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House bills target ‘sanctuary cities,’ deported criminals who return to U.S.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House approved one bill Thursday that would strip some federal grants from “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal agents on deportations, and another bill that would stiffen punishment for deported criminals who re-enter the U.S. illegally.

The legislation dealing with sanctuary cities – called the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act – mirrors a Justice Department initiative that has been tied up in federal court since April. The House bill would allow the Justice and Homeland Security departments to withhold some federal payments to state and local jurisdictions that don’t comply with federal immigration agents’ requests to hold arrested suspects deemed to be in the country illegally.

A Department of Homeland Security report released in March noted that no county in New Mexico – among some other states and counties nationwide – complies with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement requests to detain those arrested for crimes if they are eligible for deportation. The Justice Department is expected to issue more than $4 billion in grants to cities, counties and states this year. In 2016, the Justice Department awarded money for 50 projects totaling more than $31 million in New Mexico.

The other bill approved Thursday, known as Kate’s Law, is named in honor of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco two years ago by a man in the country illegally who had been deported five times. The legislation would boost penalties for convicted criminals who are deported but return to the U.S. illegally. Both bills were approved largely on party line votes, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against.

Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, both New Mexico Democrats, each voted against the bills. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., voted in support of both bills. Neither bill has yet been considered by the Senate.

“Local law enforcement officials should have the resources they need to protect and serve all the residents in their care,” Luján said, referencing the sanctuary cities bill. “Withholding funds from first responders and the communities they serve will not improve conditions, but it will make undocumented residents who are victims of heinous crimes like rape or abuse less likely to report those incidents – and it will needlessly punish communities that are doing their best to address local problems at the local level.”

Lujan Grisham, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the Kate’s Law bill would “criminalize immigrants who are guilty of nothing more than trying to keep their families intact. Lujan Grisham also said, “Using tragedy as a political tool to justify mass deportation of all immigrants is shameful. Nobody should face up to a decade in prison only because of their immigration status, and not any sort of criminal act.”

Pearce said the changes are needed.

“We in New Mexico know firsthand the challenges that come with a broken and outdated immigration system,” Pearce said. “However, failures and flaws intertwined in our system are no excuse for cities to willfully ignore the laws of this nation.”

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