- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

Seeking to shift the immigration debate’s focus to the victims of criminal aliens, Republicans this week vowed to punish states that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities in deporting illegal immigrants.

Former governors within the GOP presidential field led the charge, arguing that states must face consequences for thumbing their nose at federal immigration authorities — and proposing to strip away millions of dollars of financial assistance from so-called “sanctuary” states.

Key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, added their support, moving to capitalize after the slaying last week of a San Francisco woman and the revelation that the suspect was an illegal immigrant who’d been deported five times before and had a felony record, but had been freed by San Francisco authorities under their sanctuary policy.

“Kathryn Steinle and her family deserve more than a bureaucratic answer as to why her life was taken. The American people deserve to understand why the government is tolerating cities and states that turn a blind eye to criminal aliens and those who violate our immigration laws,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said in a letter to Homeland Security officials, demanding answers.

Sanctuary states and cities are jurisdictions that have policies ordering their police not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Usually that means refusing to hold immigrants for pickup for deportation, but it can also mean refusing requests for information.

The Center for Immigration Studies says more than 200 cities, counties and states have sanctuary policies.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced bills to punish sanctuary jurisdictions, and GOP presidential hopefuls vowed to use their powers in the White House to force compliance even without a new law from Congress.

“What most people don’t realize is that existing laws provide more than enough leeway for the executive branch to get the illegal immigration crisis under control,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told supporters in an email soliciting their backing for his immigration plan.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would withhold funding under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which sends hundreds of millions of dollars to states to compensate them for jailing illegal immigrants. Many of those same jurisdictions bill the government but then refuse to cooperate, he said.

The Steinle killing has added a new dimension to a debate that, in recent years, has been won by immigrant rights advocates focusing on the most sympathetic cases, such as Dreamers, the young adult illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents with little say in the decision. Dreamers often have known no other country, and many have exceptional education records.

Some victims rights groups, however, have long argued that illegal immigration isn’t a victimless crime.

Trapped in the middle is President Obama, whose Homeland Security Department has insisted it is trying to deport serious criminals and repeat immigration violators, while leaving most rank-and-file illegal immigrants alone.

Critics say the Obama administration helped cause the sanctuary problem by accepting court rulings that said cities and counties don’t have to agree to “detainer” requests from federal authorities asking that illegal immigrants be held for pickup after the time they would normally have been released from a state or local prison or jail.

And Mr. Obama added to the confusion last year when, as part of his new deportation amnesty, he scrapped the Secure Communities program that had trolled prisons and jails looking for deportable immigrants. He said that program had lost the trust of too many communities, and he had to end it.

Democrats said sanctuary policies weren’t to blame for the Steinle killing.

“I’m not sure who dropped the ball, because I don’t know all the specifics, but this is a case where it appears that someone dropped the ball,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat. “I don’t believe having a sanctuary designation stops us from following the due course of the law to arrest or detain, or to deport an individual who doesn’t have the right to be in the country. So I don’t believe we should be trying to ascribe blame based on a designation as a sanctuary city.”

The Obama administration opposes making compliance mandatory, and reined in Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah R. Saldana earlier this year when she told Congress she would welcome such a law. Hours later, after talking with her superiors at Homeland Security, she reversed herself and said such a law would not be helpful.

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