Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act
Monday, October 19, 2015
Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to vote to proceed vote to a bill that deals with sanctuary cities and immigration policies that are a serious threat to public safety. We will move to take up the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, a bill that should put an end to sanctuary jurisdictions, give law enforcement the tools they need to detain criminals, and increase penalties for dangerous and repeat offenders of our immigration laws.
Sanctuary jurisdictions are states and local political subdivisions with statutes, policies, or practices that prevent law enforcement officers from cooperating with the federal government on immigration matters. Some of these sanctuary policies are created when a local government unit – such as the city or county executive body – passes an ordinance prohibiting their officers from communicating with the feds. Some sanctuary policies come about simply because local law enforcement initiates its own policy of providing safe harbor for illegal immigrants. Some sanctuary policies develop because law enforcement officers are afraid they’ll be sued if they enforce immigration laws and detain an individual for their unlawful immigration status. These policies and practices have allowed thousands of dangerous criminals to be released back into the community, and the effects have been disastrous.
America saw these policies play out in July when Kate Steinle was innocently killed while walking along a San Francisco pier with her father. The murderer, who was illegally in the country and deported five times prior to that day, was released into the community by a sanctuary jurisdiction that did not honor a detainer issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The suspect in Kate’s death admitted that he was in San Francisco because of its sanctuary policies.
In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing called “Oversight of the Administration’s Misdirected Immigration Enforcement Policies: Examining the Impact on Public Safety and Honoring the Victims.” This hearing was an opportunity to hear the voices of Americans who have been impacted by these indefensible policies, while also conducting oversight of the administration’s policies and tolerance toward sanctuary jurisdictions.
Jim Steinle, Kate’s father, expressed his family’s desire to see legislation enacted to take undocumented felons off our streets. The committee was moved by his presence. He talked about how Kate “had a special soul, a kind and giving heart, the most contagious laugh, and a smile that would light up a room.” He told us how she died in his arms that day, despite her plea in her dying words of “Help me, Dad.”
The suspect in Kate Steinle’s murder had seven prior felony convictions and had been deported five times. Yet, he was shielded by San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.
But the Kate Steinle story is not a singular case. Too many Americans have lost their lives, and too many families have had to feel the real and devastating impact caused by sanctuary cities and lax immigration enforcement.
Our committee heard powerful testimony from other families.
We heard from Mrs. Susan Oliver.
Mrs. Oliver is the widow of Deputy Danny Oliver, a police officer in Sacramento, California. Danny was killed while on duty by an illegal immigrant who was previously arrested on two separate occasions for drug-related charges and twice deported. Mrs. Oliver spoke of the daily loss she experiences without her husband, in everything from raising her children to the milestones he will miss—including their daughter’s upcoming wedding.
We heard from Michael Ronnebeck, the uncle of Grant Ronnebeck.
Grant was a 21-year old convenience store clerk who was gunned down earlier this year by an illegal immigrant. The Obama administration released Grant’s alleged murderer, who was in removal proceedings. Grant was born in Iowa, but resided in Arizona, and had two brothers and a sister. Mr. Ronnebeck expressed his family’s desire to see Grant’s legacy be a force for change, imploring us, as lawmakers, to “rise above political differences, to set aside personal interests, and to use your resources to make sensible immigration reform a reality in the coming months, with the safety and security of American citizens first and foremost in mind.”
We heard from Brian McCann.
Mr. McCann’s brother, Dennis McCann, was killed in 2011 by a drunk driver who was in the country illegally and driving without a license. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had placed a detainer on the drunk driver, but he was released under Cook County, Illinois’ sanctuary city policies. Mr. McCann expressed his anger at the sanctuary city policies of Cook County which allowed his brother’s killer to be free, and at a system that failed to communicate with him and his family when the suspect was released by the locals.
We also heard from Ms. Laura Wilkerson of Pearland, Texas, the mother of Josh Wilkerson.
Josh was 18 years old when he was murdered by his high-school classmate, an illegal immigrant, after Josh offered him a ride home from school. Josh’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison and will be eligible for parole in 30 years. Ms. Wilkerson spoke of the gentle soul of her son, the brutal torture he endured, and watching an unapologetic 19-year-old brag about his “killing skills” during trial and talking about how things were done in his country.
These stories are heart breaking, but nothing has changed, and since Kate’s murder we have seen more fall victim to sanctuary jurisdiction policies.
Shortly after Kate’s death, Marilyn Pharis was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered in her home in Santa Maria, California, by an illegal immigrant who was released from custody because the county sheriff does not honor detainers.
A two-year old girl was brutally beaten by an illegal immigrant in San Luis Obispo County, California. He was released from local custody despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer and extensive criminal history, and is still at large.
Margaret Kostelnik was killed by an illegal immigrant who allegedly attempted to rape a 14-year-old girl and shoot a woman in a nearby park. He was released because ICE refused to issue a detainer and take custody of the suspect.
These are just a few of the stories that could be told on this floor. There are many more families that are hurting today because of lax immigration policies and the lack of willingness by the Obama Administration to do something about sanctuary jurisdictions.
But, don’t take it from me. Even the Secretary of Homeland Security acknowledges that sanctuary cities are “counterproductive to public safety.” He said these policies were “unacceptable.”
Yet, this administration has not taken demonstrable action to address the unwillingness of sanctuary jurisdictions to work with federal immigration authorities. More than 12,000 federal detainer requests were ignored by state and local jurisdictions in 2014. Moreover, in June of this year, the administration rolled out a new program that reduces the “enforcement priorities” and announced it would not seek the custody of many criminals who are in the country illegally.
The Priority Enforcement Program, or “PEP,” actually gives sanctuary jurisdictions permission to continue ignoring ICE detainers.
PEP even discourages compliant jurisdictions from further cooperation with ICE because it now only issues detainers for individuals who are already convicted of certain crimes deemed priorities by the Department of Homeland Security.
Many local jurisdictions want to work with the federal government and protect their communities but are frustrated when the administration refuses to work with them.
Sheriff Cummings in Cape Cod, Massachusetts recently explained his frustration with ICE when an immigrant who had overstayed his visa was arrested for battery with a dangerous weapon and child pornography. Sheriff Cummings said that when he learned that this individual, who had a long criminal history, was in the country illegally, he asked ICE for a federal immigration detainer “so that if someone came up with that bail we could then turn him over to ICE and we wouldn’t release him back into the community.” However, ICE never issued the detainer. Sheriff Cummings noted that, before PEP, immigration authorities would issue a detainer pretty quickly, but not anymore. He comments:
“It just shows how they’ve relaxed their policy so there are more criminal illegal aliens in our communities right now. Those are the ones I’m concerned with. I’m concerned with the individuals that have committed crimes. They are here illegally to begin with and they’ve committed crimes while they’re here. To me it makes no sense to allow these people to stay in our communities.”
I couldn’t agree more. It makes no sense that people who do not belong here and commit crimes are allowed to return to our communities and cause further harm.
The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act addresses the problem of sanctuary jurisdictions in a common sense and balanced way. There seems to be consensus that sanctuary jurisdictions should be held accountable. So, we do that with the power of the purse. This bill limits the availability of certain federal grants to cities and States that have sanctuary policies.
We limit funding through the State Criminal Assistance Program, or SCAAP. This is a grant program run by the Department of Justice that is designed to reimburse part of the cost incurred by local jurisdictions who detain undocumented criminal aliens. Sanctuary cities receive these funds despite their refusal to detain suspects who are wanted by immigration authorities.
In 2015 alone, California received a total of $44 million dollars in SCAAP funds even though the State has a sanctuary law. New York City, a sanctuary city, received $11.6 million in taxpayer funding.
To fund sanctuary cities with SCAAP money effectively subsidizes these jurisdictions for their lack of co-operation. As former Assistant Secretary Morton stated in a letter to Cook County, a well-known sanctuary jurisdiction: “It is fundamentally inconsistent for Cook County to request federal reimbursement for the cost of detaining aliens who commit or are charged with crimes while at the same time thwarting ICE’s efforts to remove those very same aliens from the United States.” The bill before us today responds to this hypocrisy by making sanctuary jurisdictions ineligible for SCAAP grants.
Another grant program limited to sanctuary jurisdictions is the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program. These grant dollars help fund community oriented policing programs for local law enforcement agencies.
The bill makes sanctuary jurisdictions ineligible for these taxpayer dollars if they have a policy or practice in place despite the lack of any statute, ordinance or policy directive from their unit of local government.
Finally, the bill limits taxpayer dollars through the community development block grant for sanctuary jurisdictions when a county, city or state has in effect a statute that clearly defies information sharing as required by law, or has a statute that prohibits any government official from complying with a detainer request issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
In acknowledgement of the bill’s fairness in targeting certain grants, the National Sheriffs’ Association writes, “The grant penalties you would impose also acknowledge that our public safety entities should not be punished for actions of a state or local subdivision over which they may not have control. I appreciate the careful consideration you clearly gave that issue.”
The second thing our bill does is provide protection for law enforcement officers who do want to cooperate and comply with detainer requests. It would address the liability issue created by recent court decisions by providing liability protection to local law enforcement who honor ICE detainers. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association explains in a letter of support for the bill:
“Unfortunately, at least four courts have ruled that local law enforcement officers may be sued for violating the Fourth Amendment if they comply with an immigration detainer, even if the detainer was lawfully issued and the detention would have been legal if carried out by DHS. This means that our local counterparts are exposed to potential civil liability and it disables their ability to detain dangerous criminals scheduled for release. The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act solves this problem by explicitly stating that local law enforcement officers have legal authority to comply with immigration detainers.”
While preventing restrictive liability to law enforcement, the bill also ensures the protection of civil liberties and the rights of individuals. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association noted that “the bill protects civil liberties, ensuring that someone who has had their constitutional rights violated may sue.”
Finally, the bill addresses criminals attempting to re-enter the United States, and habitual offenders of our immigration laws. The bill creates a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any alien who is an aggravated felon, or who has been twice convicted of illegal re-entry. Thanks to many people, including Bill O’Reilly, this part of the bill – commonly referred to as Kate’s Law -- has become so important to many Americans. This is necessary to take those off our streets who are dangerous to our communities, and have no respect for our laws.
This bill has broad support by law enforcement groups. It also has the support of groups that want enforcement of our immigration laws. And it has the support of the Remembrance Project, a group devoted to honoring and remembering Americans who have been killed by illegal aliens. I ask for unanimous consent that letters of support from these groups be added to the record.
Some on the other side of the aisle are criticizing us for politicizing these recent attacks by criminal aliens and releases by sanctuary jurisdictions. We are being accused of attacking immigrants. However, I just want to note that the Democrats take no shame in politicizing the recent gun violence and promoting legislation what would not have stopped some of the shootings -- from Newtown, Connecticut to Roseburg, Oregon.
This is not a partisan issue. This bill protects law abiding people and improves public safety. Had it been enacted before July 1, individuals like Kate Steinle may still be with us. I would think we should all be able to agree that people who are in the country illegally and committing crimes should not be released back into the community. There has to be accountability and a commitment to uphold the rule of law.
For too long we have sat by while sanctuary jurisdictions release dangerous criminals into the community to harm our citizens. It’s time we put an end to it. It’s time we work toward protecting our communities, rather than continuing to put them in danger. I hope all my colleagues will support this bill, and vote to proceed to it tomorrow.
I yield the floor.