A pair of bills intended to ban “sanctuary cities” in Michigan revived debate over local immigration policy when they passed out of a House committee Tuesday.
The legislation, which would bar local governments from preventing police from cooperating with federal authorities’ immigration policies, was met with fury from civil rights groups and law enforcement in some urban areas. Opponents said they fear the bills would deter immigrants from reporting crimes and encourage racial profiling.
Republican House sponsors Beau LaFave, Iron Mountain, and Pamela Hornberger, Chesterfield Township, argue that their proposal is not meant to discriminate, but rather to protect local law enforcement who want to uphold federal immigration law.
LaFave said he has heard multiple reports of police officers who were fired or demoted for choosing to fulfill federal immigration authority orders, and it’s important the state protect local law enforcement officers from “political retribution.”
“I’m not mandating that anybody go and enforce immigration laws, (but) if an officer so chooses they should not be fired for doing so,” LaFave said.
State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, rejects the notion that the bills are motivated by bias, arguing that they are instead intended to protect local police from retaliation for helping federal authorities in immigration cases.
The bills were originally introduced as the Local Government Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act and the County Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act, but were changed Tuesday to be titled the Local Government Law Enforcement Protection Act and the County Law Enforcement Protection Act.
If the bills were to become law, they could affect areas such as Kalamazoo, Wayne and Washtenaw counties and so-called “welcoming cities” which have indicated they will not detain immigrants for federal immigration officials without a warrant, or have said they will not ask residents about their immigration status when they report crimes.
The Kent County Sheriff enacted a similar policy after a Latino U.S. citizen and military veteran suffering from PTSD was turned over to ICE and detained before a lawyer stepped in, creating unflattering national headlines.
Rep. Alex Garza, D-Taylor, chair of the state Latino Legislative Caucus, protested the Republican bills in front of the state Capitol Tuesday with social justice advocacy organization Michigan United. He told Bridge he’s concerned the legislation won’t do anything to keep Michiganders safe and will unduly constrain local government.
“We really have concerns about tying the hands of local government in Michigan from enacting policy that they believe is best for their communities,” Garza said. He said his grandparents were immigrants who came to the U.S. to improve their lives and he wants that opportunity to continue for others. “We really want to go and look for people who are actually committing crimes in the State of Michigan, and not those who are actually looking to seek a better life for their family.”
Kimberly Buddin, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said policies adopted by Michigan’s “welcoming” cities and counties are legal. Federal law, she said, only bars policies that prevent local authorities from sharing information on a person’s immigration status with the feds. Less clear is whether local officials can be compelled to collect that information in the first place, which many local police are reluctant to do.
The Republican bills, Buddin said, are “really a non-solution to a non-existent problem. It doesn’t do what the bill sponsors purport that it does. It’s very problematic.”
Instead of giving law enforcement more tools, Buddin said, the legislation will just make undocumented immigrants less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses in criminal cases.
LaFave, the Republican bill sponsor, rejected the notion that the legislation would lead to racial profiling and discrimination.
“Racial profiling is a bad thing and (so is) discrimination in all forms,” LaFave said in response to criticism. He encourages immigration, he said, but “I want to make sure that everybody has equal ability to get into our country based on merit and based on the content of their character and their willingness to adopt our norms and shared sense of civic duty and belief in our democratic republic.”
Similar legislation was introduced during the last legislative session, but did not receive a vote on the House floor. Though Republicans still hold majorities in the House and Senate, they are slimmer majorities, making passage difficult, and likely more so now that Democrat Gretchen Whitmer in the governor’s office.
However, the Legislature may choose to advance the bills to test how Whitmer responds to such issues or to gain leverage for other priorities, such as the budget, said Sarah Hubbard, principal of Lansing-based lobbying firm Acuitas.
“Whether it’s a waste of time or not is completely beside the point, some of these things are more political in nature,” Hubbard said.