Senate Democrats vote against penalizing ‘sanctuary cities’

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Following U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s lead, Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican measure that would have banned the flow of federal dollars to so-called sanctuary cities, or municipalities that have policies barring police from working with federal immigration authorities.

Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats, cast two of the 45 votes against the proposal, which garnered 54 yes votes but needed at least 60 to advance.

The House of Representatives earlier this summer passed a similar bill. But the Senate’s version included language known as “Kate’s Law,” drafted by Republicans after the shooting death in San Francisco of 32-year-old Kate Steinle as she walked on a pier with her father. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican man with a criminal record who had been deported multiple times, faces charges in the shooting, which he has said was accidental. Kate’s Law would impose a mandatory minimum five-year sentence on an undocumented alien caught illegally entering the U.S. after being deported.

Graphic created by the NewBostonPost

Graphic created by the NewBostonPost

The House is considering a separate Kate’s Law bill.

Press representatives for Warren and Markey didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither Senator made remarks on the floor of the chamber when the bill was introduced for debate Tuesday.

Reid, however, was outspoken in his opposition and called Republicans hypocrites for supporting states’ rights measures while at the same time demanding that American cities must adhere to federal immigration laws.

“The Republican leader tries to make the bill before this body a political issue,” Reid said, referring to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader who moved the bill, authored by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), to the floor. “It is a Donald Trump-bashing-immigrants issue.”

McConnell said the “issue is not truly about immigration; it is more about keeping our communities safe.”

Of the four GOP senators currently campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, three (Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida) voted for the bill. South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham did not vote.

“One wonders what the administration says to the mother of a child lost to a murderer released by the Obama administration because they will not enforce the laws,” said Cruz, the only presidential candidate to speak during floor debate, as he sought to lay the issue at the door of the White House. “One wonders what the Obama administration says to the child of a man killed by a drunk driver released by the Obama administration because they will not enforce our immigration laws.”

The administration had issued a statement condemning the legislation before Tuesday’s vote, and indicated that a veto would be forthcoming if it passed Congress and arrived on the president’s desk.

“The bill would essentially turn state and local law enforcement into federal immigration law enforcement officials,” the administration said in the statement.

In Massachusetts, state Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) has proposed similar legislation several times without success. His measure would withhold state local-aid funds from cities that flout federal immigration laws.

Lombardo first filed his bill in January 2013 but the proposal failed to gain traction. In April of that year he introduced the bill again in the form of an amendment during budget discussions, to no avail.  

Lombardo’s amendment failed by a 125-31 vote. His most recent attempt is currently languishing in the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, where it must receive a hearing before it can advance.

A more far-reaching bill proposed by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Evandro Carvalho (D-Dorchester) would extend sanctuary city policies across all of Massachusetts. Dubbed the Trust Act, the proposal would bar Bay State police departments from imprisoning an arrestee beyond his or her release date solely due to an immigration detainer. Boston enacted a similar measure last year.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and former Swampscott selectman, has said he would veto the legislation because it deals with a federal issue.

On the same day U.S. Senate Democrats scuttled the Vitter’s bill, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to reaffirm the city’s sanctuary status.

Last month a statewide poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, showed that nearly 75 percent of Californians oppose sanctuary city policies. Massachusetts residents have yet to be surveyed regarding sanctuary city policies.

Nationally, a Rasmussen Reports poll showed that 62 percent of likely voters believe the Justice Department should “take legal action” against cities that provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or on Twitter at @evanmlips