On April 9, two Republican-backed House Bills addressing sanctuary cities passed the first round of committee hearings in the Michigan state House of Representatives, advancing the bills a further step toward becoming laws.
The two bills would prevent city and county governments from passing laws prohibiting law enforcement from asking about Michigan residents’ citizenship status. The bills would also encourage cooperation between local governments and federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor currently enforces a number of laws protecting immigrant families from unjustified actions by law enforcement. In fact, the city currently prohibits officers of the Ann Arbor Police Department and other divisions of city government from inquiring about immigration status in interactions with city residents.
“It’s not our business, it’s not our place, we’re not interested in enforcing federal immigration law,” Taylor said. “We are working on our ordinances. We want to make sure that everybody who comes into Ann Arbor knows that they are safe and welcome. We’re not a ‘show me your papers’ city, and we’re not going to ask you what your immigration status is, whether you’re a citizen or you’re not. That’s not our interest.”
However, Republican supporters of stricter immigration policy view the bill from a different perspective. Michigan state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, markets the legislation as a measure aimed toward protecting police officers, rather than one targeting communities of undocumented immigrants in Michigan. In an interview with the Petoskey News-Review, LaFave expressed his intentions in proposing the bills.
“I’m not mandating that anybody go and enforce immigration laws, (but) if an officer so chooses, they should not be fired for doing so,” LaFave said.
According to Taylor, another issue arises with the bills’ implications for the likelihood of immigrant families to contact law enforcement in the case of emergency.
“It’s very important to us that folks, whatever your immigration status is, that they know that they can call upon their city government, call upon the police department, the fire department, EMS, that they are secure in the knowledge that they will be treated properly,” Taylor said.
Despite these implications, LSA senior Austin McIntosh, former member of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, explained that if the bill were to become law, the fears of many of the bills’ critics would not be the reality.
“I’ve read some people freaking out about it, saying that the Michigan government or Michigan police are going to go searching and asking questions like some sort of dystopian society where they’re picking these people up off the streets, and that’s not what it’s going to be,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh also rejected the importance of sanctuary cities, arguing they run contrary to the rule of law.
“In reality, if you’re here illegally, you’re breaking the law,” McIntosh said. “So if you are arrested for that, I have compassion and I wish all the best to somebody who is arrested or detained for being illegal. They’re humans, but they’re breaking the law and they should get in trouble.”
However, many critics of the bill, particularly on the Democratic side, have characterized the bill as divisive and backwards. Camille Mancuso, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, rejected McIntosh’s argument, explaining the implications for undocumented university students and undocumented residents of the state in general.
“I think that in general, getting rid of sanctuary cities will create a lot of fear,” Mancuso said. “Undocumented immigrants already face a lot of difficulties navigating through the university system and just daily lives in general and so I think that if sanctuary cities were eliminated, I think it would just amplify that threat and amplify that fear that is already present in these undocumented communities.”
In the next several weeks, the two bills will be reviewed by the Michigan House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and then considered for a floor hearing. According to Taylor, the possibility of the bills’ passage would represent a step backward for immigrants’ rights in the state of Michigan.
“I’m disappointed the legislature is picking this fight,” Taylor said. “The effort to turn Michigan into a ‘show me your papers’ state is divisive and doesn’t speak to our better angles. It plays to our fears and I hope that we become better than that.”