Republican reintroduces bill to penalize 'sanctuary cities'

Thousands of Latino protesters and supporters rallied at the state Capitol last year in support of immigrant rights. A similar general strike is planned for Feb. 13 to protest President Donald Trump's immigration policies and a Republican state bill that would penalize so-called sanctuary cities.

As Madison-area leaders express defiance and outrage at a White House crackdown on illegal immigration, a Republican state lawmaker recirculated a bill Thursday penalizing so-called “sanctuary cities” with fines of up to $5,000 a day.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, would prohibit counties and municipalities from passing ordinances, resolutions or policies that bar employees from inquiring about immigration status, notifying the federal government about anyone living in the country illegally or assisting with immigration enforcement.

Municipalities that violate the law would be subject to a loss of $500 to $5,000 a day in state funding.

The bill is similar to one that passed the Assembly last year amid a large immigrant rights protest at the Capitol, but didn’t come up for a final vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

One difference is this version would allow citizens to file lawsuits with a court that a municipality is not complying with the law. Under last year’s bill, only the attorney general, a district attorney or sheriff could have filed a complaint.

In a memo to lawmakers seeking co-sponsors, Brandtjen noted there is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city” but municipalities would become subject to penalties by passing a resolution or enacting a policy that would block employees from asking about immigration status before providing a service.

“Everybody deserves to be in a safe community,” Brandtjen said in an interview. “All this does is say that the state of Wisconsin needs to uphold federal laws.”

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order reversing many of the immigration enforcement policies from the Obama administration, including one that focused deportation efforts on terrorists, criminals and gang members, rather than undocumented immigrants jailed for minor local offenses.

Trump is encouraging a program to deputize state and local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Elected leaders in Madison, Milwaukee and other cities around the state have said they won’t change policies in response to Trump’s executive order. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has said he plans to participate in Trump’s local immigration enforcement program.

Madison is considering a resolution that would prohibit the use of city resources for enforcing federal immigration law and inquiring about immigration status and designate City Council offices as a “safe space.”

Mayor Paul Soglin, who has said he will veto the resolution if it contains the “safe space” provision but otherwise supports it, said the city plans to oppose Brandtjen’s bill.

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Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, said Brandtjen’s bill is “a way to put the machinery in place for mass deportations and profiling.”

She said it doesn’t promote safety, because it makes immigrants afraid to contact police to report crimes, and it also infringes on a local government’s constitutional right under the 10th Amendment not to enforce federal law.

Voces de la Frontera is planning a general strike for Latinos and immigrants on Feb. 13 with a rally in Milwaukee to protest Trump’s executive order, Sheriff Clarke’s plans and the state sanctuary cities bill. Neumann-Ortiz credited a similar strike last February, which included a rally at the Capitol, with stopping the previous bill from passing.

“We should be thanking them instead of coming up with ways to racially profile and harass,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “They’re a critical part of our state economy.”

The Senate version of the bill that passed the Assembly last session was sponsored by Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who hasn’t decided whether to co-sponsor the latest version, according to his chief of staff, Mike Mikalsen.

“We’re still working on a few tweaks,” Mikalsen said.

One possible change could be instead of reducing a municipality’s state aid, the bill would make it easier to sue counties that release from jail someone whom immigration officials have asked be detained, but goes out and commits a crime.

There are concerns about penalizing municipalities in which boards or city councils pass resolutions with no binding authority on law enforcement, Mikalsen said.

Mikalsen said the bill was held up by Republicans who raised concerns about the impact on businesses that rely on immigrant labor.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he was reviewing the bill but has not indicated its chances of passing this session.

“We should be thanking them instead of coming up with ways to racially profile and harass. They’re a critical part of our state economy.” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera

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