A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rubio’s Plan on ‘Sanctuary Cities’


An ad from a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC falsely claims that Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan for so-called sanctuary cities is to “ignore” them.

In fact, Rubio’s “plan” — repeated in numerous speeches and on his campaign website — is to cut federal funding to towns with sanctuary policies. He even cosponsored and voted in support of a bill last year that would have done just that.

The ad hangs its claim on Rubio’s cosponsorship of the Senate immigration bill in 2013, which did not address the issue of sanctuary cities. But failing to address an issue in a single bill isn’t the same as ignoring it, especially since Rubio has since supported addressing it separately.

The pro-Cruz super PAC, Stand for Truth, has stepped up its attacks on Rubio as polls show Cruz and Rubio running second and third, respectively, behind Donald Trump in South Carolina’s Republican primary, which will be held Feb. 20.

The ad from Stand for Truth begins with bouncing footage of immigrants running across the border and head shots of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple responsible for the ISIS-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in December.

“A broken immigration system, porous borders, attacks here at home,” the narrator begins. “Marco Rubio’s plan? Ignore sanctuary cities and work with liberals like Chuck Schumer to push for amnesty for those that have already broken our laws.”

Sanctuary cities are those that do not automatically turn over unauthorized immigrants to federal immigration authorities. Although these policies — which vary by city — have been a contentious political issue for years, the sanctuary city issue took on new prominence in July after the murder of Kathryn Steinle, who prosecutors allege was shot and killed in San Francisco by a Mexican national with a felony criminal record who had been deported several times. The case sparked a national debate about sanctuary cities because of San Francisco’s policy of not honoring federal requests to detain people found to be in the country illegally.

Stand for Truth backs up its claim that Rubio’s plan is — or was —  to “ignore” sanctuary cities by pointing to Rubio’s support for the Senate immigration bill in 2013. Rubio was a cosponsor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, that provided a “path to citizenship” for those living in the country illegally. Cruz called it an “amnesty” bill. That’s the basis for the ad’s claim that Rubio “work[ed] with liberals like Chuck Schumer to push for amnesty for those that have already broken our laws.”

Some Republicans were concerned that the bill did not adequately address concerns about sanctuary cities. In fact, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker offered an amendment that sought to “end ‘Sanctuary Cities’ ” by denying them State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds and law enforcement grants from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice. But the amendment was never taken up by the Senate.

Stand for Truth notes that a Senate report expressing the minority views of Sens. Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Mike Lee and Cruz, warned specifically that the bill “ignores sanctuary cities, and effectively sends a signal to states with enforcement-minded laws that they have no authority to control their own borders.” And in a news release on June 26, 2013, the day before the immigration bill passed the Senate, Grassley again warned that the bill “ignores sanctuary cities, allowing criminals to seek safe harbor in jurisdictions where they have policies aimed to protect people in the country illegally.”

Rubio voted for the bill, but he has since renounced it, saying he favors a piecemeal approach to an immigration overhaul that begins with tougher border enforcement.

But failing to address an issue in a specific bill isn’t the same as having a plan to ignore it. One could instead opt to deal with the issue separately. And in this case, Rubio has.

On the campaign trail, Rubio has repeatedly denounced sanctuary policies, calling them “unacceptable” and “outrageous.” He has outlined a plan to cut off federal funding for sanctuary cities on his campaign website. And he has talked about it repeatedly in speeches on the campaign trail.

Moreover, Rubio cosponsored, along with Cruz, the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act. That bill, introduced in October by Sen. David Vitter, sought to cut off federal community development block grants, community policing grants and other federal funds to any state or city that “prohibits or restricts information sharing about an individual’s immigration status, or prohibits compliance with a lawfully issued detainer request or notification of release request.”

Vitter’s bill died on Oct. 20, 2015, after failing to get the 60 votes necessary to move forward. Rubio left the campaign trail to vote for the bill — his last vote before that was on Sept. 24. Cruz also voted to advance the bill, but it failed by a vote of 54-45.

The Stand for Truth ad doesn’t supply a verb that would clear up whether it is claiming Rubio’s plan was to ignore sanctuary cities, or whether that is currently Rubio’s position. Eric Lycan, a spokesman for Stand for Truth, argues that the phrasing of the claim “Marco Rubio’s plan? Ignore sanctuary cities and work with liberals like Chuck Schumer to push for amnesty,” makes clear that the ad is talking about his support for the Gang of Eight bill (which Schumer introduced), not any position he may have taken subsequently.

Lycan spelled that out in a letter to television station managers in South Carolina who had received a request from the Rubio campaign to pull the ad.

Lycan, Feb. 18: In other words, the Request is re-treading the argument over what the definition of “is” is. The Advertisement does not, however, specify that the Gang of 8 Bill is Rubio’s current plan. It asserts that Rubio’s plan ignored sanctuary cities, clearly in reference to his work on the Gang of 8 Bill “with liberals like Chuck Schumer.” It certainly cannot be argued that the Gang of 8 Bill was anyone else’s plan, or that sanctuary cities were addressed in that comprehensive immigration reform bill.

We can see how the ad would leave most viewers with the impression that ignoring sanctuary cities is Rubio’s current plan. But even if one infers from the ad that it is only referring to Rubio’s support for the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill, it leaves out the critical information that Rubio has since been an avid proponent of cutting federal funding to towns with sanctuary policies.