Democrats unveil measure allowing local authorities to hold immigrants charged with violent crimes

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Seven Democratic Senators and independent allies introduced a bill Thursday that would increase the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing the agency to obtain judicial warrants to arrest immigrants who entered the country illegally and were charged with violent crimes.

The bill comes as Democrats increase tough-on-immigration rhetoric amid a GOP focus on the policy for the 2024 election. Three of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Bob Casey (Pa.), face tough reelection fights.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) also sponsored the measure.

“Even though we know immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than Americans, it is also true that there are times when ICE needs to take custody of a noncitizen accused or convicted of a serious crime,” Murphy said in a statement. “This proposal is a narrowly-tailored, commonsense solution to address that serious gap, while also preserving the due process rights of noncitizens.”

Under current law, ICE makes detainer requests in local jurisdictions to detain undocumented people who are arrested by local police. Not all jurisdictions follow the requests. Enabling ICE to request judicial warrants for those charged with violent crimes ensures that they will be detained by federal authorities.

Murphy, however, made clear that the Democrats’ proposal is far different from those made by Republicans to ban “sanctuary cities” — jurisdictions that ignore the detainer requests — or enable local police to detain any person suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.

The most prominent House GOP attempt, the Laken Riley Act, specifically targets undocumented people charged with theft, named for a Georgia student killed by one such undocumented migrant last month.

“Unlike the bills proposed by House Republicans, this legislation would actually fix one of the problems facing our immigration system, rather than serve as a messaging tool to demonize immigrants,” Murphy said. “If Republicans are interested in anything other than political theater they should support this bill.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee [NRSC] shrugged off the measure, denouncing it as a political stunt to shift focus away from what the GOP has criticized as weak border policy.

“It’s an election year, so they are trying to fool voters by rewriting their records, and it will not work,” NRSC spokesperson Mike Berg said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Some Democrats, especially those in tight 2024 races, have criticized President Biden for his border policy. Just more than a dozen House Democrats signed off on a resolution denouncing Biden last week, and more than 20 launched a border policy task force earlier this month.

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