GOP lawmakers crafting tough immigration bill — but not tough enough, critics say

Published on May 16th, 2017

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Maria Sacchetti
May 16, 2017
Washington Post

Two key GOP lawmakers are crafting a bill that would punish sanctuary cities, force parents of undocumented teens to wear electronic ankle monitors so their children don’t skip deportation hearings, and establish five-year minimum prison sentences for immigrants who illegally re-enter the United States after having been deported, according to a congressional aide and a draft of the legislation obtained by The Washington Post.

The bill by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), which was still being reworked on Monday, 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.

The White House declined to comment on the bill late Monday.

The wide-ranging proposal, which is being refined with input from the Trump administration’s 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 legislation say it falls short by failing to provide for Trump’s long-promised border wall, sanctions against businesses that hire illegal immigrants, or E-Verify, the employment-verification system that has been a staple of previous immigration talks on Capitol Hill.

These critics say that even if the bill passed the House, it is 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 worksite 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 a string of court challenges by Democrats and civil-liberties groups that have temporarily paralyzed many of President Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities, among other provisions.

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

Regardless of whether it advances in Congress, the legislation could have implications for Cornyn and McCaul, who reportedly have ambitions of their own that extend beyond their current jobs.

Cornyn is in the running to succeed fired FBI director James B. Comey, while McCaul is a long-rumored future U.S. Senate candidate who might run for Cornyn’s seat if it came open.

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 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 dramatically 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 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 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 currently 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 could perhaps 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 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 other members of Congress and the Trump administration on legislation that would secure the border. 

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