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Some state lawmakers move to crack down on “sanctuary cities”

A Michigan State Police file photo.
Michigan State Police

Police would have to report anybody they arrest to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if there’s “probable cause” to think they’re “not legally present in the United States.”

That’s under a new billintroduced in the state House of Representatives last month. It’s now heading to the Local Government committee.

At the risk of losing state funding, cities, townships and counties would also have to give all employees “written notice” that it’s their “duty to cooperate with … the enforcement of federal and state immigration laws.”

Police would also be required to tell the state how many people they report to ICE each year.

But some law enforcement officers aren’t fans.

“It makes our job more challenging, and I think it makes the community less safe,” says Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton. If a teenager witnesses domestic abuse at home, he says, “in the situation where they don’t have to worry about whether somebody’s going to be deported, possibly at that point the teenager calls 911.

“But if there’s a fear that law enforcement comes to the house, and not only might the one spouse allegedly involved in domestic violence get taken to jail, now the other spouse who is undocumented and who is the victim, now runs the risk of getting deported.  

“Now for that teenager, does he or she make that call? And there’s a high likelihood that they don’t make that call,” Clayton says. “That that domestic abuse continues.”

But one of the bill’s co-sponsors, stateRep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp., says he thinks that’s “a dodge.”

“You hear things about Trump’s threat of taking away dollars [from sanctuary cities.] Let’s go back: Barack Obama was threatening to take away dollars for whether we chose the right bathrooms. You can’t choose which laws you’re going to follow and which you can’t. We had a president that did that. We have a president now that’s very interested in the rule of law. And I think that things ought to start being followed.”

So what would Representative Kelly tell law enforcement officers like Sheriff Clayton?

“I just think, ‘They [the undocumented immigrants] are breaking the law. America is not here to harbor criminals. That’s not our job, that’s not your job as the city. We don’t raise taxes to protect these people. They’re using services that are taken away from law-abiding citizens and ought to be removed.’”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, says they’re discussing this bill at their next board of directors meeting.

“We want to take a look at it before we form any opinions about it,” he says. “We’ve got some questions right up front, like: how do we establish probable cause on it? Because that in and of itself could be an issue.”

Rep. Kelly says establishing probable cause “should not be that complicated.”

“I mean, whether it’s a traffic stop or any kind of thing,” Rep. Kelly says. “We’ve had too many years of kind of lax following of these rules, and I think it’s time to stop. And I think we’ve got a president now that’s willing to back that up.”

For instance: in the course of doing their work, Kelly says, law enforcement would ask, "Where’s your driver’s license? Do you not have a drivers’ license? Where’s your green card, where’s this, you know? I don’t think that this should be that complicated.”

So if somebody can’t produce a driver’s license, would that be probable cause to report them to ICE?

“Yeah!” Kelly says. “Well, one, you’re driving without a license, if in fact it was a traffic violation. I think there’s all sorts of things. If you don’t have the right kind of documentation or ID, then clearly you’re subject to further investigation.”

But Kelly says he doesn’t worry that the law would lead to racial profiling.

“No, you’re not looking for something [as a police officer,] it’s in routine stops and routine actions. If somebody happens to be a particular, uh, a non-white – no. I don’t think you’re not, you’re not targeting. That’s not what this is about. In course of their normal activity, law enforcement activity, and you come across certain things, then they report it.

“This isn’t about profiling. This isn’t about color of skin. The opposition wants to make this about color of skin,” Kelly says. “It’s not.”

Sheriff Koops says he’s got “several members that are opposed to [this bill] already.”

“We do support other law enforcement agencies [like ICE] but that doesn’t mean we’re going out look for immigration violations,” he says. 

A similar bill to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities" was floated in 2015. This time around, however, is different, Kelly says. 

"I think that you've got a different climate. And that you've got a different administration in Washington. I don't know how far this is going to go. I can only tell my constituents, and people are the state, that I support it," he says.

Requests to interview the bill's primary sponsor, State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Twp., were not returned. 

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Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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