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House passes bills to crack down on ‘sanctuary cities’ and deported criminals who return to U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly speaks during a Capitol Hill news conference with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

The House on Thursday passed two hard-line immigration bills that would penalize illegal immigrants who commit crimes and local jurisdictions that refuse to work with federal authorities to deport them.

Both bills, Kate's Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, passed on largely party-line votes amid heavy promotion from Republicans, starting with President Trump.

"MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN!" Trump tweeted as the House debated the bills Thursday, one of five tweets he pushed out to his 35 million followers highlighting the legislation.

Before the vote, Trump urged lawmakers to pass the bill during remarks at the Department of Energy, calling them "vital to public safety and national security."

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly appeared on Capitol Hill ahead of the vote Thursday with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and other Republican leaders to promote the bills.

President Trump says the House will vote on two bills strengthening immigration enforcement that “are vital to public safety.” (Video: The Washington Post)

Kate’s Law, named after a 32-year-old woman shot and killed in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times, steps up prison sentences for criminals who reenter the United States illegally after being convicted and deported.

The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act bars “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement from receiving many federal grants and leaves them vulnerable to liability lawsuits from victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

Kelly cast the bills as common-sense measures that would “uphold our nation’s immigration laws and help make our communities more safe.”

“President Trump has been clear that our borders are not open to illegal immigration, that we are a nation of laws, and we will no longer look the other way,” he said. “Well, we will no longer look the other way in the interior, either.”

Kelly said Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has deported nearly 66,000 people known to be or suspected of being in the country illegally — representing a spike under Trump administration policies. Nearly half of those, he said, were charged with crimes or “had gang affiliations.”

On the House floor, the lead sponsor of the bills, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the legislation would “provide better immigration enforcement and the peace of mind that no criminal will have sanctuary from our immigration laws.”

"For years, the lack of immigration enforcement and spread of sanctuary policies have cost too many lives," he said, citing Obama administration policies that "encouraged or at the very least turned a blind eye to jurisdictions nationwide that implemented sanctuary policies."

President Trump has threatened to go after sanctuary cities. This how state and local governments with sanctuary policies are responding to possible action. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/The Washington Post)

The bills prompted sharp attacks by Democrats, who said the legislation would have a deleterious effect on public safety and would ramp up fear among law-abiding immigrants.

“The ultimate experts on community safety are communities themselves, and hundreds of them have determined that as community trust increases, crime decreases,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Some highlighted a new study published by a University of California at Irvine criminologist that concluded that immigration levels do not have a meaningful effect on crime. The study, published this month in the Annual Review of Criminology, examined 51 studies published between 1994 and 2014.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus rallied on Capitol Hill ahead of the vote and framed the bills as part of an anti-immigrant campaign led by Trump.

“These are Trump-inspired measures,” said Rep. Julián Castro (D-Tex.), who accused the president of using immigrants as a “scapegoat for about everything wrong in the United States.”

Ahead of the bills' House passage, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, urged immigrants and allies to "immediately call their senators."

"We're in a better position there," she said.

The House bills face a major obstacle in the Senate, where Republicans have only 52 seats and need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. A version of Kate’s Law introduced last year by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) failed on a 55-to-42 vote.

On Thursday afternoon, the House passed Kate’s Law 257 to 167 and the sanctuary cities bill 228 to 195.

“Opposing these bills, and allowing dangerous criminals back into our communities, our schools, and the neighborhoods where our children play, puts all of us at risk,” Trump said in a statement following the bills’ passage. “Now that the House has acted, I urged the Senate to take up these bills, pass them, and send them to my desk.”

In an unusually discordant moment on Thursday, Kelly told reporters he was “offended when members of this institution exert pressure and often threaten me and my officers to ignore the laws they make, and I am sworn to uphold” — an apparent reference to congressional Democrats who have confronted Kelly in closed-door meetings and open hearings about the deportation surge.

Kelly left the news conference, held on the day before the Trump administration's revised travel ban was set to take effect, without taking questions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it was “strange” that Kelly, a former Marine general, would level that accusation.

“Generals are used to a level of deference that members of Congress are not necessarily used to bestowing on cabinet officers,” she said. “And so perhaps being asked questions and a follow-up question seems threatening to him, but that’s the democratic way.”

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