April 22, 2016 02:37 PM

A state bill would hold state funds hostage from Louisiana’s sanctuary cities. What’s a sanctuary city? Landry gets to decide.

Louisiana AG Jeff Landry

Of course Attorney General Jeff Landry loves the anti-immigration bill currently working its way through the state Legislature. House Bill 151, introduced by Rep. Valerie Hodges of Denham Springs, gives the crusading AG de facto authority to withhold funds from jurisdictions and municipalities he determines to employ “sanctuary city policies,” a staggering overreach of his powers of enforcement. It’d be one thing if a “sanctuary city” was a readily definable thing, but it isn’t. And this bill keeps it plenty vague enough to take full advantage of Landry’s terrifying imagination.

The bill, a dead-ringer for a failed 2015 U.S. Senate bill authored by David Vitter, gives Landry full discretion to determine if a jurisdiction is a sanctuary city, based on over-broad definitions of certain “formal” or “informal” immigration policies. Require that federal immigration enforcement have probable cause to detain an offender on its behalf — no more road funding. Prohibit your officers from inquiring about immigration status ­— no more outlay for you.

While it’s technically the Legislature that authorizes the funding cut, the attorney general determines the scope. Assuming efforts are made by local jurisdictions to meet Landry’s standard, it’s Landry’s purview to say they’ve done enough, regardless of how those policies interact with federal immigration policy.

The bald-faced power-grab is bad enough, but in a recent press release he slathers on layer after layer of racist cliché and boiler-plate nativism: “Besides fiscal and legal issues, there are many health concerns,” Landry says in the release. “For example: before my son went to kindergarten, he had to get a list of vaccinations. There is no telling what diseases illegals may bring and impose on our people, especially on children.”

I’m not aware of any vaccines specifically related to potential exposure to illegal immigrants. It’s frankly irresponsible for him to make such an unsubstantiated claim, especially one that reeks of cultural supremacy.

But Landry goes on: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently revealed that 1,867 illegals released by sanctuary cities last year were later arrested 4,298 times with 7,491 new crimes — including rape and child sex abuse. Unfortunately, 1,116 of them were not given to ICE and are considered at-large.”

What’s troubling here is that Landry wants you to believe that 1,116 at-large illegal immigrants are violent offenders. That’s simply not the case. Federal immigration policy and cooperating local agencies specifically target high-interest violent offenders. Most of the at-large unlawful entrants are misdemeanor offenders. If you’re picked up for rape, you get processed as a rapist in the full force of the law. That’s the normal course of American justice.

The tragic murder of Kathryn Steinle on a pier in San Francisco was committed by an undocumented migrant with a violent past. That’s true. But that criminal had been deported several times prior to Steinle’s murder. A revocation of San Francisco’s “sanctuary” polices would not have saved her life. You could blame border security for that. You can’t blame the city of San Francisco.

Landry wants local agencies to investigate immigration status, also ransomed against state funds. Local law enforcement agencies have exactly zero authority to determine immigration status. Zip. Zilch. Nada. None. A Mexican national can jump the border, get pinched for theft and brag about it to his arresting deputy and the local agency can do nothing about deporting him/her.

The sanctuary city phantom is just that — a bogeyman concocted by conservative politicos for the purposes of subtly riling nativism and raking in votes. For many of the 340 jurisdictions identified by the Center for Immigration Studies as “sanctuary cities,” these policies address the relationship between local and federal law enforcement, and it’s an involved and complicated one.

Keep in mind the feds don’t use the term “sanctuary cities” at all. It’s a designation applied by CIS, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has linked to right-wing nativist groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform. CIS is effectively the laundered policy apparatus of a cabal of anti-immigrant hate groups all sharing the dubious honor of forming the brain trust of white nationalist John Tanton, who has publicly advocated for the protection of a “European-American” majority in the U.S.

By HB 151’s own rubric, the state could penalize a local jurisdiction for simply obeying federal law. A 3rd Circuit ruling in 2014 held that the federal government cannot compel local jurisdictions to hold offenders suspected of unlawful entry longer than a court-ordered sentence. In effect, that puts the legal and financial burden of detention on the local agency. The feds can ask for an offender to be held for investigation. If the local cops comply, hold the offender without cause and the offender is later determined to be a U.S. citizen — as happened to Ernesto Galarza of Lehigh County, N.J. — then the local agency gets stuck with the bill. That’s monies lost for housing, to say nothing of the millions in civil damages for violation of constitutional rights. The federal government is not held responsible.

Lafayette Parish, Orleans Parish and the city of New Orleans are Louisiana’s resident “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Lafayette was so designated by CIS due to outgoing Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s policy of requiring federal immigration agents to produce a warrant or probable cause to detain an offender, suspected of entering the country illegally, longer than the offender’s original sentence. Neustrom’s initiative complies with federal immigration policy and responsibly insulates local taxpayers from potential litigation. As a bonus, the policy keeps non-violent offenders out of our over-crowded jails.

What Landry would have you believe is that policies like Neustrom’s put dangerous offenders on the street for no good reason. The reality is you can make a reasonable case that federal immigration policy is broken. You can believe — wrongly — that “guest workers” or “illegals” or “aliens” are a dramatic drain on the American economy. You can believe that we should build a wall of Babylonian proportion and ready snipers at hundred-foot intervals. But the fact remains that HB 151 does little to change to what is in effect a federal problem. Your anger, and thus Landry’s, should be directed at the federal government, not the local jurisdictions that are simply trying avoid costly litigation and overcrowded jails.

For Landry’s part, this law smacks of misdirection and misinformation. For all his faults, Landry is nothing if not politically savvy. He should know the law better, and he likely does. Check back in four years. It would come as no surprise to see immigration as a standard the AG heralds into a gubernatorial campaign.

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