House bill seeks more clout for feds to require immigration enforcement by sanctuary jurisdictions

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A stringent new immigration bill in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to make local law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles Police Department cooperate with immigration agents – whether they want to or not. 

A House committee began deliberations today on the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).

The idea of giving the federal government more teeth to go after so-called sanctuary cities isn’t a new one. But it comes at a time when some cities and states, including California, have grown increasingly resistant to pressure by President Trump's administration to participate in stricter immigration enforcement.

The sanctuary label is often applied to jurisdictions like Los Angeles, where police are barred from stopping people to ask about their immigration status. The issue came up this week in the local arrests of about two dozen suspected members of the violent MS-13 street gang.

The House bill would allow state and local agencies to have their own immigration policies – so long as they fit a certain mold, according to Joseph Villela, policy director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. 

“It is a clever way of forcing local law enforcement to do the job of ICE agents," said Villela.

The Trump administration has threatened to pull federal funding from jurisdictions that don't fully cooperate with immigration agents. Withholding federal dollars is a part of the president's first executive order on immigration. But the policy has been dogged by legal questions, said Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Law.

"The executive order says it is going to defund sanctuary cities," Johnson said. "A federal court said there wasn't authorization to do so. So now, this bill would give authorization to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to strip federal grants from cities that don't fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement." 

John Eastman, Chapman University law professor, said the bill would make it easier for the feds to pull grant money from state and local jurisdictions by tying the funding more specifically to immigration enforcement.

“They have made those funding conditions more unambiguous so that states know what they are getting into. If they accept the money, they have to live with the conditions," Chapman said.

Grants that could be affected would likely center around policing, Johnson said.

Other aspects of the bill seek to further criminalize immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, including those who overstay temporary visas. Crossing the border illegally is now a misdemeanor, but that could become a more serious offense under the measure.

The bill  is one of a series of House measures seeking tighter immigration enforcement as sought by the president and Republicans in Congress.

More work on the House immigration enforcement bills is expected to next week.

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