GOP Lawmakers Crafting Tough Immigration Bill - But Not Tough Enough, Critics Say

Two key Republican lawmakers are crafting a bill that would punish “sanctuary cities,” force parents of undocumented teenagers to wear electronic ankle monitors so their children do not skip deportation hearings, and establish five-year minimum prison sentences for immigrants who illegally re-enter the United States after being deported, according to a congressional aide and a draft of the proposed legislation obtained by The Washington Post.

The bill by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), which was being reworked Tuesday, also would increase detention space and boost the number of immigration judges on the border to speed deportations.

It calls for increased criminal prosecutions of immigrants who cross the border illegally and would reimburse governors who deploy their state’s National Guard to help patrol the U.S. border, according to a congressional aide with direct knowledge of the bill and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bill is in its preliminary stages.

The White House declined to comment on the bill Tuesday.

The wide-ranging proposal, which is being refined with input from the Department of Homeland Security, aims to boost border security and immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States.

But hard-line anti-immigration groups who have seen drafts of the proposed legislation say it falls short by failing to provide for President Trump’s long-promised border wall; sanctions against businesses that hire undocumented immigrants; or E-Verify, the ­employment-verification system that has been a staple of previous immigration talks on Capitol Hill.

These critics also say that even if the bill passed the House, it would be unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats have signaled that they would be unwilling to compromise on legislation unless it includes a path to legal residency for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“There’s not a single thing about work-site enforcement or anything at all against employers,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration ­Studies, who has seen a draft of the bill. “It’s tinkering around the margins.”

The proposal comes after several court challenges by Democrats and civil liberties groups that have temporarily paralyzed many of Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities, among other provisions.

Trump also has run into trouble securing financing from Congress for a bigger wall on the U.S.-
Mexico border.

Cornyn chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on border security and immigration, while McCaul heads the House Homeland Security Committee. Both lawmakers have questioned proposals to build a border wall, especially as border-related apprehensions have declined — resistance that has earned the congressman the nickname “No-wall McCaul.”

The most recent draft of their bill seeks to punish sanctuary ­jurisdictions by significantly expanding the pool of federal grant money that could be denied to cities and towns that prohibit or limit cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation agents.

A federal judge in California last month temporarily blocked Trump’s plans to strip a more limited amount of grant funding from sanctuary cities. But the reasoning the judge gave was that only Congress can impose conditions on federal funds.

There are more than 100 sanctuary cities that refuse to turn over immigrants they have arrested for state or local crimes to ICE for civil deportation proceedings.

Vaughan said the Cornyn-
McCaul measure combines separate proposals that perhaps could pass on their own, including a bill known as “Kate’s Law,” named for Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed in 2015 in San Francisco, allegedly by a Mexican national who had been deported several times but had returned to the United States. There is also a proposal that mirrors legislation from Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) that would prod sanctuary cities to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

Earlier this year, Cornyn said he was working with members of Congress and the Trump administration on legislation that would secure the border.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again that border security is really a question of political will,” he said at the time. “The last administration did not have it, and I know this administration does have the political will to get it done, so we are trying to work together to demonstrate to them what we think the means to achieve that goal should look like.”

Robert Law, director of government relations for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the draft proposals contain some useful tools for enforcing immigration law, but in general the bill “still keeps missing the mark.”

“It’s the same failed attempt every single Congress,” said Law, whose group favors slashing legal immigration in addition to stepping up deportations. “New Congress, and nothing changes in actually securing the border.”

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.


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