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State House considers bills to force local law enforcement to work with feds on immigration

Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - agents
U.S. Air Force
Creative Commons

Local law enforcement would be required to cooperate with federal immigration officers, under a pair of bills that moved forward in Lansing Tuesday.

A number of people spoke out against the bills at a hearing of the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee. 

One of them was Maria Salazar. She told lawmakers if the bill becomes law, she’s afraid it will lead to more racial profiling and discrimination by police.

“I’m a U.S. citizen but I am afraid of them,” she told the lawmakers. “My kids are US citizens and they are afraid of the police officers.”

Salazar described an experience where she said she was pulled over by local police, and asked about her immigration status.  

One of the bills’ sponsors says the intent isn’t to discriminate.

“Nowhere in this bill is discrimination based on a person’s race, ethnicity, gender or any other description, tolerated,” said Republican state Rep. Pamela Hornberger.

But Kimberly Buddin with the ACLU of Michigan said, regardless of intent, the bills could increase the targeting of people perceived as being immigrants.

“Law enforcement agencies may end up feeling pressured into participating in immigration enforcement activities, or going against their standard practices at the insistence of ICE, in order to uphold that provision,” Buddin said.

Other lawmakers questioned whether the bill is even necessary.

“Do we have law enforcement agencies that are arresting people on warrants and they are not taking them to prison or jail like they should be?” asked Democratic representative John Chirkun.

“I hope not,” responded Rep. Hornberger.

Chirkun went on.

“So why is this so direly needed today?”

“Just clarification for our peace officers,” Hornberger responded.

Wayne, Ingham and Kent Counties have all created policies in recent years to deny so called “detainer requests” by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Complying with the requests is voluntary.

Prior to January of this year, Kent County was one of the counties that chose to comply.

But that changed after ICE officers detained a U.S. citizen and combat veteran for three days. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department had turned the man over to ICE based on a detainer request. After the mistake, Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said she was outraged. She said her department would only honor future requests if they came with a warrant signed by a judge.

At the hearing in Lansing on Tuesday, it wasn’t clear if these local policies would even be affected by the new bills, if they become law.

Hornberger said she wasn’t sure if the policies in Wayne, Ingham and Kent Counties would be in compliance with the bills.

Kimberly Buddin of the ACLU of Michigan said that was evidence the bills are “incredibly vague.”

The Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee passed the bills on a party-line vote after the hearing. The bills now move to the House Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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