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A Missed Opportunity for Change: Senate Democrats Block Sen. Ron Johnson's Crucial Sanctuary City Amendment

S.A. 1706 would have pulled taxpayer-funded grants to sanctuary cities who refuse to comply with federal immigration laws, but the Senate majority chose partisanship over public safety.

As November approaches, speculation within the Republican Party is mounting over who will succeed Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Senate leader. Among the names being considered is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is allegedly leaving the door open to such a possibility

Thus, there is a newfound interest in Sen. Johnson's recent legislative priorities and his ability to take on a leadership role. As it turns out, Johnson has been leading the Republicans’ initiative to combat the federal funding of sanctuary cities. 

During the March 23, 2024, meeting of the U.S. Senate, Johnson proposed an amendment to the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 2882, aimed squarely at enhancing national security and ensuring the cooperation between local jurisdictions and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). His amendment, S.A. 1706, sought to prohibit federal funding to local jurisdictions that fail to notify DHS in advance about the release of illegal aliens from their custody.

“In the last four months, we've seen a string of horrific crimes in which the suspects are illegal immigrants," said Sen. Johnson before listing a multitude of examples of violent assaults and rapes throughout the nation. "My amendment is simple. It prohibits labor, HHS, and education funding from going to sanctuary cities... We can stop these crimes."

The amendment’s goal was to safeguard American communities and upholding the rule of law. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats uniformly opposed the amendment and put forth a motion to kill it. The vote of that motion fell exactly on Party lines, with 51 yeas and 47 nays (Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Rick Scott (R-FL) were absent, but their presence would not have altered the result, given the Democrats' majority stance).

The failure to pass S.A. 1706 represents a missed opportunity for our nation. Public opinion on sanctuary cities, even within progressive strongholds like Chicago and San Francisco is tepid at best. For all the political grandstanding that sanctuary city advocates engage in, their efforts are largely seen as undermining federal immigration enforcement efforts to keep communities safe. Johnson’s amendment was a measured and sensible approach which Democrats should not have widely rejected from the onset.

“The notion that a municipality can forbid law enforcement officials from sharing information or complying with a lawful detainer from federal immigration officials borders on insanity,” said Sam Cabral, International President for International Union of Police Associations. “We have seen repeatedly the victimization of people, including children, by persons who have been released from custody in disobedience to these detainers. For the federal government to assist these municipalities with funding is also absurd.” 

Ultimately, H.R. 2882 passed by a 72-24 vote. While the $1.2 trillion spending package itself clearly garnered some bipartisan support, the exclusion of Johnson's amendment is a bitter disappointment. If nothing else, it illustrates how partisanship is one of the biggest obstacles to meaningful reform. 

This is not Johnson’s first attempt to lead an immigration reform effort. Last year, he was joined by 21 other Senators in co-sponsoring S.1068, the re-introduced Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act. If passed, it would allow local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and would pull taxpayer-funded grants to sanctuary cities. It currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Previously, Johnson also served as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Whether it was done with any consideration for the Republican Senate leader vacancy, Johnson deserves commendation for his consistency and his ability to rally his base on the issue of immigration. Under different leadership, similar efforts aimed at improving the safety and security of all Americans may actually have a chance to break through the usual partisan gridlock and pass into law.


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