President Donald Trump is urging the House to pass legislation that would stiffen punishments on people who re-enter the U.S. illegally and for "sanctuary" jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal deportation forces.
To highlight the bills up for vote Thursday, the president met with more than a dozen people whose loved ones were killed by people in the country illegally. They included Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed in California in 2008 by a man in the country illegally.
Shaw was a frequent speaker at Trump's campaign events, where the president often railed against illegal immigration — a key issue for his voting base.
Trump is pushing for passage of two pieces of legislation. "Kate's Law" would impose harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences on deportees who re-enter the United States, with stronger penalty increases for those who have been convicted of non-immigration crimes.
The bill was named after 32-year old Kathryn Steinle, who also was shot and killed in California in 2015 by a man who was in the country illegally. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who pleaded not guilty to the crime, had been released by sheriff's officials months earlier despite a request by immigration officials to keep him behind bars.
A second bill, "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," would bar states and localities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities from receiving certain Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security grants, including some related to law enforcement and terrorism.
Trump argued the bills would close "dangerous loopholes exploited by criminals, gang members, drug dealers, killers, terrorists," and told the family members gathered that they'd "lost the people that you love because our government refused to enforce our nation's immigration laws."
But Lorella Praeli, the director of immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the bills, saying they were "riddled with constitutional violations that completely disregard the civil and human rights of immigrants."
"Despite claims to the contrary," she said in a statement, "Kate's Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act will make our communities less safe by undermining the trust that law enforcement builds with its communities — citizen and immigrant alike."
In April, the Trump administration opened an office dedicated to helping vicimts of crimes committed by immigrants — an initiative criticized as misguided because studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
The Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement, or VOICE, will keep victims informed of the immigration proceedings of suspects and generally walk them through the complicated and often drawn-out immigration court process. It is staffed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees.
It's unclear how much information ICE has been able to provide to crime victims given privacy protections afforded to immigrants depending on the nature of their immigration status and the details of their case.