and in a 2012 case specifically refused to defend its own detainers against a court challenge.

A top ICE official sent a letter to Congress last year saying the agency considers its requests to states and localities to be voluntary, freeing jurisdictions to adopt similar sanctuary policies.

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