As a bill headed for a vote Thursday in the House that would punish sanctuary cities, both sides of the issue engaged in an all-out war of words.
The bill ended up passing 241-179. It would withhold certain federal law enforcement grants to cities that have policies designed to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation. President Obama has vowed to veto it.
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In a hearing that preceded the vote, Rep. Louis Gutierrez, D-Ill., bemoaned that the Republicans were "exploiting" the death of Kate Steinle for political purposes.
Republicans shot back that her death could have easily been prevented with a few simple steps that boiled down to one thing: following the law.
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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said President Obama relaxed the rules on ICE detainers, making it optional instead of mandatory for cities to comply. This opened the door for the ACLU to file lawsuits on behalf of illegal aliens, he said.
An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after his or her release date in order to provide ICE agents extra time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody for removal purposes.
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"ICE detainers are not mandatory as a matter of law. So this is not initiated by ICE, they're reacting to the threat of litigation by the ACLU, and by changing the word 'shall' in these detainer orders," King said. "I think we've clearly heard today the effect of that, and we've heard it from expert testimony and from very painful experience."
The painful experience was that of Jim Steinle, father Kate Steinle, 32, who died at the hands of an illegal alien July 1 who had a string of prior arrests. "This will make you cry too, and it happens every day. This story happens every day in the U.S.," King said.
In 2011, King said 25,000 criminal aliens had been arrested in the U.S. and released.
"So how many crimes committed? I did the math, and it's 48,000," he said.
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Another 30,000 were arrested and released in 2014. They committed thousands more violent crimes.
"So the revelation is breathtaking in this nation all because we refuse to enforce the law," King said. "And this Congress saw it coming. I saw it 10 years ago. All because of politics, they're pandering to people they know are law breakers. This was 100 percent preventable."
The White House vowed Thursday to veto any bill that punishes sanctuary cities, and called instead for Congress to legalize illegal immigrants as the way to solve the problem of criminals who shouldn’t be on the streets, the Washington Times reported.
The veto threat came just hours before the House was expected to pass a bill that would withhold money from states or localities that don’t abide by a federal law that requires them to cooperate when federal immigration authorities request help identifying illegal immigrants.
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Family gets no condolence call from Obama
At one point in the hearing Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, asked Jim Steinle if President Obama had ever contacted him since his daughter's death on July 1 in San Francisco.
"Has the president in the last three weeks expressed his condolences to you?"
Steinle, unable to give voice to his answer, simply shook his head no.
"I'm very sorry to hear that. There's been other very high-profile deaths in this country, Freddy Brown, Trayvon Martin, and he expressed that (condolence) to their families, probably because they were tied into policies that he cared about like gun control," Ratcliffe said. "This is incredibly disheartening and troubling to me, because I believe the grief you've experienced was entirely preventable and this administration has refused to enforce the law and its policies have emboldened cities across the country such as San Francisco to ignore the law.
"Today the House is expected to vote on a bill that would deny certain funds to sanctuary cities and I agree with Ms. Vaughan that this is just a good first step and we have to do more."
Indeed, the Obama administration played a key role in expanding the number of sanctuary cities by changing rules in how detainment orders are applied, expert witnesses such as Jessica Vaughan testified.
"I believe it was set off by the policy change at ICE to accept that detainers were optional, not mandatory, and they did it with no legal interpretation whatsoever as to what legal reasoning they had to change that policy, but once that was done that provided legal cover for all these cities to change their policies and stop complying with detainers," said Vaughan, a research fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Vaughan said the rule change empowered immigrant advocacy groups like the ACLU to bully cities and counties that do comply with the law.
"It's also provided an opening for groups like ACLU to issue threats of litigation for those sheriffs that are complying with detainers," she said. "It's essential to protect those that are doing the right thing and upholding detainers all the time. We have to give them cover and protection and qualified immunity from this litigation."
Illegals committed 611,234 crimes in Texas alone
The Texas Department of Public Safety released a report this week that reveals illegal aliens have been involved in thousands of crimes in that one state, including nearly 3,000 murders.
PJ Media reported a never-before-released copy of a Texas DPS report on human smuggling containing the numbers of crimes committed by illegal aliens in Texas.
According to the analysis conducted by the Texas DPS, illegals committed 611,234 unique crimes in Texas from 2008 to 2014, including thousands of homicides and sexual assaults.
"The report describes an alien crime wave of staggering proportions exacerbated by federal officials unwilling to enforce immigration laws," writes Christian Adams for PJ Media. "The Texas DPS report says well over 100,000 individual criminal aliens have been booked into Texas jails."
From October 2008 to April 2014, Texas identified a total 177,588 unique criminal alien defendants booked into Texas county jails, according to PJ Media. These criminals have been identified through the Secure Communities initiative, in which Texas has participated since October 2008.
Morale plummets among border agents
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a former district attorney in Colorado, said he has seen changes in the morale of ICE agents.
"Many of the agents I deal with feel they have been handcuffed by this administration. Is that the same thing you see?" he asked Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento County, who testified at Thursday's hearing.
"Yes most definitely. Even though they raised the pay," Jones said.
"Can you raise the salary of a law enforcement officer enough to ignore crime?" Buck asked.
"No, Sir. It's a calling. We don't choose law enforcement; it chooses us."
"And you say there is a decrease in enforcement as a result of the administration policy?"
"Oh absolutely," Jones said.
Number of sanctuary cities growing 'exponentially'
"This administration last year released 30,000 criminal aliens, 28,000 of them voluntarily, and they committed thousands of the worse crimes imaginable," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. "… And the number of sanctuary cities has increased exponentially under this administration for one reason – it has done nothing to stop them."
There are now more than 250 sanctuary cities and counties in the U.S. The reason most cities give for not turning illegals over to federal agents is that illegals need this protection or they will not report crimes.
"I believe it's a specious argument, totally anecdotal, and I've never seen one shred of evidence that they don't report crimes. In fact, just the opposite has been found in one study I've seen," Smith said. "The main reason is the language barrier another study found, not the fear of being turned over to immigration authorities. A third study confirmed this. It would be nice if just once the media would report just one of these studies. It seems to me more crimes are committed as a result of this policy not fewer."
Smith said the victims of these crimes are not Republicans, not Democrats, "these are Americans," and they should not be placed in harm's way by cities unwilling to follow the law."
87 percent of illegal aliens can stay
Also Thursday, a left-leaning immigration think-tank reported that Obama's executive actions on immigration shielded up to 87 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country from any fear of being deported.
As part of his unilateral declaration of amnesty in November, Obama announced a program to proactively grant a temporary deportation amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants. But he also directed immigration agents not to bother deporting millions of others, even though they weren't eligible for the official amnesty, which grants work permits and other benefits, the Washington Times reported Thursday.
The orders given to immigration agents were dubbed enforcement "priorities," and they instructed agents not to bother arresting or deporting anyone who didn't meet the top priority levels.
"Implementation of the new enforcement priorities is likely to affect about 9.6 million people," said Marc Rosenblum, author of the new study at the Migration Policy Institute.
'Sanctuary' doesn't mean coddling criminals, Democrat says
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, said Democrats do not view sanctuary cities as "coddling criminals.
"In no way do those of us in favor of immigration reform view those (sanctuary cities) as coddling criminals. I wish the clock would be turned back on this tragic circumstance (involving Kate Steinle)," Jackson-Lee said. "We wish this had not happened. What did not happen was the simple act of a phone call revealing Mr. Lopez's status. The name 'sanctuary cities' denotes a problem for people, of harboring criminals and bad actors and I want you to know that is not the case. It was utilized because people did not speak English. The name 'sanctuary' comes out of a religious basis of sanctuary, helping people in need. Not a refuge for crooks and criminals."
King, the Iowa congressman, told Jim Steinle that "some of us I want to assure you we have been trying to push this Congress to do the right thing for years. In 2004 witnesses were testifying then about those dying trying to get across the Rio Grande. I asked how many Americans had died at the hands of those who made it into the U.S.? And witness said he didn't have number but he could assure me it was more than had been killed by 9/11."
Rep. David Trott, R-Mich, said he was going to vote for HR 3009, the bill that would withhold certain police funding from cities and counties that act as "sanctuaries" for illegal criminal aliens.
"I'm going to vote for it this afternoon, but it really has to be just a first step. It targets $800,000 going to a local sheriff, but I think we have to go further up stream," Trott said.
Congress has ceded its constitutional authority
"I do agree with you that money talks," said Vaughan. "In most cases, sanctuary policies are not something law enforcement asks for, they're imposed upon them by elected officials. So money is a way to define what a sanctuary city is and I think it should be any city that does not comply with all immigration laws all the time. We know the administration is not going to address this on their own, they've said as much, so Congress needs to reestablish its constitutional authority."
"We're going to carry forward with this," said Jim Steinle. "For Kate."
"These things are fixable," said Jones, the Sacramento sheriff. "There just has to be a desire and a political will."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said he thought Congress was "missing the boat" if they focus solely on felonies for immigrants who want to be in this country.
"All misdemeanors are not the same," Gowdy said. "This obsession we have with felons, that we can only deport felons, is that something that needs to be changed?"
"The best predictor of future behavior is past experience," Jones said.
Gowdy said that of the 11 million illegal aliens now in the country, about 2 million have committed felonies or serious misdemeanors.
"Let's err on the side of being conservative, let's say it's 1 million. What is the administration's plan to prevent that 1 million from re-offending? If the strategy is to wait for that 1 million to re-offend, someone is going to be apologizing to a lot more American families," Gowdy said. "What is our plan to identify that universe before they re-offend?"
Silence gripped the chamber.
"Not all at once," Gowdy said.
"I want to close the same way I started by thanking Mr. Steinle," Gowdy said. "I could not do what you have done. I could not have the grace. I couldn't do it. So, thanks."