A bill introduced in the Wisconsin senate in April would require local governments to obey state and federal immigration enforcement laws. In a heated public hearing today, supporters and opponents argued about the bill in front of a committee.
The bill would prevent Wisconsin municipalities and counties from creating a safe haven for undocumented immigrants. If local governments don’t comply with immigration detention orders, they’d be fined for hundreds or thousands of dollars a day.
The bill was introduced back in April, but it just received its public hearing today. People passionate about the bill — including Latinx advocacy groups and religious organizations — went before a state committee for about four hours of debate.
Proponents of the bill say it would help make communities safer, but opponents like Abby Swetz, who represents a representative of advocacy group End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and spoke on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.
“Local law enforcement needs cooperation from local immigrant communities. Local residents serve as witnesses, report crime, and otherwise assist law enforcement. The foundation for this cooperation is often destroyed when local police are viewed as an extension of the immigration system. Survivors of domestic violence refrain from reporting offenses,” says Swetz.
“Individuals with key information about burglaries, or escapees from county jails, fail to contact the police or sheriff’s department. It is an unfortunate truth that as immigration enforcement has expanded, the willingness of immigrant communities to interact with law enforcement has declined. Survivors in a 2018 study regarding immigration policy on domestic violence reported, quote, ‘The decision to call the police depended on their documentation status.’ The community at large is safer when even the most vulnerable community member feels safe enough to report crimes.”
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault have all come out against the bill.
The Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association have not registered in favor of the bill.
Supporters of the bill argue that it would help keep Wisconsin communities safe by helping immigration enforcement officials deport undocumented immigrants with criminal histories.
Jim Walden, an Illinois resident whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record, spoke in favor of the bill.
“I’m the father of James Ray Walden III, lance corporal United States Marine Corps, whose life was taken on February 24th, 2017 by an illegal,” Walden says. “Five years prior to this accident, [he] had been in trouble with the law five times in that five-year period, was convicted in a court in Maryland of domestic violence, put on probation and an order of protection, and he was still allowed to stay. This is a fact. I have a dead son. That’s it. That is your true cost.”
Other speakers also raised the issue of violence committed by undocumented immigrants as an argument in favor of the bill. However, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, found in a 2018 study that undocumented immigrants were less likely than American citizens to commit crimes.
During the hearing, proponents of the bill criticized the policy of sanctuary, where local municipalities don’t fully cooperate with immigration enforcement officials and don’t deport undocumented immigrants. They call it a defiance of the law.
Christine Neumann Ortiz, executive director of the Latinx advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, says she’s disappointed this bill is being debated right now.
“[It’s] right before the holidays when families are getting ready to visit with each other and where there should be a general sentiment of good will to one another that Senator Nass and Senator Wanggaard would take the lead in reintroducing this anti-immigrant bill,” Ortiz says. “We need bills that are going to affirm the important contributions that immigrants make to our state.”
Ortiz says she believes immigrant protections should be strengthened and that Evers will veto the bill.
If the bill passes, it would be enforced over a given area by the district attorney, local sheriff, or attorney general if they chose to do so.
The Wisconsin attorney general’s office, the Dane County Sheriff’s department, and the Dane County district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment by time of broadcast.