A state bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities and counties would sow fear among Wisconsin’s immigrant population and impede police cooperation with them, its critics told a legislative panel Thursday.
The Republican sponsor of the bill, which requires local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, said it would help them apprehend dangerous criminals who also are immigrants living in the country illegally.
The bill got its first public airing of the year Thursday inside a packed hearing room at the state Capitol. The chairman of the committee that heard the bill, Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, also is its sponsor.
A Milwaukee group opposing the bill, Voces de la Frontera, said it brought at least 500 opponents of the bill to the Capitol from Green Bay, Manitowoc, Milwaukee and Waukesha.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Legislature. It is similar to a Texas law that was partially blocked from taking effect by a federal judge earlier this year and is now before a federal appeals court.
An association representing Wisconsin sheriffs has said a provision of the bill, also one of the parts of the Texas law that was blocked, may require county jails to detain people unconstitutionally.
Critics of the measure, including state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said Thursday that the election of President Donald Trump led to an increase in anti-Latino rhetoric that also is driving support for the bill.
The president of Voces de la Frontera, Jose Flores, testified that he’s living in the country illegally. Flores told Nass he has four children, all U.S. citizens, and he fears what would happen if he is deported.
“We are hard workers, sir,” Flores told Nass. “We are not criminals.”
Nass responded that his bill isn’t meant to help law enforcement apprehend law-abiding immigrants, but rather “the criminal element.”
Earlier in the hearing, Nass testified that “these politically correct (sanctuary) policies actually increase the risk to public safety.”
Walker doesn’t commit on bill
Nass’ bill would bar local municipalities or counties from enacting or enforcing any ordinance, resolution or policy that prohibits enforcing any “law relating to illegal aliens.” It also requires municipalities & counties to comply with detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which ask local authorities to continue to detain people past their release date to give ICE agents more time to decide whether to take the person into federal custody.
If a court found a municipality or county violated the bill’s requirements, it calls for the state to reduce aid to that municipality or county by between $500 and $5,000, depending on its population, for each day of noncompliance.
Gov. Scott Walker is noncommittal about the bill, with his spokesman only saying Thursday that “the governor will review the bill if it gets to his desk.”
The state Assembly passed a similar bill last year during the previous legislative session. It died in the state Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, declared it wasn’t a priority.
Nass’ testimony named only one local government as a “sanctuary” that would see potential impact from the bill: Milwaukee County. In April, President Donald Trump’s administration threatened to cut grant money for Milwaukee County over so-called “sanctuary” policies — though the administration on Thursday said Milwaukee County is complying with immigration law.
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney told The Capital Times he does not let a detainer prevent inmates from posting bail or leaving once they have completed their sentences, unless he receives a warrant ordering the person to be held.
Mahoney’s office and Madison police could not be reached for comment Thursday to say if the bill would affect any of their policies or operations.
Madison was among the cities that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said last year was being targeted by the bill — though Madison officials disputed the term “sanctuary city” as accurately describing their policies. It typically is applied to cities or counties that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities to enforce immigration law.
Constitutional concerns cited
The Badger State Sheriffs’ Association, in written testimony to the committee, flagged the provision requiring compliance with ICE detainers. If doing so requires the person to be detained past what is allowed under the charge or charges for which they initially were detained, it cannot be done “without violating the person’s constitutional rights,” the association wrote. National sheriffs’ groups are working with federal authorities to resolve this issue, the association wrote.
Darryl Morin, a spokesman for the Wisconsin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said the bill would “send a message of fear and division and have a chilling effect on police-community relations.”
Many who came to testify against the bill could not because the buses that brought them to the Capitol departed before the hearing ended.
They included 12-year-old Isabel Martinez of Manitowoc. Martinez said her father was deported to his home country of Mexico in 2012, when she was six, after having lived in the U.S. for 16 years and having four children here.
“I don’t want other kids just like me to experience what I experienced,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s mother, Jennifer Estrada, also of Manitowoc, said she agrees with Zamarripa that treatment of Latinos has changed since the election. Estrada said another of her daughters was bullied on her school playground shortly after the election and told by another student to “go back to your country.”
“We think it’s sad Wisconsin is trying to push the racist agenda coming out of the White House,” Estrada said.