The House approved a similar bill in July, weeks after an illegal immigrant allegedly shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, touching off a national firestorm about the immigration policies of that city and others like it who argue that threats of deportation make it harder to police immigrant communities.
Steinle’s death continues to reverberate on Capitol Hill.
“The city of San Francisco is proudly a sanctuary city. They say to illegal immigrants across the country and across the world, ‘Come to San Francisco. We will protect you from federal immigration laws,'” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “These policies are inexcusable.”
Democrats denounced the legislation as a pander to the Republican base that does nothing to solve the nation’s larger immigration problems. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called it the “Donald Trump Act” in a reference to the GOP presidential front-runner, who has called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Tuesday said the bill is part of a “stubborn, relentless and shameful assault against immigrants.”
“We’ve hit a new low with the extraordinarily hateful rhetoric that diminishes immigrants’ contributions to American history and particularly demonizes the Latino community by labeling Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals,” Menendez said.
The Senate bill was authored by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is on the ballot for governor Saturday in Louisiana and is likely to face a runoff election later this fall against a Democrat. The bill has been stuck in committee due to a Republican divide over provisions that would toughen criminal sentences, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided to bring the bill to the Senate floor in a move widely interpreted as a bid to help Vitter’s campaign.
Two Democrats — Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) — voted to advance the bill; one Republican, Mark Kirk (Ill.), was opposed. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was campaigning for president and did not vote Tuesday.
Tuesday’s vote might not mean the end for the legislation in the current Congress — especially with another year’s worth of presidential campaigning ahead. Cruz, who is running for president, on Tuesday called on Republican leaders to attach the provisions of Vitter’s bill to must-pass legislation, adding them to a long list of issues that could play into coming showdowns between congressional Republicans and President Obama.
“The next step is not simply to have a vote,” Cruz said. “The next step is to attach this legislation to must-pass legislation and to actually fix this problem.”