Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., rides an escalator at the Senate...

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., rides an escalator at the Senate subway on Capitol Hill Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Mariam Zuhaib

WASHINGTON — A bill from a group of Democratic and independent senators would let the federal government request a court order that local authorities hold immigrants with or without permanent legal status who are charged with or convicted of violent crimes until they can be transferred to federal custody for deportation proceedings.

The bill introduced Thursday by six Democrats and allied independents reflects a willingness by Democrats to focus on immigration enforcement policy during an election year in which immigration is expected to be a leading issue.

Seizing on the recent killing of nursing student Laken Riley in Georgia, Republicans have called attention to crimes committed by immigrants without permanent legal status. Earlier this month the GOP-controlled House passed legislation, named the “Laken Riley Act," that would require federal authorities to detain such immigrants who have been accused of theft.

Sponsoring the measure are Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as well as independent Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine. Brown, Baldwin and Casey are facing tough reelection races. Republicans quickly dismissed the bill as an election year ploy.

Still, Baldwin, in a statement, spoke of ensuring that “law enforcement has the tools they need to do their jobs.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, quickly derided the proposal introduced Thursday as an attempt by the vulnerable Democrats to distance themselves from the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s an election year, so they are trying to fool voters by rewriting their records, and it will not work,” said Mike Berg, a spokesman for the NRSC.

Since Republicans led by Donald Trump, their party's presumptive presidential nominee, rejected a bipartisan proposal to overhaul the U.S. asylum system, Democrats have taken a more aggressive stance on immigration policy. They are pitching to voters that they are willing to tighten immigration laws, but with an approach that preserves civil rights for immigrants.

In the House, some Democrats have also formed a group focused on border security.

The Senate legislation is aimed at keeping in custody immigrants with legal status and without who are charged with or convicted of a felony, violent crimes or a national security threat. It would allow U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement to request a warrant from a judge that would enable local authorities to hold people until they can be transferred to ICE's custody.

The agency can currently make written requests, called detainers, to local authorities to hold someone in custody for an additional 48 hours after a release date so ICE has extra time to take the person into custody for deportation proceedings. But local cooperation with ICE has been a highly contentious issue, and civil rights groups have said the detainer policy often violates Fourth Amendment rights.

Republicans have tried to get the Senate to take up the House's “Laken Riley Act," but quick consideration was blocked last week by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In response, Sen. Ted Budd, R-N.C., said the Democratic Party's "commitment to open borders is causing otherwise preventable tragedies to occur again and again.”

It was also unclear whether the Senate's Democratic leadership would advance the bill that was introduced Thursday.

Murphy said in a statement that it "would actually fix one of the problems facing our immigration system, rather than serve as a messaging tool to demonize immigrants.”

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Updated 25 minutes ago Biden out . . . Massapequa Little League softball . . . Shark sightings . . . Cleaning up the beaches

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