A bill in the state legislature has revived the debate on the safety of sanctuary cities.
Senate Bill 275 requires law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. If the city fails to do so, it will be fined between $500 to $5,000 for each day.
Sanctuary cities can be a county, city or state with policies that obstruct immigration enforcement and protect individuals who have been arrested by local police from U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Center for Immigration Studies.
In Wisconsin, only Milwaukee County is listed as a sanctuary city and would see potential impact from the bill.
This bill is similar to legislation that was introduced in the last legislative session which passed the state assembly but didn’t reach the state senate.
Proponents of the bill have argued this type of legislation and these types of precautions will make the state safer.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has called the legislation a common sense way to protect Wisconsin residents from becoming victims of crime because sanctuary cities shield dangerous convicted felons.
Similarly, Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, said in a statement that sanctuary cities put the lives of their citizens at risk.
Spiros said the bill does not target immigrants and it will only impact those who pose a legitimate public safety risk to the state.
It’s important individuals still feel safe reporting crimes to local officials, Spiros said.
“We want those living in our communities to feel safe, so it is important to note that those who are the victim of a crime or witness to a crime can still feel comfortable reaching out to authorities without fear of being turned over to federal immigration officials,” Spiros said.
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, however, said this is the kind of bill that breeds fear among immigrant communities and divides people.
“Law enforcement has worked so hard to build positive, trusting relationships with immigrant communities, and this is exactly the kind of bill that undermines all of that work,” Subeck said.
A number of cities and communities nationwide have said that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence have decreased during the Trump administration, supervising attorney at the Immigrant Justice Clinic Erin Barbato said in an email to The Badger Herald.
Barbato has worked with immigrant victims of serious crimes who have assisted the investigation and prosecution of those crimes, leading to the apprehension of career criminals, gang-members and human traffickers. The bill has the ability to destroy this trust and make everyone less safe, she said.
“If immigrants without documents fear contacting law enforcement after witnessing criminal activity or being a victim of a crime, not only will those individuals become even more vulnerable, all residents of Wisconsin become more vulnerable,” Barbato said.
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What’s also frustrating to Subeck was that during the bill’s Oct. 12 hearing, no arrangements were made to have interpreters, nor did anyone even consider the need for interpreters to be present. This is relevant especially because many individuals who came to testify were not native English speakers.
Community members stepped up and translated for one another, but Subeck said it’s the legislature’s responsibility to provide a way for each resident to testify if they want to. She said a similar thing happened during the last session’s hearing.
After the hearing, Subeck called for a hearing on a bill she authored that would provide accommodations at hearings for individuals who need an interpreter or need materials in an alternate format. So far, however, she has not gotten a response from committee’s Republican chair.
Last year, immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera organized the “Day without Latinos” protest when similar legislation was introduced.
If the bill moves forward, Voces de la Frontera is committed to organizing a strike that lasts more than one day, the group’s executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said.
“Wisconsin should always be moving forward, this [legislation] would be a substantial step backwards in protecting our communities and the pillars of the U.S. Constitution,” Barbato said.