Legislation taking aim at Michigan 'sanctuary cities' moves forward

 

Republican-sponsored legislation aimed at cracking down on so-called "sanctuary" communities in Michigan has taken another step forward.

The House Local Government Committee voted 7-4 along party lines Wednesday, June 7, to pass House Bills 4105 and 4334, moving them out of committee.

They could now move to the House for a vote.

The approval came despite a large showing of opposition from immigrant rights advocates and local government representatives, including Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, both of whom testified before the committee, along with others.

HB 4105 would create a "Local Government Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act" and HB 4334 would create a "County Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act."

The two bills are mostly identical, except for reference to a "local unit of government" in HB 4105 and a "county" in HB 4334.

The bills would prohibit a local government or county from enacting or enforcing any law that limits coordination and cooperation with federal officials concerning the immigration status of any person in Michigan.

They also would make any local law, ordinance, policy or rule that violates either act void and unenforceable.

Taylor said the proposed legislation undercuts policies Ann Arbor has put in place to be a community that welcomes immigrants. He argues the legislation is inconsistent with public safety and American values.

"As I read the legislation, it's going to prevent us from controlling our own actions essentially," Taylor said. "Right now, we have 100-percent legal legislation that is entirely consistent with federal law that restricts our ability to inquire as to immigration status and discourages staff from initiating contact, initiating ICE enforcement actions. This action will undercut that welcoming-city legislation and it will put individual liability on people who make rules along those lines."

The mayor said he's concerned local governments would not be able to control how they deal with undocumented immigrants and build relationships and trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community.

Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County are among the many communities across the U.S. that have made it clear in recent months they aren't interested in enforcing federal immigration law at the local level.

Officially, they don't consider themselves "sanctuary" communities, but their policies, recently affirmed by the City Council and County Board of Commissioners, limit local involvement in federal immigration matters and make it clear local officials and law enforcement aren't interested in knowing anyone's immigration status in most cases and won't ask about it.

And they have local policies against detaining someone for longer than state and local charges compel doing so, even if there's a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The local policy in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County is to obey judicial warrants, but not necessarily ICE requests.

The thinking behind the local policies is that immigrants, regardless of their status, should feel comfortable contacting police and reporting crimes, and that's an argument that Clayton is continuing to make.

Democrats on the Local Government Committee proposed several amendments to the legislation during Wednesday's meeting, but they were voted down by the GOP majority, which favored the bills as they were.

Other state and local officials were among the immigrant rights advocates at Wednesday's hearing, including state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor.

"This is just another example of big-government Republicans overreaching their role in Lansing, treading on the rights of local government, treading on the human rights of individuals in our communities," he said.

Rabhi argued the proposed laws would essentially force local governments across the state to be agents of the federal government. He said that could require additional training of officers and it's an unfunded mandate.

"I mean, this is a big-government policy," he said. "This is big-brother government at its finest."

Members of different immigrant rights groups, including Detroit-based Michigan United, attended the meeting to show opposition to the bills.

They were joined by representatives from the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association, as well as people from various walks of life, including one of the co-owners of Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.

Kirk Profit, a Lansing lobbyist, was there on behalf of Ypsilanti, which has immigration policies similar to Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

Other cities in Michigan, including Lansing and Detroit, also have been called sanctuary cities, which have come under attack since Donald Trump became president and issued an executive order threatening to take away federal funding from communities that don't comply with federal law.

Taylor, who argues Ann Arbor isn't doing anything to violate federal law, said he's hoping the proposed state legislation won't make it through the House and Senate. And if it does, he hopes the governor will veto it.

After a man who identified himself as a child survivor of the Holocaust testified on Wednesday, Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, spoke about how his great grandfather made it to the U.S. while his siblings perished in the Holocaust.

"The first wave of illegal immigration from our southern border were Jews trying to escape growing anti-Semitism and had no other access to this country because of strict quota laws that were enforced," Moss said.

"And you know, we had a Holocaust commemoration ceremony here about a month and a half ago with 30 survivors around the state. I didn't ask a single one of them how they got here or what their status was, and I don't care. And that's the population, among many civil people in this country, that are now vulnerable of being asked what their background is and how they got here."

Following testimony by several speakers, the names of many other people and groups across the state opposed to the legislation were read into the record. There were none read in favor of the legislation.

Moss proposed the first amendment that was voted down 7-4. He said there was nothing in the legislation to stipulate a person must be in custody or under arrest before police are able to communicate and cooperate with the feds.

"My police department and many others have a rule against that proactive questioning and this bill would undo that, so I say let's put in language here that a person must actually be in custody for a violent offense first," he said. "And I think we can all agree that these violent criminals have no business in our society."

Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, spoke against Moss' amendment. He said there's always going to be "some outlier" or "some idiot" in any profession, but he has never talked to a police department with a policy that says officers can come to the scene of an accident and start questioning the immigration status of a victim without probable cause. He said the legislation simply requires reporting to ICE and would not change law enforcement policies across the state.

Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon, said the committee has heard from hundreds of people on the issue, including the MML representing more than 520 cities and the MTA representing more than 1,200 townships, and they're opposed.

"And I think that that's very telling," he said before proposing an amendment to allow local governments that prevail in any challenges to their policies to be able to recover attorney fees and court costs. The amendment was voted down 7-4 along party lines just as other amendments were.

Under the proposed legislation, if a local government or county has, enacts or enforces a law that violates either act, any resident of that community could either bring an action to enforce the state law in Circuit Court or file a complaint with the attorney general, who could investigate complaints.

Beginning 61 days after the acts take effect, the attorney general also would be required to bring an action to enforce them in Circuit Court if a local government or county enacts or enforces a law that violates either act.

Rep. Jim Ellison, D-Royal Oak, proposed two amendments at Wednesday's meeting to have the state pick up the tab if a local community is sued for unlawful detainment as a result of following state legislation or if there are increased costs to local government due to cooperating with the law.

Both were voted down 7-4.

Ellison said he's keenly aware of how a police department functions having served as mayor of his city. He said he doesn't remember ever seeing Royal Oak police not help the feds when asked to do so, but he's against mandating that they must and opening local communities up to litigation if they don't.

State Rep. Patrick Green, D-Warren, vice chairman of the committee, said several aspects of the legislation are concerning to him and go beyond what federal law requires. He proposed an amendment to ensure the state legislation is in keeping with federal law, but it was voted down 7-4.

Sabo, who worked 25 years as a Muskeon Heights firefighter and police officer, said a person's medical situation, including both mental and physical health, should be treated with sensitivity and privacy.

He proposed an amendment to specify the legislation would not apply to situations related to medical care or social work. It was voted down 7-4.

Green proposed another amendment dealing specifically with ICE detainer requests. He said detainer requests are voluntary, and holding someone on a detainer is a new arrest that requires probable cause, and ICE detainers do not provide probable cause. His amendment was to require a judicial warrant from a federal judge to keep someone in custody for ICE.

It was voted down 7-4.

Runestad spoke against the amendment, saying everything he has ever read and every law enforcement officer he has talked to has indicated ICE detainers are perfectly lawful. He suggested Oakland County was handling them just fine.

"Oakland County has 1,200 sheriff's deputies," he said. "They have no problem. There's no required training or cost and all this stuff that we heard in testimony."

Moss proposed another amendment to remove the word "employee" from one of the legislative sections. It was voted down 7-4.

He said he doesn't think a police officer should be enabled to defy a police chief's rule not to ask about someone's immigration status. But to the point of his amendment, he argued, a city employee without police training certainly shouldn't defy an administrator's rule not to ask about someone's immigration status.

Under the legislation that's proposed, he said, any local government employee, including a front desk clerk, a records department worker or even a golf course employee could communicate with ICE and there would be nothing their boss could do to prevent that type of "rogue" activity.

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