'Sanctuary Prohibition': Proposed immigration bill raising red flags in Michigan

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

A bill introduced in the Michigan House just one day before the Trump administration issued an executive order banning persons from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States is raising concerns among some who serve communities with significant immigrant populations.

Alex Vernon, director of University of Detroit Mercy School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, said HB 4105, the “Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act,” introduced on January 26, will require local governments to enforce immigration policies that are currently the responsibility of Immigrant Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents.

It “would drive vulnerable people further underground,” Vernon said of the bill that aims to “prohibit local units of government from enacting or enforcing any law, ordinance, policy, or rule that limits local officials, officers, or employees from communicating or cooperating with appropriate federal officials concerning the immigration status of individuals; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain local officers, officials, and employees; to provide for certain reporting requirements; and to prescribe penalties.”

In addition, the proposed legislation requires a police officer “who has probable cause to believe that an individual under arrest is not legally present in the United States,” to report that person to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, potentially creating distrust between law enforcement and the community, Vernon said.

“Some law enforcement agencies have used best efforts to encourage people to feel confident in trusting law enforcement and reporting situations when they or people around them feel threatened,” Vernon said. “All it takes is one bad situation to get around in the community to undermine those efforts. Imagine the damage a policy reversal would do, whereby the administration is encouraging a situation whereby any contact with law enforcement whether as a victim, witness or accused could lead to deportation.”

Recalling a visa issue he handled, Vernon said the proposed legislation would penalize refugees who come into contact with law enforcement for reasons unrelated to their immigrant status.

“My very first visa case came as a result of just such a situation. A woman was assaulted violently by her partner who then kidnapped their children and absconded out of the U.S. When her family called 911, the responding sheriff’s deputy demanded to know what the immigration status of all the people standing around was and informed them they had to stay put while he made a call to ICE, (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” Vernon said.

“Fortunately, when that call was made, the ICE officer routed it to a victim services specialist who advised the deputy to treat the victim as a victim, not an accused, and then that victim services specialist reached out to me. Now imagine what would have happened had those folks been put in immigration proceedings instead.”

Like Vernon, State Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) thinks HB 4105 will encumber local police agencies by asking them to divert resources from criminal activity to policing members of immigrant communities.

“Obviously, we want our police officers to have the ability to protect and to serve. But it is short-sighted and unfair to ask local officers to be the eyes and the ears of Homeland Security by doing a job that requires the training that U.S. Immigration Custom Enforcement agents have,” Guerra said. “If there is a crime happening on one side of the city, such as a home invasion, we want the focus to be on genuinely protecting the community by responding to actual crimes rather than threats based on profiling. I don’t think it’s the best use for our resources.”

Michigan Immigrations Rights Center’s Managing Attorney Susan Reed said the bill will create “a tremendous burden” on municipalities by requiring them to report annually, in writing, to the Michigan Legislature the number of reports made to ICE by police who maintained they had probable cause to believe someone under arrest is not legally in the U.S.

“The overall theory of HB 4105 is attrition through law enforcement,” Reed said. “The aim is to make life as miserable as possible for immigrants so they’ll leave.”

Municipalities that do not report could risk the loss of state funds, according to Reed.

“Just imagine if yours is a community that hasn’t arrested anyone at all and you’ll have to turn in a report that said ‘zero,’” Reed said. “If you’re the chief of police getting ready to send in that report you might just say to one of your officers, ‘Why don’t you just go see what’s going on in one of our immigrant communities?’ The incentive to racially profile is incredible.”

Reed said HB 4105 is similar to a bill championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that would require the Kansas Highway Patrol to partner with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on immigration enforcement.

“HB 4105 does not specify what factors would give rise to that probable cause determination for a local officer.” Reed said. “It’s broader than a requirement to report undocumented people, it’s a requirement to report people who seem like they are probably undocumented.”
 

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