WASHINGTON – A House-passed plan to threaten local police agencies with losing federal money if they don't assist in cracking down on illegal immigration was defeated Tuesday in the Senate with a 52-42 vote.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced the plan Tuesday in his chamber as part of the appropriations bill covering the Department of Justice. He said the amendment would take aim at so-called "sanctuary cities" that have policies that protect illegal immigrants from federal efforts to find them and deport them.
"Some of our largest cities practice sanctuary policies that protect and provide assistance to illegal aliens. My amendment instructs (the Department of Justice) to withhold federal policing funds from those cities that continue their sanctuary city policies," Vitter said in news release.
Vitter's amendment would withhold money from the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program. Recent awards for the program created during the Clinton administration include $43.6 million to 117 law enforcement agencies to fight methamphetamine; $159 million in technology grants to 37 agencies; and $15 million to seven Louisiana agencies for crime fighting in the state, according to recent Justice Department information.
Vitter's move angered the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who urged his colleagues to defeat the amendment. Other Democrats who usually are open to tougher immigration laws indicated they weren't in support of the measure, suggesting the amendment wouldn't have enough support to prevail.
Vitter said a key portion of federal law requires state and local governments to cooperate with immigration officials, but it isn't being enforced.
That language, in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, says: "Notwithstanding any other provision of federal, state, or local law, a federal, state, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual."
Vitter's one-paragraph amendment simply says no money from the COPS program can be used against what the 1996 law prescribes.
Many local governments, including large cities like New York City and Chicago, have policies that do not require police responding to criminal reports to inquire about a person's immigration status. Supporters of such policies say that it would become more difficult to learn about crime in immigrant communities if those sources thought they would be turned in to immigration officials.
Durbin defended the policies against Vitter's attack, saying Vitter apparently was ignoring support given to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.
"These cities, counties and police departments have decided that as a matter of public health and safety not to inquire about immigration status when people report crimes or have been the victims of domestic abuse or go to a clinic to obtain vaccination force their children," Durbin said on the Senate floor.
"Why in the world would the senator from Louisiana, a state that I bent over backwards to help since Hurricane Katrina, want to cut off federal funds to the city of Chicago?" Durbin added.
One conservative Democrat, who declined to be quoted by name, hinted that Vitter's personal problems were a bad mix with a bill that could take money away from police trying to crack down on prostitution. Vitter issued a public apology in July once it was discovered this phone number was among those disclosed by D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Another prostitute has since claimed that Vitter paid for her services.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who also tends to vote for more strict immigration enforcement said Tuesday that the COPS program wouldn't be losing any money, and the point was "not negotiable."