A Texas Republican congressman has introduced legislation that would force the District of Columbia to share more readily with federal authorities information about illegal immigrants arrested in the city with the goal of increasing deportations.
The bill introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert follows in the footsteps of similar legislation passed Thursday by the House that would withhold federal grants from states and localities that shield illegal immigrants from deportation by not cooperating with federal immigration officials.
Both pieces of legislation come amid calls for a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities and their lenient policies on illegal immigration after a previously deported felon was charged in the July 1 fatal shooting of a San Francisco woman.
Since 2011, the District has prohibited police officers and other city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. The city also limits cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under its Secure Communities program.
“This type of limitation simply should not be the case,” Mr. Gohmert said. “It is time to take action and start protecting cities and citizens from crimes which may be prevented with proper checking, communication and accountability between departments.”
His legislation would require D.C. officials to immediately provide information including names and fingerprints from all arrestees to the Department of Homeland Security to determine a person’s citizenship status. If the person is an illegal immigrant, Homeland Security would have to issue a detainer requiring the District to hold the person in jail for 48 hours to give Homeland Security officials time to take the person into custody. It also would levy $10,000 fines against any city officials who violate the law or decline to cooperate with Homeland Security.
Under current city policy, the D.C. Jail will only hold an illegal immigrant for 24 hours if the person has a prior conviction for a “dangerous” crime — such as violent crimes like rape or a crime involving a firearm. As a result, the District deports only a small number of people.
Secure Communities went live in the District in June 2012, and through February the city has deported 199 people through the program.
Even if the national legislation progresses through the Senate, it already has encountered pushback from the White House, which threatened a veto ahead of Thursday’s vote.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Gohmert’s “Safer D.C. Act” could fly under the radar by only targeting the District.
The legislation demonstrates Congress’ authority to oversee the city, but how such actions, typically proposed by Republicans, rankle local lawmakers who are by-and-large Democrats.
Already Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative to Congress, is speaking out about the bill, which was introduced Wednesday.
“This bill is another attack on our immigrant community,” Ms. Norton said. “The District, like cities across the country, has decided that the interests of public safety and justice are best protected by limiting the city’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, yet Representative Gohmert thinks he knows how better to protect our city than officials elected to bear that responsibility.”
D.C. shadow senator Paul Strauss was particularly aghast by a provision of the proposal that would allow fines against city officials who don’t cooperate.
“It’s seems pretty horrific to basically turn folks who want to work with the undocumented community into criminals for not trying to become informants for the government,” Mr. Strauss said.