Gov. John Bel Edwards: AG Jeff Landry is testing boundaries _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD – Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry testify in June for legislation that would prohibit local governments and state agencies from adopting “sanctuary” policies that limit local law enforcement’s cooperation on pursuing illegal immigrants.

Louisiana could ban so-called “sanctuary cities” under a bill — which advanced through its first hurdle of the Legislature on Thursday — that takes aim at New Orleans and Lafayette.

A sanctuary city is a label for cities that have policies or local laws in place that limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Typically, these jurisdictions have a policy in place that says they will not respond to requests from ICE to hold individuals in jail beyond the time of their legal release while ICE determines their legal status. In Louisiana, New Orleans and Lafayette are considered sanctuary cities by this definition.

House Bill 151, by state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would prohibit local governments and state agencies from adopting sanctuary policies and penalizes them by taking away their ability to borrow money for major infrastructure projects — a process that goes through the state bond commission. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee without opposition and now goes to the full House for consideration.

Hodges, who testified on her bill Thursday, was backed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has become one of the nation’s most well-known crusaders against illegal immigration.

Kobach said it’s dangerous for governments to refuse to comply with the ICE detainment requests, because, “When ICE is calling you, it’s because they’ve identified that person as an extremely dangerous person or gang member. It’s someone they really want out of this country.”

He said Louisiana is on its way to being the next national headline for a gruesome crime committed by an immigrant who lives in the country illegally, likening New Orleans to San Francisco, another sanctuary city, where last year a woman was shot by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times.

“I hope you can act because it’s almost inevitable,” Kobach told the committee, referring specifically to New Orleans. “Because of the high number of aliens and the high numbers of people there.”

Landry testified that unauthorized immigrants are a financial burden on the state. He said there are more than 5,300 undocumented immigrants on the federal food stamps program in Louisiana. And they account for $3.2 million in costs to the state prisons and $16 million in Medicaid costs.

Hodges and other legislators favoring the bill said sanctuary cities are flagrantly violating federal law, while opponents said the immigration detainment orders can actually violate due process rights.

“What we don’t want is a city that is harboring criminals,” Hodges said. “There is a front door to coming to America and it’s un-American to say we’re not cooperating with the federal government and we’re not cooperating with ICE.”

Susan Weishar, an immigration specialist with the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University, said the policies actually promote public safety.

For example, if an undocumented couple is in a domestic abuse situation, the victim could be less likely to report the incident if he or she was afraid that it would result in a deportation.

“It promotes public safety and it builds on the trust that community members need to have with local law enforcement,” she said.

She also noted that in New Orleans, immigrants are part of the fabric of the community and the city owes them respect and gratitude for their part in restoring the infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina.

A study by Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina found that about 50 percent of the workers who helped in the restoration effort were Hispanic, and half of those were undocumented immigrants.

“There’s hypocrisy in saying, ‘Oh, we need your work, our economy couldn’t exist without you, where would we have been without you after Hurricane Katrina,’ and then 10 years later to say, ‘Let’s do anything I can to get rid of you,’ ” she said.

New Orleans’ sanctuary laws were originally spelled out in a 2012 federal consent decree that Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed with the U.S. Department of Justice, which restricted officers from questioning “victims or witnesses to crime” about their immigration status.

The policies were expanded in 2013 as the result of a class action lawsuit filed by two men who were jailed on the immigration detainers for months after their legal release dates. As part of the settlement, Sheriff Marlin Gusman implemented procedures that say deputies “shall not initiate any immigration status investigation into individuals in Sheriff’s Office custody or affirmatively provide information on an inmate’s release date or address to ICE.”

More recently the New Orleans Police Department established new rules that restrict officers from asking about immigration status unless there’s a life-threatening situation or unless the questions could be necessary to execute warrants or other court orders.

New Orleans-area legislators on Thursday questioned whether the proposed law banning sanctuary laws would put New Orleans at odds with the federal consent decree.

Hayne Rainey, spokesman for Landrieu, said city officials consulted with ICE and other federal officials when drafting their “bias free policing policy.”

“NOPD will continue to work with federal immigration officials when there is a criminal warrant or following a crime, but their priority is going after violent criminals, not raiding churches and markets to intimidate immigrant communities or working with ICE to rip mothers from their young children,” Rainey said in a statement.

In Lafayette, Sheriff Mike Neustrom implemented policies in 2014 saying that he would not honor the immigration detainment requests without a court order.

While Lafayette fits the bill, Neustrom, who leaves office in July, rejects the notion that it’s a sanctuary city. Sheriff-elect Mark Garber doesn’t appear poised for change, as he has stated he would comply with the federal detainment requests only if ICE pledged to support the Sheriff’s Office in the event of a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter and former Gov. Bobby Jindal have both been vocal in their opposition, particularly to New Orleans. Jindal previously told The Advocate that New Orleans’ policies made them “partners in crime with illegal aliens who commit crimes in New Orleans.”

Vitter sought legislation to block federal law enforcement dollars from going to sanctuary cities, but his legislation was defeated by a vote of the U.S. Senate.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.