House passes pair of immigration bills, but can they pass the Senate?

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a pair of bills aimed at stiffening penalties for undocumented immigrants as well as the so-called sanctuary cities that shield them.

Kate’s Law passed 257-167, while the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act passed 228-195. But onlookers say the bills have an uphill battle in the Senate.

Kate’s Law is so named for Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was allegedly shot and killed by a Mexican national in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, nearly two years ago. Authorities say Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez stole the .40-caliber handgun used to shoot Steinle from a Bureau of Land Management agent.

In recent months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pointed out that Lopez-Sanchez had been deported several times before Steinle’s murder. “Just eleven weeks before the shooting, San Francisco had released Sanchez from its custody, even though ICE had filed a detainer requesting that he be kept in custody until immigration authorities could pick him up for removal,” Sessions said in March.

In an op-ed this week pushing for both bills, Sessions doubled down on his condemnation of sanctuary cities.

“The practices of these jurisdictions are not only contrary to sound policy; they’re contrary to the law enforcement cooperation that is carried out every day in our country and is essential to public safety,” he wrote. “Federal law enforcement is not asking too much of these cities and states. We are simply asking them to do what most cities and states do, and something supported by the vast majority of the American people.”

Kate’s Law would increase maximum penalties for undocumented immigrants who continue coming back to America after they’ve been deported. The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act would prevent sanctuary cities from receiving certain federal grants and would leave them vulnerable to lawsuits from victims of undocumented criminals.

President Trump on Thursday applauded the votes by the House, and urged the Senate to follow suit.

“Now that the House has acted, I urged the Senate to take up these bills, pass them, and send them to my desk,” the president said. “I am calling on all lawmakers to vote for these bills and to save American lives.”

But with most Democrats opposing the measure, onlookers say it’s unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats. They’d need eight Democrats to sign on in order to get the bill on the president’s desk.

Last year, a version of Kate’s Law failed on a vote of 55-42. But three Democrats voted to advance it: Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. Those are the same three who voted to confirm the president’s Supreme Court pick — Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Win or lose, this administration isn’t likely to slow down on the issue. Within days of taking office, Trump signed an executive order cracking down on undocumented criminal immigrants. The Justice Department has opened new offices, threatened gangs with justice, and has tried to force sanctuary cities to cooperate with federal immigration efforts — beefing up data collection to name and shame jurisdictions that decline federal detainer requests.

“If you enter this country illegally and violate the laws of this nation, you should not be comfortable,” said Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.