Monday, April 23, 2012

Proposed legislation could diminish trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement officers
By Anne Finn
League of Minnesota Cities

A bill (HF 358) authored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Shafer) that would prohibit political subdivisions from restricting employees from inquiring about immigration status of individuals passed off the floor of the Minnesota House on Wednesday, April 18.

It provides that no government entity may prohibit, or in any way restrict, a public employee from sending immigration status data to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security; maintaining immigration status data; or exchanging immigration status data with other federal, state or local government entity. It also contains a provision stating that any Minnesota resident can bring a private right of action by filing for a writ of mandamus to compel any non-cooperating government entity to comply.

If enacted, the new language would outlaw the common practice by city governments and chief law enforcement officers statewide of implementing policies that govern when employees can request immigration status documentation from the public. According to city officials, these policies are used across the state as a way to maintain good relationships between city employees and residents.  The policies have also served as a way to differentiate city operations from immigration enforcement, which is the responsibility of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.

Proponents of this legislation have accused cities of circumventing federal law and taking away discretion from professional peace officers. They also said the policies and ordinances compromise national security because they allow undocumented immigrants, including terrorists, to move freely within communities.

Opponents of the bill, including the League of Minnesota Cities, have urged legislators to consider the likelihood that the legislation would diminish trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officials have testified that this trust is an essential part of community policing and that it enhances public safety and national security.  Relationships between police officers and community members are necessary for solving crimes and preventing acts of terror.

The League has also expressed concern that the legislation would give all city employees, not just law enforcement personnel, the right to request immigration status documentation and/or make reports to ICE. Advocates for immigrants anticipate that city officials, who by and large have tried to create welcoming atmospheres for new immigrants, may see an abrupt erosion of rapport between city employees and immigrant communities should this bill become law.

The Senate companion, SF 2433 (Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge), has not advanced through the committee process.