- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Republican-backed bill to ban sanctuary policies by most public agencies in Kentucky started advancing after an emotional hearing Thursday. Opponents predicted the measure would spread fear among immigrants despite assurances that there’s no cause for concern.

The measure - plunging Kentucky lawmakers into the immigration issue - cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee after a nearly two-hour hearing. It’s expected to easily pass the full Senate, perhaps in coming days. It would still need House approval to reach the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 1 would prohibit public entities including city and county governments from adopting sanctuary policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Most agencies would be required to cooperate with federal immigration agents . Local law enforcement agencies would be required to “use their best efforts, considering available resources,” to help federal law enforcement.

Exemptions are carved out for school districts and employees of such agencies as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, public advocacy offices and public health departments.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has noted that Kentucky has no sanctuary cities, but the bill’s lead sponsor said the preemptive approach is needed.

“The question is are we going to enforce the laws of this country and our commonwealth, or are we going to ignore them?” said Republican Sen. Danny Carroll of Paducah. “We owe it to our people to ensure the safety of our people.”

Supporters said the bill wouldn’t trigger immigration crackdowns by local police agencies. Republican Rep. John Blanton said the bill “should not scare any family or any individual.”

Their assurances didn’t ease concerns among opponents.

Civil liberties advocates and immigration attorneys warned the legislation would create turmoil for immigrants and result in racial profiling. The bill would make law-abiding immigrants even more reluctant to have contact with public agencies, they said.

“These are the individuals that we’re talking about who are going to be swept up under SB1,” immigration rights advocate Ron Russell told the committee.

Russell also said most local police officers are not trained to enforce immigration law.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities in Louisville, said the bill is based on a “”fundamentally flawed narrative” linking immigrant communities to crime.

Supporters countered that the bill’s goal is to ensure cooperation at local, state and federal levels to enforce U.S. immigration laws. It would not spur “pro-active” enforcement of immigration laws by state or local law enforcement agencies, which lack staffing to do so, supporters said.

“There’s not going to be a run on going out and arresting and looking for someone in this state that is here illegally,” Blanton said.

The bill would require most public employees to use their “best efforts” to help enforce federal immigration laws in response to “legal and valid” requests. It would not create an expectation that public employees take proactive steps to enforce those laws.

It would allow law enforcement agencies to adopt policies limiting when officers could ask about the nationality and immigration status of a crime victim or witness. Such rules could allow those questions only if the information is pertinent to an investigation or to help someone obtain a visa.

The hearing turned emotional as some bill opponents recounted their families’ struggles as immigrants. Francisco Serrano, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the bill would create turmoil for many immigrants due to its “unintended effects.” The consequences would include separating families and racial profiling, he said.

“SB1 would create circumstances that would require me to provide that I am a U.S. citizen because to some I may appear to be from another country,” he said.

Serrano said he was born and raised in Bowling Green. His relatives started coming to this country to flee civil war in Central America.

“The only available option to safety was to begin walking toward a better future, toward the American border,” he said. “My family didn’t cross the border to make trouble for the United States. No, they crossed it out of desperation.”

Carroll said the measure deals with law enforcement issues, not immigration policy.

“I want immigrants to be here,” Carroll said. “I want them to be here legally. We need them here. We need them for the workforce.”

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