Jeff Sessions, Ron Johnson Introduce ‘Protecting American Lives Act’ To Stop Sanctuary Cities, Illegal Re-Entry

by Matthew Boyle
23 Jul 2015
Washington, DC

Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)has teamed with Senate Homeland Security committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to roll out a new bill aimed at ending sanctuary cities in America and severely punishing any illegal aliens who illegally re-enter the United States after previous deportation.

The bill, the “Protecting American Lives Act” or S. 1842, would withhold federal funding from any state or local jurisdiction that refuses cooperation with federal immigration enforcement—including the notification of feds about apprehension of criminal illegal aliens and about honoring immigration detainer. It would also provide legal immunity to jurisdictions that honor such detainers and it would establish a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the illegal re-entry to the United States of previously deported illegal aliens. It would also issue a Sense of Congress that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has probable cause when it issues a detainer.

A bill from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) being considered this week in the House would prevent certain federal funding to sanctuary cities but it does not provide the localities supporting federal immigration law the legal protections that the Sessions-Johnson bill does, and it does not include the mandatory minimum sentencing to deter illegal re-entry. Interestingly, President Obama has threatened to veto the House bill—even though it’s a weaker bill than the Senate one—so there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to move forward with a piece of legislation that doesn’t fully solve the problem.

A similar bill to Hunter’s from Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the Senate would actually weaken current immigration law, the Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz wrote.

“The Senate bill is even worse because it actually weakens enforcement measures in existing law,” Horowitz wrote of Grassley’s bill.

The House bill only cuts off grants for the Secure Communities program and two other small law enforcement grants. Secure Communities is the program used to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in detaining illegal aliens. Think about the disconnect on display for a moment: Congress is threatening cities that refuse to participate in Secure Communities with funding cuts to…Secure Communities. That will really scare them. The House has already adopted the King Amendment as part of the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which would cut off all Department of Justice funding for the offending localities. Don’t Republicans plan to stand behind their budget bills in September? Apparently not. While the House bill represents a lost opportunity, the Senate bill is downright pernicious and counterproductive to immigration enforcement. The Grassley bill, which could possibly come to the floor without a committee markup, would only punish those localities that refuse to detain aliens already arrested or charged for crimes.

The five year mandatory minimum sentencing should result in a massive decrease in repeat illegal border crossers or visa overstayers since it would be an enormous deterrent to keep those who have been deported from trying again. The protections of localities will help local law enforcement who seek to uphold the law fight against illegal immigration and enforce immigration bill. The bill obligates localities to provide certain information to federal immigration offices, and in turn authorizes DHS to reimburse localities for any reasonable costs incurred in complying.

“On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee—and the nation—heard testimony from grieving families who lost loved ones to criminal alien violence,” Sessions said in a statement about the bill.

Each and every one of these deaths, and thousands more like them, were completely preventable. There is never a reason to allow a dangerous criminal alien to enter, live, or remain in the United States. No parent should ever have to bury a child because we failed to keep violent criminals out of the country or failed to deport them once they were in the country. Protecting the lives of innocent Americans is one of the most basic duties of the federal government. Our goal should be to keep 100% of dangerous aliens out of the United States.

Sessions went on to say that America needs to move swiftly to remove from the country violent illegal aliens before more death and crime occurs.

“There is no delicate balancing act here: we need to remove potentially violent offenders before they hurt innocent families—before the irreversible occurs,” Sessions said.

Foreign nationals cycling in and out of prisons and jails are by definition a high-risk population. Releasing “low-level” criminal aliens from jails ensures only one thing: more opportunities for innocent Americans to get hurt—and more mothers burying more children. Yet mayors, governors, and Presidents continue bowing to special interests, allowing thousands of criminal alien offenders to walk free. In the last two years alone, the Administration has released 76,000 criminal aliens with convictions back into U.S. communities.

Sessions continued by noting this is the reason why he and Johnson are introducing the “Protecting American Lives Act.”

“This simple proposal will close several of the most dangerous enforcement loopholes,” Sessions said.

It will require state and local jurisdictions to notify the federal government when a criminal alien is in their custody; it will withhold funds from any local jurisdiction that releases an alien after a federal detainer has been placed on them; and it will establish a 5-year minimum prison sentence for deported aliens who attempt to illegally re-enter the United States. This bill will make all communities safer. I urge its swift consideration and adoption. Additionally, I urge Congress to take up the Davis-Oliver bill, a comprehensive solution to our interior enforcement collapse, named in honor of two law enforcement officers who lost their lives to a twice-deported criminal alien.

Johnson, in a statement, added that he doesn’t think it makes any sense whatsoever for any illegal immigrant to act the way the one who allegedly killed Kate Steinle did.

“It doesn’t make any sense that an illegal immigrant who has been deported five times and has seven felony convictions was released into a community to kill an innocent young woman,” Johnson said.

It also doesn’t make any sense that, on this administration’s watch, 121 criminal aliens have been released who subsequently have been charged with a homicide-related offense. This legislation, which I am pleased to introduce with Senator Sessions, will safeguard against further tragedies by ensuring that sanctuary jurisdictions are no longer allowed or motivated to release criminal aliens into the public sphere.

That Sessions—the gold standard in the Republican Party when it comes to anything to do with the issue of immigration—is stepping forward to put his name on this bill is extraordinarily significant.

Sessions is meticulous and careful with every action he takes, including whatever bills he puts forward, and that means him putting forward this solution—and his statement laying out the legislative pathway lawmakers should take—automatically makes this effort the premiere effort in the Republican Party. It’s certainly a bold move by Sessions, along with Johnson, to put forward a bill that serves as an alternative to several other Republican bills—and one that would actually solve the problem.

It’s notable that only one of the GOP senators running for president, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has signed on as an original co-sponsor of this bill. Other original cosponsors include Sens. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Of course, several other presidential candidates will likely weigh in on these matters now that they’re public as well but the Senate Republicans running for president have an edge in staking out their positions on this early.