House votes to punish ‘sanctuary cities’

WASHINGTON — The House voted last week to block federal crime-fighting funds from going to “sanctuary cities” where police do not routinely report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

The bill, approved 241-179 largely along party lines, was promoted by Republican lawmakers in response to the recent killing of San Francisco woman Kate Steinle by, authorities allege, an undocumented Mexican immigrant with a felony record.

Many large cities and about 150 in total have enacted “sanctuary” policies not to notify the federal government of the presence of people in the country illegally, according to the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC that keeps a list.

Bill sponsor Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said municipalities that do not follow federal law should be held accountable.

“The fact that San Francisco and L.A. and other cities disagree with the politics of federal enforcement does not give them a free pass to subvert the law. If they do, there has to be consequences. The way that we impose consequences on these sanctuary cities is by hitting them where it hurts, and that is in their pocketbook,” he said.

Opponents of the legislation argued that San Francisco’s sanctuary city status had not shielded the suspect in the Steinle killing. And they argued that requiring local police to report immigrant workers for possible deportation would discourage immigrants from reporting crimes.

“Reactionary proposals such as this legislation will only make our communities less safe because immigrants will not report crimes or otherwise cooperate with the police if they fear they or their family members may be asked for their immigration status,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it fails to offer comprehensive immigration law reform and threatens civil rights by allowing state and local officials to collect a person’s immigration status at any time and for any reason.

Reps. Mark Amodei, Cresent Hardy and Joe Heck, all R-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., opposed it.

GMO food labeling

The House voted 275-150 to establish a nationwide labeling system that the food industry could use to voluntarily disclose if their products are free of genetically-modified organisms.

Proponents said the bill would provide consumers the information they need to avoid GMO food if they choose without imposing unnecessary costs on producers. And they said it would avoid confusion that otherwise would exist through a hodgepodge of state-by-state regulations.

“Those who support mandatory (labeling) must admit they are willing to increase the cost of food for families in Wichita and Dallas and Grand Rapids and in Vermont and in Boston and all across our nation based on unscientific demands of a handful of antibiotechnology activists,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.

Opponents argued the bill was designed to deny consumers information they are demanding on whether the food they buy contains GMOs or not. And they said it would prohibit states from setting their own labeling standards — as has already been done in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

“People want to know what is in their food that they eat, and they want to know how it is grown. We should give them what they want; yet the bill before us goes in the opposite direction. It keeps the American people in the dark about whether their food contains GMOs,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., argued that labeling GMO foods provides no public health or safety benefit but would instead add to the “demonization” of biotechnology.

Schrader said a Pew Research Center survey found 90 percent of the scientific community found genetically engineered food is safe. He added some modifications are good for the environment — reducing the need for chemical pesticides, for instance.

Opponents also said the bill would allow GMO foods to be labeled as “natural” even as most individuals assume that natural products would not include genetically modified ingredients.

“Does the word natural really mean a salmon engineered to grow at double rate, a cereal engineered to be resistant to pesticides, a tomato with fish genes? Are these things natural? Our common sense says no,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

Amodei, Hardy and Heck voted for the bill. Titus opposed it.

Contact Peter Urban at or at 202-783-1760.

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