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Toomey's Take: Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities

June 30, 2016

This Friday, most Americans will be packing up the car or getting the grill ready for the long, Fourth of July weekend. One father will be marking the day quite differently: For Jim Steinle, Friday marks the one year anniversary of his daughter's murder.

It was July 1, 2015. Thirty-two year-old Kate Steinle was walking arm-in-arm with her father on a San Francisco pier when suddenly a gunman opened fire, hitting Kate. Kate fell in her father's arms, pleading, "Help me, Dad," as she bled to death.

What is truly maddening is that the shooter should never have been on the pier that day. He was in the U.S. illegally, and had been convicted of seven felonies and deported five times before. Even more outrageously, three months earlier, the shooter was in the custody of San Francisco police. Learning this, federal agents had asked the San Francisco police to keep the man in custody until they could come pick him up. But the police refused to cooperate and instead released the shooter onto the streets of San Francisco.

Why? Because San Francisco is a "sanctuary city"- a jurisdiction that forbids its local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal immigration officials.

As a father of three, I cannot imagine the heartbreak Kate's parents have endured.

Sadly, the Steinles are not alone. During an 8-month period in 2014, sanctuary jurisdictions released over 8,000 illegal immigrants, and 1,800 of them were later arrested for criminal acts. This included two cities that released individuals who had been arrested for child sexual abuse. In both cases, the individuals were later arrested once again for sexually assaulting young children.

The problem is not limited to domestic crimes-although crimes such as murder and child sexual assault are surely heinous enough to demand action.

Sanctuary cities also create serious obstacles for the war on terror.

Last month, President Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security visited Philadelphia with a modest request. He asked Mayor Kenney to make a very narrow exception to Philadelphia's sanctuary city policy, so local police may help the Obama administration find suspected terrorists and individuals convicted of violent felonies or gang-related crimes. Mayor Kenney refused. He insisted on maintaining the city's policy, which forbids Philly police from sharing information with federal immigration officials unless the person has already been convicted of a violent felony and the federal agents have a warrant.

This is absurd. Imagine the FBI suspects that an individual, who is in the U.S. illegally, is plotting a terror attack. Federal immigration officials want to find the suspected terrorist, so they can question him and possibly deport him. They ask Philadelphia police for information on the suspect. Under the city's sanctuary city policy, Philly police must respond, essentially, "Come back after this individual has committed and has been convicted of an act of terrorism or some other violent felony. Until then, we cannot help you."

How does this make any sense?

America has already seen too many deadly terror attacks--September 11th, the Boston Marathon bombing, the attacks in San Bernardino, and, most recently, the horrible massacre in Orlando. How many more attacks, how many more lives lost, do we need before we take the threat of terrorism seriously?

I have seen enough.

That is why, this week, I continued my fight against sanctuary cities by introducing the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act. This legislation, which has been endorsed by a variety of law enforcement organizations, tackles two problems.

First, it states that sanctuary jurisdictions are not eligible for certain federal funds. This is only fair, and it would encourage such cities to stop their dangerous policies and reverse course. Sanctuary cities impose enormous costs on America--extra costs to the federal government of enforcing immigration law and finding terrorists, the costs to the American people of more crime, and the incalculable costs to people like the Steinle family. The American taxpayer should not be subsidizing these jurisdictions.

Second, my bill, addresses federal court decisions-including one covering Pennsylvania-that have led dozens of localities to become sanctuary cities. Two courts have held that if the Department of Homeland Security makes a mistake in asking local police to hold someone, and local police comply with the request, local police can be held liable for the federal government's error. My legislation would shift liability from local law enforcement to the federal government in these cases. This allows local police to cooperate with federal authorities without fear of being sued, and removes any justification for a locality to be a sanctuary city.

My bill should not be controversial. Officials from both political parties have recognized the dangers of sanctuary cities. Former Governor and lifelong Democrat Ed Rendell has criticized Philadelphia's sanctuary city policy. Pennsylvania law enforcement officers and prosecutors from across the political spectrum have called for an end to sanctuary city policies. Last October, when I joined my colleagues in introducing legislation to end sanctuary city policies, the bill received bipartisan support. Unfortunately, a minority blocked the U.S. Senate from taking a final vote on the legislation.

It has been one year since Kate Steinle's death. We should not wait any longer. The safety of the American people is too important. I urge my colleagues to vote for the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act.