Bill to eliminate “sanctuary cities” sparks outrage

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval testified against a bill that would sanction cities for preventing law enforcement from asking about a person's immigration status.

Image By: Emily Buck

A bill that would forbid local Wisconsin governments from passing laws prohibiting law enforcement from questioning crime suspects about their immigration status drew hundreds to an initial hearing Wednesday and scorn from local immigration experts.

The bill, authored by state Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, would penalize communities who enact so-called “sanctuary city” policies by tightening the flow of shared state revenues by $500 to $5,000 for each day of noncompliance. He identified Madison, Milwaukee and Racine as communities who would currently fall under noncompliance.

The proposal was sparked by the murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, a sanctuary city. Steinle was shot in 2015 by an undocumented immigrant who had recently been released by police. Spiros wants to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in Wisconsin.

“The bill’s scope is to protect our citizens,” Spiros said.

Milwaukee County Sheriff and regular Fox News contributor David A. Clarke Jr. echoed Spiros, saying, “when you create a sanctuary city you are creating a safe haven for criminal aliens.”

Immigrant Justice director and Wisconsin Law School professor Stacy Taeuber opposes the bill, claiming that dire warnings from Sheriff Clarke and others are myths. Instead, she asserts that sanctuary policies actually help maintain community safety and cohesion by fostering trust between law enforcement and the entire community.

“Everyone in the community is safer when no one has to fear calling the police when they are the victim of a crime, or when they witness a crime, or have information about a crime,” Taeuber said. “Do we want people to be afraid to seek medical care for themselves or a loved one out of fear that their nurse or doctor or the receptionist will call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]?”

According to Taeuber, today’s reaction against sanctuary policy is part of a greater groundswell among nativist groups and politicians like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who wasted no time politicizing Steinle’s 2015 murder in San Francisco.

“I think the facts of that case had nothing to do with sanctuary policies but that became the rallying cry against conservatives,” Taeuber said. “These policies … don’t apply in cases where an individual has a more serious criminal record. The recent backlash is part of the general growth in anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner sentiment, much of which is being stirred up by the far right-wing Republicans and of course by the candidates.”

“I had a case where a Honduran woman went to the Dane County Courthouse for a family court matter and she had her twin babies with her,” Taeuber recalled. “ICE detained her in the hallway and made her leave her babies with her sister. Does that make anyone safer?”

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