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Proposed law in Idaho would discourage sanctuary cities and direct law enforcement to question people’s immigration status

Jan. 30, 2017 Updated Mon., Jan. 30, 2017 at 10:41 p.m.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, answers questions from reporters after the House State Affairs Committee introduced his immigration bill, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell / SR)
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, answers questions from reporters after the House State Affairs Committee introduced his immigration bill, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell / SR)

BOISE – An Idaho legislative committee took action directed at sanctuary cities on Monday even though the state doesn’t have any.

Before a packed room, the House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce legislation proposed by Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, to discourage “sanctuary cities” in Idaho. The proposal would cut off state sales tax funding to them, and order that any local law enforcement officer who arrests someone on a misdemeanor or felony charge also check that person’s immigration status and cooperate with immigration authorities.

Idaho currently has no sanctuary cities, and law enforcement officers in the state already routinely comply with federal immigration orders. Chaney said the goal is to dissuade any city from becoming a sanctuary city.

“I didn’t vet it through law enforcement,” he acknowledged. “This isn’t to change any current practices, as far as I’m aware of. The idea is not to see ordinances passed in violation of the act. While Idaho is a wonderful place for refugees,” he said, he doesn’t want the state to attract undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes and face deportation. “We don’t want to become a magnet,” he said.

Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, cast the only “no” vote.

“As the only indigenous person in the room, the irony is seeing immigrants have prejudice toward other immigrants, and then putting that prejudice on local counties,” she said. “I fully support sanctuary cities. My ancestors supported immigrants – I see no reason to change. I believe in humanity first.”

She said the new legislation “really does not bode well for Idaho, and is not the heart of Idaho.”

Kathy Griesmyer, policy director for the ACLU of Idaho, said the ACLU still is researching the impact of the new bill, but the group believes it makes far-reaching changes in current law enforcement practices in Idaho and may raise constitutional questions.

“Right now, local law enforcement is not required to research everybody’s immigration background when they’re brought in on whatever charge to the county jail,” she said. “The bill mandates that law enforcement … do the research themselves, then notify the feds.” Currently, she said, while local law enforcement officers cooperate with federal immigration authorities, it’s the federal officers, not the local ones, who are responsible for and initiate those inquiries.

Vaughn Killeen, executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs Association and the former longtime Ada County sheriff, agreed that the bill appears to depart from current law enforcement practices in Idaho. “That’s not the process right now. It appears to require an additional step,” he said, while noting that his group hasn’t yet reviewed the bill. Currently, he said, “There’s no statutory authority or requirement that local law enforcement do that – that’s a federal issue.”

Chaney, a second-term lawmaker from Caldwell, told the committee that his proposal needed “a certain degree of sensitivity.”

“Immigrants are some of the most hard-working, family-oriented and God-loving people I’ve ever met. They’re valuable members of the community,” Chaney said. He added that he believes the number of undocumented immigrants in the country is the fault of the federal government, not of “people who have come here to make a better life.”

“All of that having been said, not everyone who comes into the country comes in with the best intentions,” he said. “Some are good … some are bad, but we don’t really know who’s who. That’s up to the federal government to sort that out. But we won’t really know unless we enforce our laws. … Our laws mean something, our borders mean something, and our safety and security mean something.”

Chaney’s bill, which he co-wrote with Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, would forbid local law enforcement officers from arresting or rounding up people solely for immigration violations.

“It would only allow detentions where the individual has violated some other provision of state law as a misdemeanor or felony,” he said. But similar moves in other states have raised concerns about profiling, and targeting of immigrants on minor offenses to determine their immigration status.

Chaney said he was prompted to act because, “With the new emphasis on enforcement at the federal level, there may be a new initiative among certain local governments to move forward.”

He said he believes President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban sanctuary cities “may be on precarious legal footing.” He also requested that an emergency clause be added to his bill, to make it effective as soon as it’s signed into law. The committee agreed; Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, made the motion.

Griesmyer attended the hearing, along with at least 60 immigration supporters.

“Immigration is a very hot-button issue right now, certainly with the executive orders,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that folks are here to know what our elected officials are up to. We’re here to watch.”

So many people came to watch Monday morning’s committee meeting that the crowd overflowed into the corridor outside.

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