WASHINGTON — A White House-backed bill that’s expected to pass the U.S. House today would strip sanctuary cities of federal grants — putting Boston and at least four other Massachusetts communities that have officially voiced solidarity with illegal immigrants in danger of losing millions in federal funds.
The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” would strip state and local governments of Justice Department and Homeland Security grant funding for law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
A House source told the Herald it is unclear whether the bill would apply to Boston’s Trust Act, which bars Boston police from detaining illegal immigrants who are otherwise eligible for release. Boston city officials said the Trust Act does not run afoul of federal immigration laws, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists Boston as one of five Bay State sanctuary jurisdictions, along with Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton and Amherst.
This fiscal year, Boston is slated to receive roughly $5 million in Justice Department grants for agencies including the Boston Police Department and the Public Health Commission. The city expects at least $3.5 million in DOJ and Homeland Security grants in Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s just-approved budget for the new fiscal year beginning Saturday.
Yesterday, President Trump touted the bill, along with another measure that would toughen penalties for those who repeatedly enter the country illegally, during a White House roundtable with family members of those killed by illegal immigrants.
“You lost the people that you love because our government refused to enforce our nation’s immigration laws,” Trump said to the families gathered at the White House.
“We’re calling on all members of Congress to honor grieving American families by passing these lifesaving measures in the House, in the Senate and then sending them to my desk for a very rapid signature. I promise you, it will be done quickly.”
Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, both outspoken opponents of Trump’s policy on illegal immigrants, could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Somerville) said the measure is misguided.
“Somerville has been a sanctuary city since 1988,” Capuano said. “We have never protected a criminal. The only thing we have ever done is try to make sure that our local police are able to concentrate on local crime issues — not be burdened and bogged down with trying to enforce an immigration law that’s been wrong for a long time.”
The other bill, called “Kate’s Law,” is named after Kathryn Steinle, a California woman who was killed in 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had repeated re-entered the country illegally. The measure would impose tougher mandatory minimum prison sentences on people who re-enter the country without authorization and boost penalties for those convicted of other crimes.