Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed through two bills Thursday that would punish so-called sanctuary cities and people who re-enter the country after being deported -- and would codify into law much of what President Trump has tried to do by executive order.
But whether or not the measures -- one known as Kate's Law, after San Francisco murder victim Kate Steinle -- will be able to get through the Senate remains unclear. Plus, if the bills are signed into law, immigrant rights advocates say they will sue.
The vote came as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined nine other attorneys general in asking the Trump administration to hand over information about its immigration policies.
Seeking Immigration Information
The group wants information about the administration's policies on immigration enforcement at sensitive places, including schools and hospitals. They're also asking for details on how the Department of Homeland Security is treating “Dreamers” -- young people who came to the U.S. as minors and had been granted legal status by President Barack Obama -- and how many have been deported under Trump.
The attorneys general also want to know details of a controversial program, which asks local jails to detain people for immigration authorities. Known as Secure Communities, it was started under Bush and then expanded and later halted by Obama. The program has been ruled unconstitutional in some courts, and was revived by Trump earlier this year.
"Mixed messages from the Trump Administration on immigration enforcement are sowing confusion and increasing anxiety among immigrants,” said Becerra in a written statement. “Today we ask the administration to tell us what it is doing in this area. It’s a simple request that will go a long way towards helping inform California’s residents about how policies have actually changed, and how changes affect their rights. I will continue to protect the people of our state.”
The Freedom of Information Act request comes one day after Becerra filed a brief in support of San Francisco's lawsuit against the Trump administration.
The city is challenging an executive order that the president issued shortly after taking office, which sought to withhold federal funds from local governments refusing to use their law enforcement officers in federal immigration enforcement. That executive order was put on hold by a San Francisco judge in April.
Much of what was in the executive order is mirrored by the legislation passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday.
New Legislation Tackles Old Fights
That legislation, by Republicans Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Steve King of Iowa and Andy Biggs of Arizona, prohibits governments from restricting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement and declares those that do will be ineligible for three law enforcement grants.
It also attempts to address some of the issues the Obama administration ran into with the Secure Communities program, which asked local sheriffs to keep people who were suspected of being in the country illegally in their jails until Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials picked them up.
Many cities, including San Francisco, refused to comply with the so-called ICE detainers, saying they could not be forced to enforce federal immigration laws. Others balked after courts ruled, in response to lawsuits against sheriffs, that prolonged detentions based on the detainers violated the Fourth Amendment.
The new legislation says a detainer amounts to probable cause if the Department of Homeland Security secretary has “reasonable grounds to believe” they are deportable, if they are the subject of current deportation proceedings or have been previously deported, or if the person has made statements that they are deportable. It also gives local jurisdictions legal immunity if they comply with detainers. And, it lets families sue cities and counties if they declined to honor a detainer and the person released later harmed someone.
"For years, the lack of immigration enforcement and the spread of dangerous sanctuary policies have failed the American people and cost too many lives," said Goodlatte in a written statement.
The second bill imposes longer prison sentences on people who are deported and then re-enter the U.S. It is named for Kate Steinle, who was walking along the San Francisco waterfront in 2015 when she was hit by gunfire and killed.
Authorities arrested Juan Francisco Lopez, an undocumented immigrant who had recently been released from San Francisco jail and had previously been deported five times, in Steinle's shooting death.
It was the second attempt for supporters of Kate's Law -- a similar bill passed the House in 2015 but failed in the Senate.
Angela Chan, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus who has worked on Secure Communities issues for years, said she believes many of the provisions in the legislation aimed at punishing sanctuary cities would not stand up in court.
"The basic problem is that ICE detainers are not based on probable cause; they are not signed by a judge," she said. "No matter how Congress defines probable cause ... there are still basic Fourth Amendment issues with these detainers."
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizures. But Chan said there's another constitutional problem with the legislation: The 10th Amendment, which ensures states' rights.
"They are trying to coerce local governments into enforcing federal immigration law, and the 10th Amendment was written to ensure states are not commandeered by the federal government," she said. "If the Senate does pass this, and I don't think that's likely, there are certainly good reasons to litigate it."
Chan also argued that "Kate's Law" won't make anyone safer -- it will only benefit private prison companies, who have contracts with the federal government for immigration detention.
California Rep. David Valadao, a Republican who represents Kings County in Congress, had a different take. He said in a statement that the bills are steps toward fixing a "broken" immigration system.
"Since coming to Congress, I have been a vocal advocate of reforming every aspect of our broken immigration system, including implementing reforms to ensure undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes are not allowed to return to the United States," he said. "By enhancing penalties for deported felons, we can prevent these needless crimes from ever taking place."