Senate Democrats Block Sanctuary City Bill

Senate Democrats Block Sanctuary City Bill
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The Senate failed to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday on legislation that would have limited federal money awarded to so-called “sanctuary cities,” local jurisdictions that refuse to comply with aspects of federal immigration laws.

The vast majority of Democrats filibustered the measure, which fell six votes short of the number needed to end debate on the bill, 54-45. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was the only Republican to vote against the measure, while Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin were the two Democrats voting in favor.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is running for president, did not vote, while his three Senate competitors for the GOP nomination, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, all voted in favor.

The legislation would have withheld certain federal funds from cities that prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with federal law enforcement officials on immigration cases and would have increased to five years the minimum sentence for any immigrants re-entering the country illegally after having been convicted of a felony.

Republicans seized on the issue this summer after 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed in San Francisco, a sanctuary city. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the man charged in the case, had previously been deported five times and had been convicted of multiple felonies.

The issue emerged in the presidential campaign shortly after Steinle’s death, when Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said the killing showed the need for stricter border security. Other GOP candidates similarly called for increased border security and a crackdown on sanctuary cities. The House passed legislation earlier this year to withhold federal funds from such cities, but that legislation didn’t have enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t keep a list of sanctuary cities, but spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said that after a new enforcement program began in July, more than half of the roughly 340 jurisdictions that previously declined to cooperate with ICE officials are now doing so in some form.

Republicans advocating for the legislation argued that sanctuary cities blatantly refuse to uphold the law and encourage illegal immigrants to flock to areas where they know they’ll be shielded. Cruz, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of such jurisdictions, said on the Senate floor before the vote that if refusing to work with federal ICE officers “doesn’t embody lawlessness, it’s difficult to imagine what does.”

“If these jurisdictions insist on making it more difficult to remove illegal aliens from our communities, then these federal dollars should go instead to jurisdictions that will actually cooperate with the federal government, that are willing to enforce the law rather than aid and abet the criminals,” Cruz added.

Democrats opposed to the legislation argued that it represents a misguided attempt to crack down on immigrants and wouldn’t actually make the country safer. Sen. Bob Menendez, who was a member of the bipartisan “gang of eight” that tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate two years ago, said that tragedies such as Steinle’s death wouldn’t be curbed by this legislation.

Menendez called the bill a “stubborn, relentless and shameful assault against immigrants,” and added that “anti-immigrant rhetoric has made its way to the Senate floor courtesy of Donald Trump and some Republicans eager to capitalize on this rhetoric for their own political gain. This is nothing more than an offensive, anti-immigrant bill.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the upper chamber and also a member of the “gang of eight,” accused Republicans of holding votes on a “divisive” piece of legislation they knew would fail. The measure’s author, Sen. David Vitter, is running for governor in Louisiana and faces a primary election Saturday.

“Today’s vote is nothing but a political show vote,” Schumer said. “Sen. Vitter knows his bill has no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law.”

The legislation had 11 co-sponsors, including both Cruz and Rubio. Vitter defended the bill on the Senate floor before the vote, knocking a number of “myths” about the legislation, including that federal funds would be withheld from jurisdictions that don’t inquire into the immigration status of witnesses or victims of crimes, which Vitter said is untrue. In a floor speech Monday, he said sanctuary cities are “dangerous” and “counterproductive” to both law enforcement and preventing illegal immigration.

“I refuse to simply stand by and reward these jurisdictions with federal funding when they are in clear violation of the law and are actively making our communities more dangerous rather than safer,” he said.

It’s unlikely that the legislation will become law under this Congress, as six or more Democrats would have to vote for it to ensure the measure’s passage. But Cruz, employing a strategy he has used multiple times previously, encouraged leadership to “attach this legislation to must-pass legislation,” which in the past has meant bills funding the government.

RCP Elections Analyst David Byler contributed to this report.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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