Republican launches fresh push to defund sanctuary cities after courts block Trump

EXCLUSIVE: Republicans are renewing their fight against “sanctuary cities,” with a new bill that aims to pull immigration funding from those jurisdictions that shield illegal immigrants from deportation – while protecting law enforcement officials who follow federal law.

The bill, introduced by House freshman Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, seeks to cut off federal law enforcement grants to states that do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests. Gooden, speaking to Fox News, said the cuts are focused and designed to sting scofflaw states without harming key enforcement priorities.

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“We’re not targeting terrorism preparedness, drug enforcement or other DHS grants unrelated to immigration,” he said. “This is in no way going to disrupt law enforcement practices that are ongoing as respect to those grants.”

The push is a more targeted version of a stalled effort by the Trump administration that sought to cut law enforcement grants from sanctuary areas in 2017. The Justice Department wrote to 29 sanctuary jurisdictions in November 2017, saying it intended to withhold law enforcement grants due to their policies.

However, the move was hit by a series of court challenges and, of those jurisdictions, only Oregon has yet to be cleared to receive the grants from 2017, a Justice Department spokesman told The Associated Press in March.

Gooden says his bill pairs with the immigration proposal announced last week by President Trump. Trump unveiled overhauls that primarily deal with legal immigration, but this bill focuses on the fight against illegal immigration and efforts to stall immigration enforcement.

A unique part of the bill is a provision that protects law enforcement officers who comply with ICE detainers against liability and gives them immunity in any lawsuit filed by detained illegal immigrants. It also makes it illegal for a jurisdiction to fire or discriminate against a law enforcement officer for complying with an ICE detainer.

The bill has firm support from both traditional conservative groups as well as groups that advocate for stronger enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Groups such as Heritage Foundation, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA have come out in favor of the bill.

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“Sanctuary jurisdictions threaten public safety and disregard the rule of law. This important legislation would ensure that localities do not adopt these dangerous policies while still receiving financial and material support from the Department of Homeland Security,” FAIR spokesman Matthew Tragesser told Fox News in a statement. “Further, protecting cooperative jurisdictions from frivolous civil action is an important step in encouraging state and local law enforcement to honor detainer notices from federal immigration authorities.”

“We fully support Rep. Gooden's effort to end sanctuary cities,” NumbersUSA Deputy Director Chris Chmielenski said. “His bill is a focused and common sense approach to addressing the problem, and I'm hopeful that Democrats who support the rule of law and the safety of their constituents would join Rep. Gooden in his effort to prevent the continued release of criminal aliens and to fully allow localities to cooperate with immigration enforcement.”

Gooden’s bill may rally conservative groups, but it faces a tough climb in the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives. Amid a left-wing shift by the party as a whole, dozens of lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates have endorsed not only sanctuary policies but abolishing ICE entirely.

Gooden was not sugar-coating the bill’s prospects in the current political climate on immigration.

“I’m not unreasonable, I don’t believe that Democrats will even admit we have an immigration problem so it would be delusional of me to say I think Democrats will get on board with my bill, or any bill that does something to address our illegal immigration problem,” he said.

However, he said that Democrats in some pro-Trump districts see there are immigration challenges to confront.

The new bill comes as the Trump administration has been considering sending detained illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities.

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“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump tweeted last month.

The idea prompted a critical response from Democrats. “The extent of this Administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said in a statement. “Using human beings—including little children—as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable, and in some cases, criminal.”

She added: “The American people have resoundingly rejected this Administration’s toxic anti-immigrant policies, and Democrats will continue to advance immigration policies that keep us safe and honor our values.”

Pelosi’s district of San Francisco was among the sanctuary cities under consideration.

The Florida legislature this month passed a Republican ban on sanctuary policies in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.