- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A bid to punish jurisdictions that don’t follow federal immigration law has advanced in the Louisiana House, and turned lawmakers’ attention to New Orleans.

The bill targets so-called “sanctuary cities” - jurisdictions that don’t enforce federal immigration law without a court order. Backers of the measure said Orleans and Lafayette parishes are viewed as sanctuary jurisdictions.

Attorney General Jeff Landry has supported the proposal, saying noncompliant cities may be inviting to terrorists and raise fiscal, legal and medical concerns. The proposal would empower the state attorney general to determine if a city or parish was operating as a sanctuary city.

The bill by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would keep those municipalities from getting approval from the state for borrowing money by allowing the State Bond Commission to deny requests until localities align with federal and state law. That could stall items like construction projects.

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the measure for full debate by the chamber.

Lawmakers debated whether it would promote racial profiling or unfairly penalize cities under federal consent decrees. But no one objected to the bill’s advancement.

The panel largely looked to New Orleans, which currently operates under a federal consent decree that Rep. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, said directly conflicts with Hodges’ proposal. The decree says city police “shall not initiate an investigation or take law enforcement action” based on perceived immigration status, among other guidelines.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the panel Thursday that noncompliant cities operate by not asking or questioning immigration status, by not reporting immigration violations as required by federal law or by not upholding detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Laws against “sweeping sanctuary policy” protect citizens from law enforcement’s release of dangerous criminals against ICE requests, he added. Landry cited ICE statistics, saying 1,867 illegals released by sanctuary cities last year were later arrested 4,298 times with 7,491 new crimes.

“It’s only a matter of time for New Orleans,” Kobach said, “before someone is released back onto the streets and goes on to commit a crime of violence.”

Harris said he did not support New Orleans’ federal consent decree, which others called “overly broad,” but he told the panel he did not want to pass final legislation that would result in financially “crippling a municipality or parish.”

Harris ultimately supported the bill under the understanding that Landry would write to the U.S. Attorney General to clarify whether New Orleans’ decree was meant to clash with federal immigration law.

The majority of pushback against the bill came from City of New Orleans representatives, who argued it could open police to future litigation on civil rights claims, as well as place them at odds with federal authorities. Opponents also said the measure was an affront to local governance and destroys public trust with immigrant communities.

Fernando Lopez, with the New Orleans-based community organization Congress of Day Laborers, argued “there’s no such thing as sanctuary cities (and) policies in Louisiana.” He said people use the terms because they are “sensitive,” but the cities are not part of a movement. They only follow guidelines from judges’ rulings and court settlements, he said.

Committee Chair Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, cautioned lawmakers to shape the legislation to hold public officials who violate state and federal law accountable, but spare members of the public who benefit from city funding. Hodges said she planned to continue to work with legislators to ensure the bill would serve its true intent.

The panel also passed what Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, called a “companion bill” without objection. Morris’ proposal establishes a cause of action for litigation by those injured by sanctuary city policies. The measure also heads to the full chamber for debate.


House Bill 151 and 453: www.legis.la.gov

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