'It's dangerous': Louisiana House approves bill targeting ‘sanctuary cities’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- French Quarter riverfront and skyline seen on July 23, 2013.

Louisiana cities that adopt policies that shield undocumented immigrants could lose the ability to borrow money for major infrastructure projects under a proposal that’s advancing through the Louisiana Legislature.

The House on Wednesday voted 67-27 in favor of a bill that’s aimed at eliminating 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. House Bill 1148 now heads to the Senate for vetting.

New Orleans and Lafayette are the only places in Louisiana that are considered sanctuary cities.

During a heated debate that stretched on for more than an hour, supporters of the bill said it will make streets safer and bolster homeland security.

“It’s dangerous to have a sanctuary city,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.

But opponents argued that the bill could lead to abuse against immigrants and usurps local authority.

Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, likened the discretion related to enforcement of federal immigration policies to the discretion that police have in whether to write a speeding ticket or issue a warning and the discretion that district attorneys have to offer pleas to lesser charges.

“We provide that kind of discretion because we believe they are professionals and they can protect the public,” he said.

Under the bill, the state attorney general would have 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.

In 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.

Lafayette, meanwhile, has been identified as a “sanctuary city” because the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office has said it won’t hold offenders for ICE without a court order.

Under the proposed HB1148, cities that have such policies that say they won’t cooperate with the federal government would be punished by having all of their requests for bonds — loans for construction projects — denied by the state until they withdraw the measures.

That would threaten their ability to fund new fire and police facilities, school projects and even construction at the Port of New Orleans, if those policies remain on the books and the Legislature passes the measure.

States have increasingly begun considering measures to rein in sanctuary cities over the past couple of years. The movement has been bolstered in recent months as attention has been drawn to the death of Kate Steinle, who was shot last year by a Mexican national who authorities in San Francisco released, rather than calling federal immigration officials. San Francisco is considered a sanctuary city because of its policies.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican who is sponsoring the legislation, spoke of Steinle’s death on the House floor Wednesday.

“I have a passion for cultures that are different from ours and a passion for other people,” she said. “But I also have a passion for the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

“Federal law clearly prohibits the creation of sanctuary cities,” she said.

Leger said he worried that the proposal, in its current form, could be abused by the Attorney General’s Office.

“What stops the AG from arbitrarily cutting off the bond capacity for any city that he isn’t feeling good about on any given day?” he said.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who supports the bill, released a statement praising the House passage.

“Sanctuary cities encourage further illegal immigration, undermine anti-terrorism efforts and sabotage the fisc,” he said. “They also waste much-needed public resources as they force the federal government to find and arrest deportable criminals already taken into custody by local law enforcement.”

A separate companion bill would hold sanctuary cities financially and legally liable when an undocumented immigrant who is released under their policies commits a crime.

“It’s to discourage the policy of allowing illegal immigrants coming to the state,” said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe. “It’s also to provide compensation to victims.”

House Bill 453 passed in a 65-20 vote and also heads to the Senate.

Voting for eliminating sanctuary cities in Louisiana (69): Speaker Barras and Reps. Abraham, Adams, Amedee, Anders, Bacala, Bagley, Berthelot, Broadwater, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carmody, R. Carter, S. Carter, Chaney, Connick, Coussan, Cromer, Danahay, Davis, DeVillier, Dwight, Edmonds, Emerson, Falconer, Foil, Garofalo, L. Harris, Havard, Hazel, Henry, Hilferty, Hodges, Hoffmann, Hollis, Horton, Howard, Hunter, Huval, Ivey, Jackson, M. Johnson, N. Landry, Leopold, Lopinto, Mack, Magee, McFarland, Miguez, G. Miller, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Pearson, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Reynolds, Richard, Schexnayder, Schroder, Seabaugh, Shadoin, Simon, Stokes, Talbot, Thibaut, White, Willmott and Zeringue.

Voting against HB1148 (26): Reps. Bagneris, Bouie, Carpenter, G. Carter, Cox, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Glover, Hall, J. Harris, Hill, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, T. Landry, Leger, Lyons, Marcelle, D. Miller, Montoucet, Moreno, Norton, Pierre, Price and Smith.

Not Voting (9): Reps. Abramson, Armes, Billiot, Bishop, Guinn, Hensgens, R. Johnson, Jones and LeBas.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.