House to Take Up Immigration Enforcement Bills

June 26, 2017

For the first time since Donald Trump took office, the Republican-led House is expected to vote this week on two immigration enforcement bills — but it’s unclear whether they will reach the president who pledged to get tough on undocumented immigrants.

The bills, introduced Thursday by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., are stand-alone versions of provisions included in a more comprehensive enforcement measure approved by Goodlatte’s committee in May.

The Rules Committee is scheduled to consider both bills Tuesday afternoon and set the parameters for floor debate. Neither immigration bill is expected to attract Democratic votes, and moderate Republicans who favor more balanced approaches to immigration may waver.

One of the bills would seek to force cooperation from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that decline to comply with federal immigration laws. The bill would tighten an existing statute to say local governments cannot prevent police “from assisting or cooperating.” The current statute only limits governments from hampering communications with federal authorities.

The bill, co-sponsored by GOP Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Pete Sessions of Texas, would also establish probable cause standards for federal deportation agents to issue detainer requests for undocumented immigrants held in local jails. Some sanctuary cities do not consider detainer requests issued without an arrest warrant or probable cause.

Probable cause would be established if the federal government believes an immigrant is deportable, if they had been recently issued an order of removal, or if an arrest warrant is issued in their name.

The bill also contains provisions named for Sarah Root, a 21-year-old Iowa woman who died last year following a car crash with an undocumented Honduran who police say was driving drunk. The bill would require federal authorities to detain any undocumented person convicted of drunk driving or charged with a crime resulting in the death or bodily injury of another person.

“We owe it to the families of those who lost loved ones to take action to prevent these horrible crimes,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “They have waited far too long.”

The other measure, co-sponsored by King and Sessions, would enhance the penalties for undocumented immigrants who re-enter the United States after having been previously deported.

The legislation is named for Kate Steinle, who in 2015 was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant with prior convictions and deportations. Steinle was killed two years ago and House action would likely coincide with the anniversary of her death.

The measures mesh with Trump’s immigration policies, which are rooted in enforcing existing laws. During the 2016 campaign, Trump vilified sanctuary cities and often mentioned by name victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, including at a campaign stop in Omaha where he called Root “one more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

The bills face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow majority and eight Democratic votes are needed to advance. Cloture motions on similar immigration bills were rejected by the Senate in 2016, even though some Democrats supported the procedural moves.