Column: Fixing flawed enforcement of immigration law

Q: What is a sanctuary city? A: As it relates to federal immigration laws, a sanctuary city refers to municipalities in which local law enforcement fails to comply with lawful detainer requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)....

Q: What is a sanctuary city?

A: As it relates to federal immigration laws, a sanctuary city refers to municipalities in which local law enforcement fails to comply with lawful detainer requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For example, if a suspect is taken into custody, booked for an offense and otherwise eligible for release, ICE may issue a detainer requesting the individual be kept in custody for up to 48 hours, until federal immigration officers arrive.


Across the country, local jurisdictions routinely choose not to comply with ICE detainer orders. In fact, according to a recent review by the Inspector General for the Department of Justice, many U.S. cities have adopted policies that allow local law enforcement authorities to “restrict cooperation with ICE.”  Public safety is put at risk when sanctuary cities thumb their noses at the rule of law, particularly when they release known criminal felons back onto the streets.



These misguided policies put innocent lives in harm’s way.  Kate Steinle was murdered in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who previously had been deported five times and released from local custody in a sanctuary jurisdiction. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident of violent crime or a pesky asterisk in our nation’s proud history and heritage of immigration.


Indeed, America is a nation of immigrants who for generations are called to our shores to achieve freedom, liberty and prosperity. As a nation of laws, it is our sovereign duty to secure our borders and ensure that our immigration policies protect those who are here and those yet to come. That’s why I’ve sponsored several bills to strengthen public safety in our local communities, improve federal immigration laws by securing justice and peace of mind for law-abiding citizens, and restore the good name of hard-working immigrants who live in our country and play by the rules.

Q: What immigration reforms are you advancing in this Congress?

A: I’ve introduced a package of reforms designed to fix the flawed enforcement of federal immigration laws and make it clear that Congress intended that federal immigration law preempt state and local law in order to secure America’s borders and protect sovereignty.


One bill includes provisions to clarify that current or former criminal gang members are not eligible for legal entry, asylum or deferred deportation. Instead, my bill would place them on an expedited removal process and require mandatory detention for any current or former criminal gang member apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security.



Second, I’m leading a bill that would correct flaws in drunken driving laws by requiring immigration officials to take custody of and deport undocumented immigrants arrested for drunk driving. The Obama administration was never serious about deporting felons, criminals, gang members and drunk drivers who were in the country illegally, even if a death or injury resulted from the crime. My bill would prohibit the release from federal custody of undocumented immigrants held for drunk driving offenses; make immigrants with three DUI/DWI convictions removable from the country; and, make three DUI/DWI convictions an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, allowing for the expedited removal and loss of certain benefits and a permanent ban from legal entry into the country.  


Congress needs to put teeth into the laws that will keep our streets safe and likewise empower victims and their families to secure justice. A bill Senator Ernst and I are leading, called Sarah’s Law , also would require the government to update the victims and family members with relevant information about their case. It is named after Iowan Sarah Root, who last year was killed by a drunk driver living in the country illegally.


In addition to gang violence and drunk driving reforms, I’m also working to increase penalties for immigrants who illegally enter the United States over and over again. Kate’s Law would establish a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for individuals who enter the U.S. illegally after deportation.


Lastly, I’m co-sponsoring legislation that closes an immigration loophole that forces immigration officials to release illegal aliens before they can be deported because the home country refuses to cooperate. This lack of cooperation resulted in more than 36,000 criminal immigrants being released back into our communities in 2013. I’m working to end this “catch and release” policy by allowing for the detention of dangerous criminal immigrants when their home nation refuses to cooperate.  

Communities across the land take pride in rolling out the welcome mat for newcomers who work hard and enrich the social fabric of our country. At the same time, it’s imperative we keep public safety a top priority so that law-breakers, gang members, terrorists, felons and drunk drivers don’t wear out the welcome mat for the law-abiding immigrants who come to our shores to live, work and make America stronger and better than ever.

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