The “Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans” Act, or “Kate’s Law,” was blocked by the Senate in late October of 2015. The bill is designed to block grants and funding from immigration enforcement programs to local governments that do not enforce federal immigration policies. Republicans support the bill because it establishes several incentives for local governments to enforce regulation of undocumented immigrants in close to 350 cities.
Kate’s Law was developed from a movement by Jim Steinle, Kate Steinle’s father, after Kate’s death. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was formally charged with murder, shot Kate and then frankly stated that he killed her when interviewed by local news. Lopez-Sanchez was deported five times and currently carries seven felonies. The crime became a catalyst toward clarifying the relationship between federal law enforcement and sanctuary jurisdictions. The movement has attracted bipartisan interest in defining sanctuary cities and improving local immigration enforcement, from Republican members of Congress to Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The statutory definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction is a local or state government’s violation of the provisions of Section 642 of the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996” (IIRIRA). The IIRIRA forbids local or state government entities from prohibiting or restricting information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any individual convicted of a crime. Sanctuary jurisdictions restrict communication between the Immigration and the Naturalization Service (INS) and local or state governments. Additionally, sanctuary jurisdictions prohibit their local government entities from complying with a detainer or a request to notify the Department of Homeland Security about the release of an undocumented immigrant who was convicted.
My opponent claims that the bill would defund necessary community policing programs, but these programs are not vital and are going to cities that do not follow federal law. The federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), for example, is a program that would be defunded if local governments did not comply with detainer requests. According to USA Today, SCAAP only reimburses for about “15% to 18% of [municipal governments’] costs for incarcerating immigrants convicted of crimes.” So municipal jail systems would not become dysfunctional by losing 15 to 18 percent of reimbursements to costs they incur. Also, it is not a community policing program. The program attempts to cover the cost of jailing undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for committing another crime and the bill would maintain SCAAP for other local governments that follow the federal law. No funds are going to police measures or preventative security measures. The other two programs addressed in the legislation fund policing measures, but not SCAAP. Lastly, SCAAP is an example of a nonsensical situation. Jurisdictions that are considered sanctuary cities, that have policies in place to impede Immigration and Customs Enforcement, receive federal grants with the purpose of covering the cost of the issue that sanctuary policies are impeding.
Kate’s Law could have been effective legislation in an effort toward immigration reform. The bill allows increased funding to go to local and state governments that cooperate with federal immigration law. It allows state and local immigration and customs officials in current sanctuary jurisdictions to have the same resources available to them as officials in non-sanctuary jurisdictions once cities begin enforcing federal law. Finally, the bill has the added benefit of establishing enhanced sentencing penalties for undocumented immigrants who were convicted of a crime, deported, returned illegally and have been convicted again — a benefit that could act as a deterrent against known criminals looking to return to the U.S. However, mandatory sentencing may also be problematic as the U.S. Sentencing Commission projected that the bill would expand the federal prison population by over 57,000. Kate’s Law could create an issue of prison overpopulation similar to California’s Three Strikes Rule. Mandatory minimum sentences are not an absolute failure in the criminal justice system, as there needs to be a comparable structured punishment for a crime in each state.
Though increased immigration enforcement does seem like a conservative notion, is decreasing the strength of local and state governments in light of increasing federal oversight a conservative application of policy?
Contact James Stephens at james214 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This week Senate Democrats blocked a bill designed to cut federal funding from sanctuary cities. This was a good move. This bill does not solve any of the problems with our immigration system. Its provisions are destructive, rather than constructive, since they threaten to defund vital community policing programs. And the bill does not show adequate consideration for the overwhelming desire of immigrant communities’ police officers to stay out of immigration enforcement.
To offer detailed context, the issue of sanctuary cities gained national prominence following the death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle earlier this year. On July 1, 2015, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national and five-time deportee, fired a handgun on San Francisco’s Pier 14. The bullet, which was discharged by accident, ricocheted and killed Kate Steinle. Lopez-Sanchez was arrested and charged with murder. Critics blamed the city of San Francisco for not alerting federal immigration authorities when it dropped Lopez-Sanchez’s marijuana charges, releasing him to the streets.
Senate Republicans drafted this bill, called the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, in the wake of Steinle’s death. The bill begins with a definition of sanctuary cities that doesn’t reflect reality. It defines sanctuary cities as any of those cities that “prohibit compliance with a lawfully issued detainer request.” A detainer request, or “immigration hold,” issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requires local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants after their release dates. Numerous courts have rightly held these detainers unconstitutional, a development that the bill ignores.
Given the constitutional issues, ICE has suspended its detainer policy, replacing it with a notification system in which cities notify ICE of an undocumented immigrant’s release. The few cities that refuse to notify federal authorities only do so when ICE has not obtained a judicial warrant, which is a reasonable, Constitutional stipulation.
The lesson we should take from all this — cities’ objections to immigration holds, federal court rulings and ICE’s policy changes — is that progress is already being made toward a Constitutional and equitable immigration enforcement system. Most importantly, all this progress has been made without interjection from Senate Republicans.
The bill has issues beyond basic definitions. The first function of the bill is to cut off sanctuary cities’ access to funds from three programs: the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, the Community Oriented Policing Services Program and the Community Development Block Grant Program. These grants pay correction officers’ salaries, fund community policing and develop affordable housing, respectively.
Republicans in Congress claim this bill is about making Americans safer, but in reality it threatens to defund law enforcement in immigrant communities. In this way, the bill’s approach runs foul of its very objective. Using law enforcement funds as a bargaining chip is a destructive and dangerous game.
The second function of the bill is similarly destructive. It increases prison sentences for immigrants who return to the U.S. illegally after being deported. For instance, it establishes a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for individuals who return to the United States following deportation on felony charges. We should be wary of mandatory minimum sentencing because it takes discretion away from the courts and it overburdens our prisons. These days policymakers are moving away from mandatory minimum sentencing laws, recognizing them as a failure in the criminal justice system.
I believe local law enforcement should notify federal authorities of serious criminals’ citizenship status before release. Yet I do not support this bill because it risks too much to achieve that goal. It threatens to overburden our prisons, defund vital community policing programs and foment distrust between communities and state and local law enforcement. These are tradeoffs Senate Democrats are understandably unwilling to make.
Contact Cory Herro at cherro ‘at’ stanford.edu.