Congress to Consider Law to Punish Officials Who Shield Illegal Immigrants

Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita introduced the bill that would hold cities and states accountable for refusing to cooperate with ICE

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 06 Dec 2017 at 12:10 PM

In the aftermath of last week’s controversial not-guilty verdict in the Kate Steinle murder trial, Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita introduced a bill Monday that would slap U.S. officials who shield illegal immigrants from deportation with fines and prison time.

The bill, the Stopping Lawless Actions of Politicians (SLAP) Act, would hold local and state officials accountable for how they choose to cooperate — or not — with federal immigration officials. It would specifically target so-called “sanctuary” policies that shield illegal immigrants from deportation.

Millions of Americans were outraged when a California jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of Steinle on a San Francisco pier in 2015. The defense had argued that the gun went off accidentally in the hands of Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and convicted of seven felonies.

"The American people are rightfully infuriated watching politicians put their open-borders ideology before the rule of law, and the safety of the people they represent," Rokita said in a statement Monday. "Politicians don't get to pick and choose what laws to comply with. Americans are dying because politicians sworn to uphold the law refuse to do so."

"It's time the federal government gets serious about enforcing immigration laws and holding politicians accountable who conspire to break them," Rokita added.

The Steinle case, in particular, incurred the ire of immigration enforcement advocates because local authorities had released Garcia Zarate from prison after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a detainer for him. But San Francisco, as a sanctuary city, refused to honor the detainer request and comply with federal deportation proceedings.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried the verdict in the Steinle case, saying in a statement Thursday, "When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public's safety at risk."

"Americans are outraged at the proliferation of sanctuary policies and the release of criminal aliens who should be sent home," Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), told LifeZette in an email. "Since 2014, there have been 10,000 criminal aliens who were released by sanctuaries and then subsequently arrested for new crimes."

"The federal government needs to take action, since some of the die-hard sanctuaries will not change on their own," Vaughan added.

In June, the House passed two immigration laws. The first was Kate's Law, named after Steinle. It increased criminal penalties for illegal immigrants who re-enter the country after being deported. The second was the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, which prevented taxpayer grants from going to sanctuary cities. The Senate has not voted on either bill.

Related: Outrage Over Not-Guilty Verdict in Kate Steinle Murder

If the SLAP Act becomes law, officials refusing to cooperate with ICE would face up to five years in prison and pay a fine of up to $1 million.

"This bill aims to turn up the heat and hold the reckless politicians who enact these laws responsible if ... something awful happens because of the policy," Vaughan said. "The existing federal law that prohibits sanctuary policies needs to be updated with better enforcement mechanisms, and this bill would definitely do that."

President Donald Trump made immigration enforcement and border security key planks of his campaign platform, and his administration's crackdown on illegal immigration has given hard-line GOP lawmakers the encouragement they needed to move toward further addressing the issues.

"I believe there is much more that can be done to address the sanctuary problem, and the Trump administration is taking action, but Congress needs to help by updating the laws to reflect the current problem," Vaughan said. "Stopping the sanctuary movement in its tracks would help improve public safety and restore the integrity of our legal immigration system, and that's what voters expect our leaders to do."

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