Sanctuary cities bills pass U.S. House, as Colorado delegation splits on party lines

Author: Joey Bunch - July 2, 2017 - Updated: July 3, 2017

Sanctuary cities
In this photo taken Feb. 7, 2017, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arrest is made during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

The U.S. House did something last week that the Colorado House wouldn’t: pass legislation to withhold law-enforcement money for sanctuary cities.

The loosely defined, much-maligned (from the right) sanctuary cities are local governments with policies that hamper or at least don’t help federal immigration authorities. Immigration laws, however, are the domain of the federal government, not local law enforcement and jails.

That argument won the day, on two days, during the last legislative session when House Democrats killed two bills, one led by Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, that would have allowed public officials in sanctuary cities to be sued or arrested and another led by Sen. Tim Neville, R-Castle Rock, that would have allowed crime victims to sue those municipalities.

Thursday, House Resolution 3003, the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, would disqualify state and local governments for some federal law enforcement grants if they have policies hindering cooperation with federal immigration efforts.

The bill passed 228-195, with Colorado’s delegation voting along party lines. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora voted for it, which could prove to be something he answers for in next year’s campaign. Congressional District 6 is notable for its balance of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but also its heavy immigrant population.

The lower chamber also passed House Resolution 3004, called Kate’s Law, 257-167, to increase criminal penalties against those deported or convicted of some felonies who reenter the U.S.. That legislation is named for Kate Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco two years ago on Saturday by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported several times.

“It is beyond my comprehension why federal, state and local officials sworn to enforce the laws of the nation, as I am, would actively discourage or outright prevent law enforcement agencies from upholding the laws of the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Both bills could face a tough road in the Senate, or wind up a part of Republican leadership’s bill in the works on border security, the legislative response to Trump’s proposed but still-unfunded border wall.

Trump tried to withhold billions in federal funding from sanctuary cities by an executive order soon after taking office, but a federal judge in San Francisco blocked the measure as overly broad and perhaps unconstitutional. The administration and House Republicans have narrowed the bill with clearer definitions of a sanctuary city and narrower scope of grants that could be affected.

Twenty-four Democrats supported Kate’s Law, but none of them were from Colorado.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, is the only member of the state’s delegation who sent out a statement about the high-profile, but politically sensitive issue .

He called the legislation a memorial to Steinle and two other crime victims, Sarah Root and Grant Ronnebeck, “all victims of crimes that could have been prevented through better enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.”

Lamborn concluded, “We owe it to the memory of these and other victims to enforce our nation’s laws and protect our communities from dangerous individuals.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.