Senate votes to block 'sanctuary cities' bill after tense debate on floor

The Senate on Tuesday voted to block the controversial legislation cracking down on the so-called "sanctuary cities" that shield residents from federal immigration authorities.

Following an impassioned speeches by Texas' Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and New Jersey's Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez arguing, respectively, for and against the Sanctuary Cities Bill, the Senate voted 54-46 against the legislation.

The bill has divided Congress along partisan lines and gained national attention in the wake of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's harsh words on immigration and the shooting death of a California woman over the summer by an undocumented immigrant.

"We are witnessing the most overtly nativist and xenophobic campaign in modern U.S. history," Menendez said on Tuesday. "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."

The bill, which went up for procedural vote on Tuesday, was authored by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. It would have punished jurisdictions that prohibit the collection of immigration information or don't cooperate with federal requests, blocking them from receiving certain grants and funds.

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Republicans have pushed the bill since the July 1 shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco. The man charged in the killing was in the country illegally despite a long criminal record and multiple prior deportations. The man, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, had been released by San Francisco authorities despite a request from federal immigration authorities to keep him detained.

"Today, the Senate had an opportunity to send the message that defiance of our laws will no longer be tolerated," Cruz said in a press release after the vote. "While Senate Democrats chose partisan loyalty over protecting the lives of Americans, I will continue fighting to stop illegal immigration."

He added: "Defiance of our immigration laws is inexcusable. Sanctuary cities and the illegal reentry offenders that they harbor are a threat to the safety of the American people. And they must end now."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said before the vote that the bill would threaten cities' ability to police and compared it to Republican presidential candidate Trump's comments earlier this year that some immigrants in the country illegally are "criminals" and "rapists."

"This vile legislation might as well be called 'The Donald Trump Act,'" Reid said.

San Francisco and hundreds of other jurisdictions nationally have adopted policies of disregarding federal immigration requests, or "detainers," which advocates say can unfairly target innocent immigrants and hurt relations between immigrant communities and law enforcement authorities.

The House passed legislation similar to Vitter's bill this summer, which the White House also threatened to veto. In its veto threat of the Senate legislation, the White House said the bill could lead to mistrust between the federal government and local governments.

The Obama administration has said that the best way to get at the problem is comprehensive immigration overhaul, something House Republicans have blocked for years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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