Michigan Senate GOP: Penalize counties that don’t cooperate with ICE

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Saheeda Perveen Nadeem sits in the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in downtown Kalamazoo, Mich., on Monday, March 12, 2018, the day she was scheduled for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The church has offered sanctuary to the Pakistani who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years and who's 20-year-old son is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Lansing — Senate Republicans are proposing financial penalties for Michigan counties that fail to fully cooperate with detainment requests by federal immigration authorities, setting up a state and local clash on the national issue. 

Democrats objected to the Senate Corrections Budget, which would withhold jail funding for any county that enacts or enforces a rule that limits communication or cooperation with federal immigration officials. The Michigan Department of Corrections also opposes the language and fears it could have broader budget impacts.

But the penalty provision is designed to encourage county sheriffs to cooperate with federal authorities responsible for deporting immigrants suspected of entering the country illegally, said Sen. Tom Barrett, the Potterville Republican who chairs the corrections budget subcommittee. 

“I think this is good to require, good to maintain, and I think it should be expected of all of our law enforcement that they work in a cooperative and collaborative fashion,” Barrett said. “And this boilerplate just ensures that cooperation is encouraged.” 

The proposal could have significant ramifications for sheriff’s departments in areas like Kent County, which changed its policy in January after jailing a U.S. Citizen and Marine combat veteran who had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

After backlash over the incident, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office announced it will only house detainees for ICE if the federal agency presents an arrest warrant signed by a federal magistrate or judge. 

Michigan State Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon described a similar policy in a 2017 memo a position that "concerned" federal authorities. Ingham, Kalamazoo and Washtenaw counties reportedly have similar policies as well. 

Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, proposed an amendment that would have stripped the immigration cooperation penalty language from the budget, calling it more of a political statement by Republicans than a meaningful policy action.

“The majority is trying to make all of these things into political issues, and make national political issues local issues, and I just don’t think that’s appropriate in this space,” Hollier said. 

It is also a local control issue, he argued.

“It doesn’t make sense," Hollier said. "These are folks who believe in federalism, who believe in separation of the different forms of government in different states.”

The Senate budget is the latest attempt by legislative Republicans to curb “sanctuary” policies or punish local governments that enact them.  

The House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee last month advanced legislation that would prohibit local units of government from preventing law enforcement officers from discussing immigration status of an individual with federal authorities. 

The GOP-led Senate appropriations committee on Wednesday approved the corrections budget, which now heads to the full chamber for consideration. The House is beginning this week to unveil its own budget bills. 

The proposal would withhold funding for uncooperative communities that otherwise would be reimbursed for housing in jails certain felons who otherwise would have been sentenced to a state prison.

The Department of Corrections fears the language could affect cases “that are completely unrelated to the immigration issue,” said spokesman Chris Gautz.

“This will lead to more people being sent to prison, whom otherwise could have served time in their county jail, been closer to their community and not have to carry the stigma of having served time in prison which we know can make it harder to find employment upon release,” he said.

Kent County currently receives about $1.1 million a year in jail reimbursement funding and Wayne County receives about $1.5 million, according to Gautz. Other communities that could be affected include Kalamazoo and Washtenaw counties, which receive about $975,000 and $520,000 in reimbursement funding, respectively.

Cutting that funding could put more inmates back in state prisons and ultimately cost the state more if it is forced to reopen closed housing units or increase staffing, Gautz said.

Barrett said he had not heard those concerns from the Department of Corrections and is not sure how much of a financial impact the budget penalty language could have on counties with policies requiring a warrant for ICE detainments.

“We’ll just have to explore that,” he said. “But again, I think as a matter of good course of practice we ought to have law enforcement working collaboratively together.”

The proposed budget penalty is not intended to specifically target Kent County, which changed its policy after housing a detained Marine veteran, said Barrett, an Army veteran and current member of the Michigan National Guard.

“There are going to be instances where there is a miscarriage of justice, and when that happens, we ought to seek to correct that,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t enforce laws in the state of Michigan.”

The corrections proposal is among a series of Senate spending bills advancing to the floor as lawmakers look to finalize the fiscal year 2020 budget in coming months despite a long-term road funding dispute with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has proposed a 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike that Republicans oppose.