- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Senators said Tuesday they may have a bipartisan way of allowing local police to cooperate with federal immigration agents, saying Congress could pass a law granting the localities protection from liability lawsuits brought by illegal immigrants who claim they were detained too long.

Sen. Ron Johnson said it could be a “pretty simple fix” to much of the sanctuary city fight that’s raging across the country.

“Let’s pass a law to give those local law enforcement officials liability protection,” the Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said. “That could clear up this whole difference.”

Sanctuary cities vary in their degree of refusal to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. Some communities are eager to defy the federal government, while others are reluctant, saying they would cooperate but either local courts or their local government lawyers have said they incur liability by detaining immigrants for federal agents.

Mr. Johnson’s liability protection wouldn’t solve the situation of the more committed sanctuaries, but could help those communities that want to cooperate but can’t because of local legal advice.

He floated his idea at a hearing Tuesday with Homeland Security Committee John F. Kelly, who had just had a stern exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who was defending sanctuary cities against federal threats of losing money.

Put on the spot by Mr. Johnson, Ms. Harris said she would be open to the civil liability protection bill.

“I would support any fix that would not pull funding for local law enforcement to meet the demands that they face around combatting terrorism,” Ms. Harris, a former California attorney general, said.

“Great. So this could be a bipartisan solution,” Mr. Johnson said, moving to lock in Ms. Harris’s cooperation.

The issue of liability is popping up across the country.

Henrico County in Virginia recently settled a lawsuit brought by an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who sued after the local jail held him for federal agents, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The immigrant had served his time for drunken driving but the jail held him longer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to pick him up.

The Virginia Sheriff’s Association told the newspaper it had been watching the case to see what effect it would have on local authorities’ ability to cooperate with ICE.

ICE asks communities to notify deportation officers when an immigrant target is slated for release from prison or jail, and in many cases asks the local authorities to hold the person for up to 48 hours, until federal officers can show up to take custody.

Many communities say they will comply with the notification, but say they cannot hold someone for longer without a warrant. ICE warrants are administrative, which for some communities isn’t a solid enough legal basis.

Ms. Harris said that leaves communities caught between competing forces. Their local legal advisers often tell them they can’t fully cooperate, while the Justice Department has warned it will strip federal grant money from jurisdictions that don’t play ball.

Mr. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary, said he’s sympathetic to those concerns, and said he tries, quietly, to work with local authorities who do want to cooperate, to see if they can find an arrangement. It’s similar to the approach taken by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who tried to work out agreements with recalcitrant cities and counties.

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