Gov. Matt Bevin touted a proposed bill in a news conference on Friday that would define what constitutes a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants in the state and prohibit any local government entity from instituting policies limiting law enforcement from asking an individual about their immigration status and cooperating with federal immigration officials.
Though Bevin said that no city in Kentucky currently constitutes a sanctuary city as defined by the proposed law, state Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said it would prevent guidelines for police officers’ cooperation with federal immigration agents within an ordinance passed by Louisville Metro Council in 2017.
That same Louisville ordinance was targeted by the Department of Justice in late 2017 when then-Attorney General Jeff Session told city officials that these guidelines might be in violation of federal laws and constitute “sanctuary policies.”
After a strong objection from Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, the DOJ relented in April 2018 and declared that the ordinance did not violate federal immigration laws and Louisville was not a sanctuary city.
At Friday’s news conference, Bevin repeatedly said that the bill had “nothing to do with immigration” and its intent of was only to provide “clarity” on what constitutes a sanctuary city so that local governments avoid a “slippery slope.”
While noting that recently announced raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Louisville ordinance were both “contributing variables” in the creation of the proposed bill, he stated that “there is no city right now in Kentucky that meets the definition as it is defined in this bill.”
Though Carroll said that he was not aware of any city in Kentucky right now that would constitute a sanctuary city under his bill, he later answered that his bill would prevent Louisville from enforcing its guidelines on what steps officers can take when it comes to immigration enforcement and cooperation.
“It would, I think it would change that and I think it would clarify that the local government has no ability to restrict that at all,” said Carroll. “And any standard that is in place under statute — as I said, as in the probable cause being present — then that would be the standard for any request that was asked for. And it would not require a higher standard as a result of the ordinance at the local level.”
Louisville’s immigration ordinance codified that LMPD officers could only assist federal agents in the enforcement of immigration laws when there was a judicial warrant or a risk to public safety, but it did not prevent local officials from sharing immigration information with a federal agency.
“It will let local governments, local entities related to government know what the expectations are, that they cannot interfere with that cooperation,” added Carroll.
Under the proposed bill, any local government would be deemed to have a “sanctuary policy” if it limits a government official from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies on a person’s immigration status, “restricts or imposes any conditions” on the government’s cooperation with ICE detainers, requires ICE to obtain a warrant or demonstrate more than probable cause before complying with ICE requests or prevents officers from asking a person about his or her citizenship or immigration status.
The bill also requires all local government officials to “use their best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.” If any government agency or official is in violation of this statute, the bill states that the governor may enforce those provision “through injunctive action.”
Asked how the law would be enforced, Bevin said “to the extent that somebody wants to push the envelope and try to break the law, they would be dealt with like every other lawbreaker. They’d be held to account.”
Asked about Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton’s recent comments that police would not assist with ICE raids without a warrant, Bevin said that “Mayor Gorton will not have the authority when this bill becomes law to make her own version of the rules.”
Jean Porter, the spokeswoman for Mayor Fischer, told Insider Louisville in a statement that “Louisville is both a welcoming city, and in compliance with federal and state law. We will review and monitor the bill.”
In February 2017, the board of Jefferson County Public Schools passed a “safe haven” resolution that stated the district would resist requests from federal immigration officers to share data or resources that could identify undocumented students and families unless forced to by a court order.
The day after the resolution was passed, Bevin blasted it as “illegal” and an attempt “to skirt the law to win kudos from their liberal friends.”
JCPS spokespersons did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the proposed bill.
A similar bill to the one proposed by Carroll on Friday has been filed in each of the last two sessions of the General Assembly, though those bills sponsored by Rep. Lynn Bechler also called for cutting off state funds for local governments with sanctuary policies and state universities that enroll “illegal aliens” as students. Those bills did not make it out of committee and to the House floor.
The proposed bill can be read in full below.