Groups protest as Senate committee hears bill to crack down on sanctuary cities

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Hundreds from across the state gathered at the Capitol Thursday to protest a GOP bill that would crack down on sanctuary cities.

Speaker after speaker voiced concerns the legislation could open the door to turning law enforcement into immigration officials, while driving a wedge between police and undocumented immigrants that could lead to fewer crimes being reported out of fear of deportation.

But bill author Sen. Steve Nass countered repeatedly before the Senate Labor and Regulatory Reform Committee that his bill looks to target those undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes such as murder, assault, drunk driving and others. The Whitewater Republican said the bill wouldn’t affect any law-abiding residents.

“The bill is directed specifically at illegal aliens that have committed a crime,” he said. “It simply requires a local municipality to follow state and federal law.”

The bill would ban local governments from protecting those who are living in the country illegally by passing local ordinances obstructing enforcement of federal immigration laws, as well as require local municipalities and counties to comply with detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But if a local government did violate the law, an attorney general, district attorney or sheriff could file a writ of mandamus with the circuit court to require the community to comply. If a court were to find a failure to comply, the Department of Revenue would then reduce the local government’s shared revenue payments in the next year by between $500 and $5,000 per day of noncompliance, depending on its population.

Opponents of the bill filled the Senate Labor and Regulatory Reform Committee hearing and packed a nearby hallway and other overflow spaces. They argued Nass’ bill would only push undocumented immigrants who fall victim to crime “further into the shadows,” ultimately jeopardizing everyone’s safety.

“With this kind of bill, there is large fear, they don’t want to see anybody in uniform because they’re afraid their immigration status is going to come up,” said Tony Gonzalez, who works as an interpreter in Wausau.

Nass responded that while he understands the concern, he again said the bill looks to “get at the criminal element, period.”

“This is not a roundup,” he said.

And Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said the bill would give law enforcement the authority to inquire into someone’s immigration status, which in turn would lead to “more racial profiling, more discrimination.”

“(People here) know the reality of what this invites, what this opens the door to,” she said.

Others, meanwhile, said immigration enforcement is the fed’s’ responsibility, and should not be put on the backs of local units of government.

Milwaukee Alder Jose Perez said the bill would “produce an inestimable drain on finite local resources” while discouraging “some of our most vulnerable populations” from reporting crimes.

“We believe that the local municipalities should focus on making our communities safer rather than fostering an environment of fear,” he said.

But Nass said his bill only looks to ensure that local governments “have to follow the law.”

A similar bill, which faced strong opposition last session, passed the Assembly last year but died in the Senate.

A spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker said the guv would review the bill if it gets to his desk.

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