H.R. 3009 Proposed in the Wake of Tragedy

In the wake of the tragic shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, on July 9, 2015, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced H.R. 3009, Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, to amend section 241(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) "to deny assistance to a State or political subdivision of a State that prohibits its officials from taking certain actions with respect to immigration."

INA 241(i) creates a framework whereby a State or its political subdivision holding an "undocumented criminal alien" (UCA) may request the United States Attorney General to either provide compensation as a matter of contract for the UCA's incarceration or to take the UCA "into the custody of the Federal Government and incarcerate the alien." Section 241(i)(3) of the INA defines a UCA as "an alien who has been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors" and whose entry into the United States was unlawful or who was, at the time of being taken into custody by the State or political subdivision of a State, the subject of exclusion or deportation proceedings or not maintaining a valid nonimmigrant status. Section 241(i) prioritizes for federal incarceration those UCAs "who have committed aggravated felonies."

The proposed amendment to INA Section 241(i) would render ineligible to receive compensation under section 241(i)(1) those states or local governments that refuse to share information regarding, or to provide verification of, the citizenship or immigration status of an individual when requested by the Federal Government. Those states or local governments who run afoul of the provisions of the proposed amendment may also be denied access to certain funding under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.

The ostensible purpose of H.R. 3009 is to punish so-called "sanctuary cities" that refuse to cooperate with Department of Homeland Security, by withdrawing critical funding for local law enforcement programs. It seems unlikely, however, that H.R. 3009 would actually be effective in preventing tragedies like the one which occurred in San Francisco. In fact, if the proposed law were enacted, it seems more likely than not that our cities would become increasingly unsafe since law enforcement would have less money to help it fight crime and protect citizens. H.R. 3009 also appears unworkable in that it contains no reliable, determinative definition of a "sanctuary city." Bills like H.R. 3009 give Congress a way to tell the American public that it is administering tough medicine, even when the remedy may do the patient more harm than good.

On the other hand, the Federal Government does have an interest in seeing that its laws are enforced, and removing discretionary funding from states and local government is one way of doing that. Viewed in this light, H.R. 3009 as much reflects the frustration of the Federal Government's inability to secure the cooperation of so-called "sanctuary cities" in incarcerating UCAs as it does to grope for a solution to reduce acts of violence perpetrated by individuals without lawful authorization to remain in the United States.

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