Communities and counties would be prohibited from enacting ordinances that would identify them as a sanctuary city, unwilling to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, under a pair of bills considered by a House of Representatives committee on Wednesday.
While the bills were hailed by supporters as a simple statement of supporting law enforcement doing their jobs and enforcing local, state and federal laws, opponents decried it as an overreach and a way to profile people because of their skin color or accents.
“Very simply, this will deter elected officials from enacting laws that will make law enforcement disobey their oath of office,” state Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, said during a hearing Wednesday before the House Local Government Committee.
Sanctuary cities — which have policies that limit cooperation with the federal government's efforts to enforce immigration laws — have been controversial for years, but even more so under President Donald Trump, who has championed a more aggressive immigration policy with the goal of deporting more undocumented immigrants. He and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions also have threatened to withhold some federal funding to sanctuary cities.
The bills would:
- Prohibit cities, townships, villages and counties from enacting laws that limit coordination and cooperation between federal officials and any municipal employee.
- Empower a community’s residents to file a complaint in court or with the state attorney general’s office to make sure the town follows the state law.
- Allow the court to assess a civil fine between $2,500 to $7,500 against a local official who knowingly violates the law.
While some Michigan cities have policies that direct police to not inquire about the immigration status of people they stop, only Lansing briefly passed an ordinance in April declaring itself a sanctuary city. It rescinded that ordinance the next week.
An estimated 200 cities across the nation, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have declared themselves as sanctuary cities, according to a House Fiscal analysis of the bills.
Democrats and nearly a dozen people testified against the bill, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to target people who don’t look a certain way.
“I want to live in a state that supports me and respects me,” said Maria Ibarra-Frayre, a social worker who is an undocumented immigrant and came to the U.S. at the age of 9. She now has protected DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status. “This breaks the trust between communities and police departments. People are afraid to go to police if they fear they’re going to be deported.”
Elvira Hernandez, an administrative assistant with the ACLU of Michigan, said she has gotten into the habit of carrying her passport with her at all times so that she can prove her citizenship if she encounters law enforcement officers who only hear her accent.
"I recently had a father and son yell and curse at me, telling me to 'go back to where you’re from.' And the rest of the people in the store said absolutely nothing," she said of an encounter in her hometown of Sparta. "I can only imagine what would happen if you give this type of power to law enforcement."
State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said police departments and other municipal employees aren’t expected to enforce federal tax or maritime law and shouldn’t be expected to become immigration officers either.
“It’s going to be discrimination. We’re going to have people who are self-appointed federal deputies asking people for their papers and that’s a privacy issue,” he said. “You could have a local secretary in the clerk’s office that has these impassioned views about undocumented immigrants, and now they would have the authority in this legislation to communicate and cooperate with federal immigration authorities.”
Others said the legislation would lead to even more overcrowded jails as people are incarcerated until their immigration status is sorted out.
"Our jails are already over crowded, so a lot of communities are going to have to go to their early release programs," said Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon. "Just because you don’t look like you belong, you can be thrown in jail and there are going to be actually convicted criminals released on the streets."
But state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, said that was an exaggeration of the proposed legislation.
“You’re not allowed to be arrested and thrown in jail based on what you look like. You need probable cause,” he said. “Looking like you don’t belong certainly doesn't look like probable cause to me."
And state Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, who has introduced legislation that would require businesses that get state contracts to verify the immigration status of its employees, said the law simply tells cities that they can't block employees from communicating with federal officials.
"A person in parks and rec isn't going to be empowered to arrest people," he said. "These are employees who communicate information clerically to federal authorities."
No one publicly testified in support of the bills. and no vote was taken on the bills — HB 4105 and 4334 — but another hearing will be held on the legislation in two weeks.