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The House passed two bills to crack down on immigration

The House just passed two immigration bills that could put a lot of undocumented immigrants behind bars, and crack down on sanctuary cities

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While much of the attention on Capitol Hill was focused on the Senate, where Republicans are grappling to get a health care deal through the finish line, House Republicans on Thursday passed a pair of bills aimed at checking off one of President Trump's key campaign promises, cracking down on illegal immigration.

Kate's Law -- named for Kate Steinle who was allegedly killed in 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant -- would ramp up mandatory sentences for immigrants who are caught trying to re-enter the country illegally after being deported.

The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act aimd to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities. The bill would cut off federal grants from the Department of Justice to cities that fail to enforce federal immigration policies.

Kate's law passed 257-167, with one Republican voting no and 25 Democrats voting yes, and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act passed 228-195. Three Democrats voted yes and seven Republicans voted no on the sanctuary cities bill.

Both bills were sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Republicans who support the bills say they will help make America safer by putting dangerous undocumented immigrants behind bars.

"Security for this country has to come first. That has to be a priority," said Illinois Republican Rep. Darin LaHood.

But experts and law enforcement officials say the bills would actually make policing harder.

This week, the Fraternal Order of Police, the world's largest police union, sent a letter to House leaders urging them not to pass the sanctuary cities bill.

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"The FOP has been very clear on this issue: we strongly believe that local and State law enforcement agencies should cooperate with their Federal counterparts," the letter said. "That being said, withholding needed assistance to law enforcement agencies -- which have no policymaking role -- also hurts public safety efforts."

The letter adds that it would be unfair to penalize law enforcement and the communities they serve because "Congress disagrees with their enforcement priorities with respect to our nation's immigration laws."

David Bier, an immigration policy expert with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argued the bill goes against Republican ideals of allowing state and local officials to determine what's best for their communities.

"This decision should be made at the local level. Police departments know how to protect their communities better than the federal government does," he said.

Experts also say Kate's Law probably wouldn't have prevented Steinle's death if it were in effect in 2015.

"That's one of the more cynical parts of aspects of this bill, to be honest," said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

Lopez-Sanchez had been jailed multiple times and spent roughly 15 years behind bars for trying to re-enter the country illegally after being deported. But he ended up in San Francisco, where Steinle was killed, by the Department of Justice to be prosecuted for a 20-year-old marijuana charge. The charges were dismissed and Lopez-Sanches was released.

"If he had served a much longer sentence, none of these facts would have changed," said Bier. "He was served 5-year terms three times. If he had served a 15-year term straight through he still would have ended up in San Francisco because of this strange decision by the federal government. [Kate's law] is really not addressing the issue."

In fact, Bier says the law would lead to mass incarceration of more non-violent undocumented immigrants, and both bills would draw force police to use their resources to enforce immigraiton policies instead of going after violent criminals.

"Why does it make sense to prioritize someone who happens to be in the country without status but is no threat to the community over someone who was born here but is?" he said.

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Jawetz argued that the bills would also undermine the trust law enforcement officers have worked to build with members of the communities they police.

The Sanctuary Cities bill could be particularly harmful to the police-community relationship because it expands the requirements for local law enforcement to report information residents immigration status to the federal government.

They could have a chilling effect, keeping people from reporting crimes they've witnessed or seeking emergency medical care.

"They (police) know that if they were to share this information with the federal government, their communities would have less trust in them and people would be less likely to report," Jawetz said.

Trump has called for a "deportation force" to round up undocumented immigrants, and although the two bills passed in the House don't explicity form a deportation squad, experts say they could be the first step of mass deportation.

"Roping state and local officials in to this process, deteriorating trust in communities, all of that is really part of the same effort," Jawetz said.

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