June is Immigrant Heritage Month and House Republicans are celebrating with two anti-immigrant bills. Both the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act,” which targets sanctuary cities, and “Kate’s Law,” a bill singling out undocumented immigrants with criminal records, were presented before the House this week, sparking concern from activists and policymakers.
Speaking out against the bills Wednesday, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) attacked both pieces of legislation while questioning their timing, which coincides with a talk radio festival hosted by the Federation Against American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
“Dozens of conservative talk-radio hosts set up remote broadcasts here to talk about why criminalizing immigrants and turning misdemeanors into felonies is a good thing for America,” said Gutierrez. “They trade stories — while broadcasting on the air — about immigrants doing horribly bad things to innocent Americans as if we were in a national crime spree of brown people killing white people.”
Gutierrez argued that such narratives were playing into GOP efforts to pass legislation targeting immigrants. “Republicans are putting on a passion play of their own in the House of Representatives by bringing two anti-immigrant bills to the floor,” he said.
Both bills have serious implications for immigrants, especially those without documentation. Gaining particular notoriety is the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, or H.R. 3003, which targets so-called “sanctuary cities” and would demand cities and localities across the country comply with requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), overruling the advice of local law enforcement, many of whom argue the measures are a public safety threat. But if cities fail to comply, the bill threatens to withhold federal funding for a number of crucial endeavors — including efforts to reduce rape kit backlogs, combat opioid addiction, fight human trafficking, and hire career law enforcement.
Flying more under the radar is Kate’s Law, or H.R. 3004, named for a woman who was shot by an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record. The bill would drive up criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes, deported, and returned to the United States without papers.
The 2015 death of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle has proved a useful tool for critics’ efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. But opponents of Kate’s Law have noted that the legislation would do far more harm than good. In 2015, the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimated that the bill would expand the federal prison population by more than 57,000. There are also serious concerns that the bill would drain criminal justice funding, while costing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons an estimated $2 billion per year. (Notably, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born U.S. residents.) Opponents of Kate’s Law say the drain would hinder efforts to tackle real problems, while unfairly targeting undocumented immigrants.
“Instead of exercising meaningful oversight over the Trump Administration, Congress is poised to act on legislation that would further enable President Trump’s deportation machinery,” Jose Magaña-Salgado, Managing Policy Attorney at the Immigration Legal Resource Center (ILRC), said in a statement Wednesday criticizing both Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act.
“These bills would codify President Trump’s mass deportation efforts, tear apart families, and double down on the failed experiment of incarceration and criminalization of immigrants. Billed as promoting public safety these bills would serve only to undermine local law enforcement and explode our nation’s federal prison population,” Magaña-Salgado added.
In a letter signed by more than 400 organizations, ILRC called on House members to vote against both bills.
“H.R. 3003 would strip badly needed law enforcement funding for state and local jurisdictions, runs afoul of the Tenth and Fourth Amendment, and unnecessarily expands the government’s detention apparatus,” the letter reads. “H.R. 3004 unwisely expands the federal government’s ability to criminally prosecute immigrants for immigration-based offenses, excludes critical humanitarian protections for those fleeing violence, and doubles down on the failed experiment of incarceration for immigration violations.”
Despite objections, both bills are likely to pass the House, and Trump has indicated he will sign each if they reach his desk. But for now, in some states, federal law may not even be necessary. Texas is currently being sued by most of its major cities over SB4, a bill that also works to crack down on sanctuary cities.