At the Capitol on Thursday, a controversial bill restricting “sanctuary” policies by local units of government was the subject of a day-long hearing. A Senate committee took testimony on the bill, based on a Texas law already the subject of court challenges.
“I have a philosophical problem with this bill, and taking power away from local governments,” said Senator Robert Wirch, a Kenosha County Democrat who serves on the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform.
The bill’s author, Whitewater Republican Senator Steve Nass, charged that sanctuary policies can protect vicious criminals in the country illegally, and cited multiple instances of crimes committed by such individuals.
“I don’t want to protect those kind of people, at all,” said Nass. “And there are sanctuary city policies that allow them to escape justice. That’s wrong.”
Darryl Morin, a spokesman for the Wisconsin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, testified against the bill, which he said would “send a message of fear and division,” while driving a wedge between immigrant communities and law enforcement.
Those concerns were echoed by Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Madison Police Chief Mike Koval.
Among the provisions of the bill from Nass is one requiring municipalities and counties to comply with “detainers” issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Mahoney explained why that would present a problem for Wisconsin’s 72 sheriffs departments.
“An ICE hold as it relates to local law enforcement is a request,” Mahoney said. “It’s not a warrant signed by a federal judge. It’s a request.”
Mahoney said that if an individual – even one in the U.S. illegally – makes bail or completes a jail sentence, he’s constitutionally prohibited from detaining that person. “Being in our country undocumented is a civil issue, it’s not a criminal (issue.) And ICE would tell you that their hold is no more than a request.”
Koval implored lawmakers to work on providing drivers licenses to undocumented residents of Wisconsin. “Not to be used as any other form of official ID, and just to make people not feel this sense of angst and apprehension every time they put the key in the ignition.”
The bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate, 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 U.S. illegally or assisting with immigration enforcement.
Similar legislation passed the Assembly last year but failed to advance in the Senate, and Governor Scott Walker said he was “fine with” that outcome.