Hundreds of people packed into a hearing room at the State Capitol on Thursday, for a debate about the rights of undocumented immigrants. Most of the speakers who attended were there to argue against a bill that would crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” in Wisconsin. The Republican measure would prohibit local governments from enacting policies that prevent federal agents from enforcing immigration laws.
It wasn't the first time that lawmakers heard arguments for -- and against -- the sanctuary cities proposal. The Assembly approved the measure in the last legislative session, but it didn’t go anywhere in the Senate. Republican lawmakers are bringing it up again, as President Trump calls on Congress to crack down on sanctuary cities.
State Sen. Steve Nass is the author of the bill. He told the Senate committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, that sanctuary cities protect undocumented immigrants with a criminal record.
“Contrary to claims of opponents, sanctuary cities do not make our community safer. These politically correct policies actually increase the risk of public safety in order to make a political statement regarding federal immigration laws,” Nass says.
Nass' bill is designed to make it easier for federal authorities to track down undocumented immigrants who happen to be in custody.
Here's how it would work. If a police department suspected that someone charged with a crime is in the country illegally, the department would be required to make sure the person remains behind bars for an additional 48 hours. That would give federal immigration authorities more time to take action.
Nass' proposal also would penalize cities that don't comply -- cutting state aid up to $5,000 per day.
Committee member, Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, supports the bill. He says Wisconsin has a serious problem that it must address.
“I would think that every person who is here should be supportive of getting rid of these bad guys no matter where they’re from and they’re not all coming from Mexico, they’re coming from all over the globe,” Wanggaard says.
After Wanggaard and other committee members spoke, dozens of people in the audience had their chance to testify. One after another, they slammed the bill.
Darryl Morin is with the League of United Latin American Citizens. He calls the measure an overreach. Morin says it could cause undocumented immigrants who are crime victims to not call for help, out of fear they might be taken into custody -- then deported.
"As we all seek what is best for our state, do we not want each and every person to feel comfortable in reporting a crime that they have witnessed or may be in progress? Is it not in our interest for a woman or child who may be suffering from domestic abuse to be able to call the police and feel comfortable in doing so?”
Morin also questioned the constitutionality of the bill, and noted that his group sued the state of Texas over a similar measure. A federal judge blocked that state's law this summer. Meanwhile, Deborah Albers of Milwaukee told the committee that the GOP bill could result in racial profiling -- and ultimately, the breakup of families.
“Someone’s going to be stopped for going to work or taking their child to school and boom, there goes the whole family structure. There goes generations being messed up down the road,” Albers says.
The committee wrapped up the meeting without taking action on the measure. Gov. Walker has not said whether he'll sign the bill, if it makes it to his desk.