House clears Kate’s Law, moves to strip federal funds for sanctuary cities

June 29, 2017

WASHINGTON — At the urging of President Donald Trump, the House passed two bills on Thursday that take aim at illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities.

Among the measures: Kate’s Law, legislation also championed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, that would stiffen penalties for immigrants who repeatedly re-enter the country illegally, with even tougher penalties for those convicted of felony offenses.

Kate’s Law, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., easily cleared the House by a 257 to 167 vote. Several Texas members, included Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions, San Antonio Rep. Lamar Smith and Heath Rep. John Ratcliffe, co-sponsored the bill. Laredo Rep. Henry Cuellar was among two dozen Democrats to support the measure.

The legislation is named for Kate Steinle, a San Francisco medical sales representative who was shot and killed in 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant who had been removed five times.

Cruz attempted to pass a similar measure in the Senate last year, but it failed in a procedural vote. He reintroduced the bill in January.

“The House of Representatives took a tremendous step today to protect our national security and ensure the safety of our communities by passing Kate’s Law,” Cruz said in a statement. “I applaud their efforts, and I look forward to the Senate swiftly taking up this bill and hopefully, passing it.”

Over the objections of most Democrats, the House also passed a bill that would strip federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, municipalities that shield illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement. That measure passed 228 to 195, with Cuellar one of three Democrats to support it.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where the measures are expected to face considerable headwinds as Republicans hold a narrow 52 to 48 lead. The legislation would face a 60-vote hurdle, and few Democrats are expected to back the measures.

Still, Trump hailed the House actions in a statement: “During my campaign, I met many grieving families who all had the same plea: lawmakers must put the safety of American families first. Today, I applaud the House for passing two crucial measures to save and protect American lives.”

Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, said immigration should be an issue of compassion. “But that compassion should always start with the safety and security of the American people, and that’s what these bills do,” he said. “If there’s no deterrent to bad behavior, bad behavior will continue.”

Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, touted the sanctuary cities measure as critical.

“These cities, on a political basis, are telling their law enforcement officers what to do,” Sessions said. The legislation, in turn, tells cities: “Fine, we are not going to fund your cities with federal dollars.”

But San Antonio Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro, speaking at a news conference with members of the Congressional Hispanic Conference on Thursday, slammed the dual legislation as heartless.

They “look to pit people against each other, to blame other people, and inspire fear and incredible emotion,” he said. “All of us believe that there is a better course and a better path. We’re going to vote no on this legislation.”

And Brownsville Rep. Filemon Vela, also a Democrat, blasted the pair of legislation as part of a “racist agenda.”

House Republicans and the Trump administration “continue to demonize immigrant communities as an excuse to build up their deportation machine,” he said in a statement.

“The bill would punish cities and towns that refuse to comply with constitutionally-questionable detainers by stripping them of the very funds they need to protect residents,” he continued. “That is not pro-safety — that is extortion to fulfill a racist agenda, plain and simple.”

The National Fraternal Order of Police, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, have also announced opposition to the sanctuary cities measure.

The House version of Kate’s Law is similar to Cruz’s Senate measure, but with a few differences.

Goodlatte’s bill would raise prison maximums for people trying to illegally re-enter the U.S. — from two years to 10 for those previously removed at least twice, and up to 25 years for those convicted of various criminal and immigration offenses.

It also gets rid of protections for non-felon minors and humanitarian groups, and bars defense arguments questioning the legitimacy of previous removal orders.

Cruz’s measure, which has 13 co-sponsors, would similarly impose a 10-year maximum prison term for an immigrant who re-enters illegally after being denied or deported three or more times.

It would also impose a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for someone who re-enters after being removed following a conviction for an aggravated felony, or following two or more convictions for illegal re-entry.

The House votes hand a small victory to Trump, who often railed against illegal immigration on the campaign trail.

But critics say Trump has unfairly maligned the immigrant community and argue that the bills target noncriminal illegal immigrants trying to get back to their U.S.-born kids. What’s more, they fear the measures will significantly increase nonviolent prison populations.