Congress Should Penalize Jurisdictions That Have Sanctuary Laws

By Jan Ting on July 9, 2015
The New York Times

, July 9, 2015

The killing of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and had seven U.S. felony convictions, highlights a growing problem with the lack of enforcement of immigration laws in this country and the unwillingness of government agencies and officials to take responsibility.

In March, Sanchez was detained on charges of selling marijuana. The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainer to the San Francisco County sheriff requesting notification if Sanchez was going to be released so that ICE officials could take him into custody for deportation. If this had happened Kathryn Steinle might still be alive.

But San Francisco is a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. Like Philadelphia and 200 other U.S. jurisdictions, San Francisco refuses to honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they are accompanied by court warrants, even though such warrants are not part of the deportation process. As San Francisco County Sheriff's legal counsel Freya Horne explained, letting the defendant out of jail on April 15, when San Francisco declined to prosecute the marijuana charge is "a shame," but the jail acted according to city law.

So we have an administration in Washington that, having failed to persuade Congress to enact an amnesty for illegal immigrants, is now attempting to unilaterally provide legal status to millions through executive order. We have a border so porous that deportees like Sanchez can repeatedly re-enter the United States. And on those rare occasions when ICE has identified a criminal immigrant who fits its screen for removal from the United States, it faces noncooperation from cities like San Francisco that would rather release criminals onto their streets than cooperate with ICE.

Only the federal government has the power to regulate immigration. Historically, federal and local law enforcement agencies have cooperated with each other, recognizing that such cooperation is mutually beneficial. The sanctuary initiatives are a modern manifestation of long-discredited "nullification," or the notion that local government is free to defy democratically enacted federal laws with which it disagrees.

If such policies are not now reconsidered and withdrawn, Congress should enact a ban on federal funding and spending in jurisdictions with sanctuary policies, as it does to insure compliance with other congressional enactments.