Today’s Immigration Votes

Pennsylvanians expect Democrats and Republicans to work together to adequately fund local law enforcement’s efforts to track down violent criminals and suspected terrorists. Republicans in Congress have for years refused to support this funding and now want to take already overworked and underfunded police departments away from the task of fighting violent crime to concentrate on enforcing federal immigration laws.

Our cities and towns are under siege facing challenges from crime which will not be helped by Senate Republican budget cuts for local law enforcement, refusal to address commonsense gun control measures, and policies that result in fewer officers on the street to keep our communities safe. Congressional Republicans have refused to adequately fund local law enforcement and have repeatedly supported eliminating the COPS program, which put 48 new officers on the streets in Pennsylvania over a three year period. If Republicans in the Senate say they support law enforcement, they should vote the right way and adequately fund them through the COPS program, Byrne JAG grants and other law enforcement programs.

During this Congress, the Senate has voted on two pieces of legislation relating to local detention policies. These bills could adversely impact 32 counties throughout Pennsylvania, cutting vital funding for police officers and domestic violence victims. There’s no doubt that our cities will be less safe if these pieces of legislation ever became law. These counties would no longer receive funds to protect and care for domestic violence victims; and economic development programs in our communities would be cut. This legislation would strip 10 counties of funds they have already received in fiscal year 2015 to improve infrastructure, social services, homeless services, and support local firefighters including the following: Westmoreland County $3,179,262; Washington County $3,172,492; Allegheny County $12,547,317; York County $1,981,922; Chester County $2,271,918; Delaware County $3,297,513; Montgomery County $2,943,517; Lehigh County $1,128,880; Bucks County $1,698,353; and Philadelphia County $39,046,238.

As it relates to the murder of Kate Steinle, it’s clear that multiple officials at the state, local and federal level failed. Those officials should be held fully accountable for their failures and steps should be taken to ensure that a deported criminal is not allowed to return. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had ample opportunity to keep the accused in custody and failed to do so. As the individual finished his sentence for multiple illegal entries in the U.S, the BOP should have turned him over to the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency (ICE) for deportation. On the local level, the Sheriff’s office should have notified ICE of the accused’s release.

The proscriptions put forth under ‘Kate’s Law’ would not address the failures that occurred in San Francisco. If someone is deported for a criminal conviction then we need to make sure they are prevented from ever coming back into this country. The most effective way to do that is to secure the border — which most Senate Republicans voted against in 2013. Securing the border would make it very difficult for someone like Kate’s killer, who came back into the country three times, from ever entering the United States in the first place. Any undocumented person who is here committing serious violent crimes should be sent out of the country to never return.

I support efforts to put in place a notification requirement for individuals who pose a threat to the community. Senate Republicans refused to entertain amendments or other proposals. In the past I have voted for measures that would strengthen border security and make it more difficult for those to enter the country in an unauthorized manner.

If Senate Republicans are serious about keeping America safe then they should support the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 with 68 votes. That legislation would have:

  • doubled the number of border patrol agents from 19,200 to 38,400
  • helped build 700 miles of strategic fencing along the border as well as other security infrastructure
  • mandated 24-hour surveillance of border regions
  • helped protect our ports by mandating the use of an electronic exit system

With regard to our counterterrorism policies in Philadelphia, I’ve sat down with local law enforcement and FBI agents to discuss their operations. There is a significant amount of cooperation between local and federal law enforcement. The City of Philadelphia has and will continue to notify the FBI if they detain someone with suspected terrorist ties. Philadelphia and the Department of Homeland Security are engaged in ongoing conversations about how to strengthen their relationship as it relates to immigration detention and notification. I urge the City and DHS to move forward with negotiations, so that Philadelphia can meet the requirements set forth by DHS. What won’t help is cutting local law enforcement funding and shifting the focus of our police officers’ time from addressing their daily duties of stopping violence to acting as border control agents. Members of Congress should trust our police officers to enforce the law and not dictate to them from Washington, DC regarding how to best keep their communities safe.

It’s time for Republicans to commit to securing our nation. Achieving security means doubling the number of border security agents, placing fencing along the border, keeping guns out of the wrong hands and fully funding local law enforcement programs. Just recently, Senate Republicans defeated a bipartisan proposal put forth by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine that would have prevented those on the terror watchlist from purchasing firearms. Congressional Republicans have also refused to act on commonsense steps to reduce crime, like banning military-style weapons, limiting the size of clips magazines and putting in place universal background checks on all gun sales. Congress has a basic obligation to help our communities stay safe, and must not cut law enforcement funding. Instead of deriding cities who are under siege from violent criminals by labeling them ‘sanctuary cities,’ Congressional Republicans should vote to fully fund the COPS program and other law enforcement programs.

Our local law enforcement need assistance addressing violent criminals and keeping guns out of those same individuals’ hands. They don’t need another job and a new focus dictated by Washington politicians.

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