Video: Jefferson Parish Sheriff calls 'sanctuary cities' bill 'overarching bull----' before Senate panel rejects it _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand reviews an amendment Tuesday to legislation that would punish "sanctuary cities" in Louisiana. A Senate committee rejected the measure.

We’re not going to be able to match the table-pounding denunciation of the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, but we cannot help but agree with his indignation that legislators seek to make political hay out of immigration enforcement.

The sheriff said that while his department was not the target — New Orleans is the favorite whipping boy of lawmakers from upstate — the notion that legislators would micromanage policies in his parish angers him.

He’s right, and it is a continuing problem. But as we have always said about immigration politics, it is easier to inflame passions for headlines than deal with real-world solutions.

The notion that New Orleans and Lafayette law enforcement give “special rights” to immigrants or fail to collaborate with federal agencies on illegal immigration was the rationale for House Bill 1148 by state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs. The House waved the bill through, but senators questioned it closely and ultimately stalled it in the Judiciary A Committee.

In New Orleans, the police department’s policy is not to question the immigration status of witnesses and others who report crimes, following a consent decree agreement that the city signed with the federal government over complaints about the treatment of immigrants. New Orleans leaders deny the characterization of the city as a “sanctuary city” and say the consent decree is meant to encourage better relationships with the community that will lead to better policing.

Similarly, Lafayette has been called a “sanctuary city” because the parish Sheriff’s Office won’t hold people suspected of entering the country illegally for federal authorities past a certain period of time. Leaders there have rejected the city’s characterization as a “sanctuary city.”

The Hodges bill was poorly constructed, giving sole authority for the “sanctuary cities” designation to the attorney general and proposing a penalty that might have interfered with funding of building projects in the city so designated. There was dispute about the effect of the latter provisions, but Judiciary A senators heavily amended the measure on these points.

That did not exactly appease Normand, who testified against the bill as another intrusion by ill-formed lawmakers into the operations of local government. That’s always going to be a concern, but it’s also true that the Legislature makes the laws.

What lawmakers ought to do, though, is to consider much more carefully their instructions to local governments. The “sanctuary cities” agitation is a national issue, as Normand said, that involves the federal government’s business of enforcing immigration law.

The Legislature is unlikely to take up “sanctuary cities” this year, given the late date in the session ending June 6. If lawmakers look at it again next year, though, we hope that the prescription is more carefully thought out and thoroughly discussed with law enforcement.

We don’t want Normand to break the table next time.