Panel chair: House vote looms on sanctuary city ban

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A plan to block Michigan cities from adopting controversial “sanctuary city” policies could be sent to the full House for a vote in as soon as two weeks, a supportive GOP House panel chairman said Wednesday.

Freshman Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, who chairs the House Local Government Committee, said he’d like the panel to vote on the two bills in two weeks after overwhelmingly critical testimony on them.

Cities, townships and counties would be banned from adopting or enforcing local ordinances that limit “communicating or cooperating with appropriate federal officials concerning the immigration status of individuals,” according to the legislation.

The move follows a now-rescinded Lansing City Council ordinance that named Lansing a “sanctuary city” in which police do not inquire into immigration status. The council later revoked it amid concern from business leaders who argued the ordinance was too vague and could lead to a reduction in federal aid from President Donald Trump’s administration, which has threatened to cut funding for sanctuary cities.

Before the council revoked the ordinance, it drew swift and fiery criticism from three GOP Michigan congressmen who feared it would lead to retaliation from the Trump administration.

GOP bill sponsors Pamela Hornberger, of Chesterfield Township, and Matthew LaFave, of Iron Mountain, said the bills would ensure that local government follows the federal law and does not attempt to thwart federal immigration officials trying to deport undocumented immigrants.

Hornberger said the legislation would “empower” law enforcement “to do their jobs” and ensure they don’t violate their oath to uphold the law.

Critics of the proposed state legislation — including Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and immigrant rights groups — argued it would divert slim local resources to enforce federal immigration laws when local police and sheriff’s departments are strained to enforce state and local laws.

Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, called the legislation “morally wrong” and prompted by “xenophobia.” He argued that the bills were written too broadly and would inadvertently empower city or county officials who aren’t police officers to enforce immigration laws as well.

“There was no public outcry in support of this. The only people in support of this legislation are the sponsoring legislators. And I think that in two weeks when the committee resumes, we’re going to see a lot of Michigan residents upset that this is going to lead to racial profiling, ‘show-me-your-papers,’ ‘you look different than me,’ ‘I want to know where you came from.’ And that is not something we need in a civil society.”

Susan Reed, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, argued that it would lead to racial profiling in Michigan. Other opponents suggested that it could prompt overcrowded local jails to release criminals to make room for undocumented immigrants detained for federal immigration officials pending deportation.

Republican Rep. Jim Runestad, of White Lake, noted that police racial profiling is already outlawed by the Michigan constitution and the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.

Reed agreed, but suggested the bills would open local police and sheriff’s departments to litigation because it could pressure them into asking about individuals’ immigration status to create the appearance of complying with federal law.

In January, Trump signed an executive directive ordering Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to decide which communities are “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal agents and reduce their federal aid — except for funding designated for law enforcement.

But a federal judge later blocked any moves to withhold funding from such communities.