State Proposal Could Penalize Cities for Helping Undocumented Immigrants

Michigan cities claiming sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants and refugees could face harsh financial penalties under legislation being proposed in Lansing. House Bill 41-05 reinforces the executive order signed by President Trump threatening economic sanctions for communities that choose to ignore federal immigration laws.

The term “sanctuary city” is loosely defined by President Trump as any community that chooses not to cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. Christine Sauve is Senior Program Coordinator at the Welcoming Michigan Project. She says by that definition, Michigan does not have any cities that qualify as a sanctuary city. “A recent survey done by a national organization that looked at policies that might qualify as that pointed out that Washtenaw County and Leelanau County have the least cooperation with immigration enforcement. And again, that’s not ‘no cooperation’ but it was the least in Michigan. So, by the executive orders definition, we don’t have any true sanctuary jurisdictions in Michigan.”

Sauve says administrative practices are not considered a violation of law. She says it has to be a policy written into law. Detroit officials did just that, calling it “non-solicitation of status.”

 “Local law enforcement will not ask immigration status in the routine course of business unless specifically warranted. So if it’s a serious crime then they may still have the option of finding out someone’s immigration status. But if it’s a routine encounter, that does not require it, there’s policies that cities like the city of Detroit have on the books that say we won’t ask immigration status,” Sauve said.

But Sauve adds that even if a practice is not written into statute, there is some gray area that may have implications for local law enforcement agencies

Sometimes immigration enforcement will ask local police to hold that person, because they have some interest in that person. That is a duty of federal immigration enforcement and not local police. So local police are not paid to do that additional duty. And if they see no other reason to hold that person, they let that person go.”

Sauve says similar actions might qualify a community as a sanctuary jurisdiction. That’s part of the reason why Michigan Senator Mike Kowall first introduced sanctuary city legislation last year. “What we’re looking to do is if someone is picked up by a local unit of government for a crime and they are found to have wants and warrants from other jurisdictions, for other crimes, those are the people that we’re talking about turning over to … immigration services” Kowall said.

Last year Senator Kowall introduced the sanctuary city legislation after a woman in San Francisco was killed by an immigrant from Mexico. But the bill stalled in committee.

Last week freshman Republican State Representative Pamela Hornberger from Chesterfield Township introduced virtually the same bill in the House. Hornberger did not return calls for comment on her bill. But Kowall says he, too, may reintroduce his legislation this session. “The reason we didn’t move it forward is because there were some things that we were questioning. Number one, whether we were doing it the correct way. Number two, we were checking some of the constitutionalities of the language, just to make sure it was correct”, he said.

But similar legislation in Arizona that was enacted into law, ended up in the Supreme Court.  “Very similar to the SB 1070 law that was passed in Arizona and many of the provisions of that law were stuck down by the U-S Supreme Court because they lead to profiling”, Sauve said. 

Like President Trump’s executive order on immigration, which threatens to withhold federal funding to communities, Michigan’s legislation would penalize communities by, among other things, withholding revenue sharing.

Chris Hackbarth is the State and Federal Affairs Director for the Michigan Municipal League. He says the organization fought Kowall’s bill last year and will fight Hornberger’s bill this year. Hackbarth said “It actually requires every local government in Michigan to submit a report on their actions whether they have a sanctuary city policy or not.”

Hackbarth says the proposed legislation includes unfunded mandates and additional requirements on all local governments. He says it would even include influencing police procedures. “You’re training police officers to do certain things that they are required to do today. If you get pulled over in a traffic stop, do you get asked what your legal status is? No, I don’t, I’ve never been asked my legal status. So if it’s not a standard operating procedure, why is the legislature now, all of the sudden, through this language, making this a part of the process?”

Hackbarth says he doesn’t see the proposed legislation going far. He says even if it were to pass it would most likely be challenged in court before it would be enacted. 


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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

About the Author

Amy Miller


Amy has been working in public and commercial radio for the last 30 yrs. She is an award winning reporter and news anchor, born and raised in Detroit.   Follow @wdetamy

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