(WORT) — State lawmakers heard public testimony Wednesday on a bill that would penalize local law enforcement agencies for not cooperating fully with federal immigration authorities. Some 450 people from across the state registered in opposition to the so-called “Sanctuary City Ban” bill. Many of those who testified against it were immigrants concerned that the measure would only create more fear of local law enforcement and drive the undocumented further into the shadows.
Madison Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff was among those who spoke in opposition, saying the measure would “make every one of us less safe” while Representative Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), who sits on the assembly committee considering the legislation, dismissed the bill as “political gamesmanship” that “does damage to our communities.”
Representative John Spiros (R-Marshfield) introduced the bill last October, after learning a woman had been murdered in San Francisco by a felon who had already been deported to Mexico on multiple occasions. Spiros suggests that San Francisco’s reputation as a “Sanctuary City” for the undocumented was responsible for law enforcement’s failure to prevent the murder.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Spiros again referenced that case, saying, “As a state, we should be preemptive and make sure what happened in San Francisco could not happen here.”
Spiros’s original bill prohibits local law enforcement from issuing any rules or policies that prevent officers from reporting the immigration status of anyone lawfully detained. However, that has since been amended to apply to anyone charged with a crime. 18 Republican legislators are co-sponsoring the bill.
Spiros defended the measure as “common sense legislation that protects the citizen of Wisconsin, all of us, by calling for cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies.”
But Madison Police Chief Mike Koval says local policies are already in line with the latest federal standards, and that the immigration status of detainees booked into the Dane County jail is recorded and reported to federal immigration enforcement, or ICE.
Koval says he’s perplexed why legislators have called Madison a “Sanctuary City.”
“Madison is not, either de facto or legally speaking, a sanctuary city,” he says. “We do say that our officers will not be the hand of ICE in policing our streets, looking for deportable, undocumented aliens. But our policy goes on to say that we do cooperate with federal authorities upon request or command” for those charged with felonies or three or more significant misdemeanors.
Elise Schaffer, public information officer for the Dane County Sheriff, says that her office shares the immigration status of everyone booked into the jail with ICE, adding that these reporting protocols have been contentious among immigrant rights advocates for several years.
Back in 2010, Madison’s city council even passed a unanimous resolution calling on Sheriff Mahoney to change reporting practices. It was this non-binding resolution that landed Madison, along with Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, on the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC’s “Sanctuary Cities” list in the first place.
But whether Madison is rightly perceived as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants or not, Chief Koval hopes there will be “an adult conversation at the federal level” to clarify deportation policy, rather than “symbolic” and “philosophical” measures that inflame divisions for partisan purposes.
It is unclear when or if the assembly committee chair will schedule the Sanctuary City bill for a vote. If approved, it would then move on to the Assembly floor.