WASHINGTON—Republican senators led by Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, introduced new border legislation Thursday that penalizes sanctuary cities, targets visa overstays and ends “catch and release” policies, shifting attention from President Donald Trump’s promise of a border wall toward enforcement.
“The idea of a physical infrastructure is not novel,” said Cornyn. “President Trump didn’t dream that up. Border security is really about three things: infrastructure, technology and personnel. We need to have an adequate number of people to detain people and return them to their country of origin.”
The Building America’s Trust Act, as the bill is called, authorizes approximately $15 billion over four years. Co-sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Thom Tillis, R-NC, the legislation “holds sanctuary cities accountable by imposing tough penalties on federal funds for jurisdictions who fail to comply with lawful federal immigration enforcement requests.”
There are at least eighteen sanctuary cities in the United States, according to the Apsan Law Offices, a New-York based immigration law firm. Some estimates put the number of sanctuary cities higher, with around 60 localities that refuse to hold people for customs enforcement. These include Austin, Dallas and Houston in Cornyn’s home state.
The legislation also increases domestic enforcement by identifying visa overstays “through full deployment of the Biometric Entry-Exit system at ports of entry, while cutting off all immigration benefits to those who abuse (the) visa system,” according to a summary of the bill.
The Republican senators also called for an end to “catch and release” practices by law enforcement, which allow illegal immigrants to be released while waiting for a hearing. The legislation would focus on criminals and “repeat immigration violators.”
“Today we’re sending the message that we will defend our borders and we will deter illegal immigration,” said Barrasso.
Because the bill calls for a congressional appropriation, it bypasses Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for a border wall.
The Washington Post on Thursday published portions of a conversation in January between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in which Trump demanded that Peña Nieto stop openly opposing the border wall payment. Cornyn refused to comment on the Post report.
“We are members of Congress and we are used to Congress appropriating the money,” said Cornyn. “We’ll leave it to the President on how we recoup that at some point.”
But Cornyn said he remains optimistic about Trump’s support.
“With this president in the White House, we think we have an ally on this legislation,” he said.