A state Senate panel has delayed action on a bill that seeks to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” that have policies favorable to undocumented immigrants.
After about an hour of discussion Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary A Committee delayed action on House Bill 1148 because of timing. Committee Chair Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, said discussion will resume next week.
Under the proposed measure, which has already won approval in the House, Louisiana cities that adopt policies that shield undocumented immigrants could lose the ability to borrow money for major infrastructure projects. The bill, in its current form, would leave it to the state Attorney General to determine which jurisdictions have adopted sanctuary city policies.
Several senators on the judiciary panel voiced concerns over handing the power to the AG’s office, rather than the court.
“I think what we’re doing here is very serious and we need more than an Attorney General opinion,” said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie. “I don’t think it should be a one-man show.”
The bill’s goal is to eliminate immigration-related “sanctuary cities” — jurisdictions that have policies or laws that allow local law enforcement to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials, unless they are compelled to by a court.
New Orleans and Lafayette are the only places in Louisiana that are considered sanctuary cities.
Attorney General Jeff Landry testified in favor of the bill on Tuesday.
“Some people want to confer illegals more rights than our citizens, and I think that is wrong,” he said.
The bill would give the state attorney general the authority to deem local jurisdictions as sanctuary cities if they adopt any policy that limits cooperation with federal authorities in determining or reporting the immigration status of people in the country illegally. Under federal law, the fingerprints of people who are booked into local jails are supposed to be sent to the federal government to check their immigration status. If in violation, they are to be held until Immigration and Customs Enforcement can begin the deportation process.
New Orleans police are effectively barred from assisting with any aspect of federal immigration enforcement, following a consent decree agreement that the city signed with the federal government over complaints about the treatment of immigrants.
Several lawmakers have questioned whether the proposed measure would force New Orleans to violate that agreement.
Landry said that he has reached out to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for clarification, noting that no answer in 15 days would be taken as a green light from the federal government. Landry said he never heard back.
The senators serving on the committee said they generally agree that local jurisdictions shouldn’t be able to thwart federal immigration laws.
“I don’t think anybody sitting up here is in favor of sanctuary cities,” Martiny said. “Let’s do it the right way if we’re going to do it.”
Various proposals discussed but not acted on would change the bill to shift power to the court to determine whether a city has adopted policies that protect undocumented immigrants or change the punishment to contempt orders for officials, rather than limiting bonding capacity.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican from Denham Springs who is sponsoring the bill, said she worried that the teeth could be removed from the bill.
She read a list of headlines related to crimes reportedly committed by undocumented immigrants in Louisiana, including allegations of rape and murder.
“We have a rampant problem that we need to deal with,” Hodges said.