Most of America thinks of Detroit as Motown, or the Motor City, and Ann Arbor as the home of the storied Big Ten football program and world-class medical research facilities of the University of Michigan.
Illegal immigrants look at those towns differently. They see Detroit and Ann Arbor as “sanctuary cities,” communities where local law enforcement has a policy of not cooperating with federal immigration agents.
Michigan Republicans, led by state Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, want to erase the concept of “sanctuary cities” from the lexicon of municipal leaders in the state.
“I am strongly opposed to any Michigan cities violating the laws of America, leading to safe havens for murderers, drug dealers and other criminals,” he said.
However, Kowall said he supports the proposed expansion of certain employment-based visas for skilled legal immigrants and workers. There are five types of special visas that permit a non-citizen to be a legal guest and earn employment-based permanent residency.
“Programs encouraging foreign students to receive education and training from Michigan universities should continue, and we must do all we can to keep those individuals here in Michigan after they graduate,” he said.
Kowall said the difference is those kinds of programs are meant to help people who come into the U.S. legally. He doesn’t have any patience for local ordinances that encourage illegal immigration.
So, Kowall has introduced legislation to prohibit local units of government in Michigan from enacting or enforcing “sanctuary city” laws.
Kowall’s measure, Senate Bill 445, also would prohibit any state funding or other resources from going to sanctuary cities.
“The recent tragic death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco at the hands of an illegal alien — who also was a repeat felon who had been deported five times — should be a wakeup call for all of us,” said Kowall.
“Because of San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy, that city ignored a request by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency regarding the suspect in Ms. Steinle’s murder,” he added.
“Her death could have been prevented. We must put an end to sanctuary cities in Michigan so a similar tragedy doesn’t occur here.”
Kowall has also set up an online petition, www.signtostop.com, calling for the prohibition of sanctuary cities in Michigan.
A few days after it was launched, he said, “We already have had thousands of Michiganders sign the petition calling for an end to sanctuary cities.”
Some Democrats in the Michigan Legislature promise to fight Kowall’s proposal. State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D) told the Detroit News SB 445 would only hurt relations between police and residents.
“When an individual who is violating the law is apprehended, we are going to treat them accordingly and refer them to the proper authorities,” said Irwin.
“But when they are living and working and contributing and going to church and raising a family, we don’t want to have the local police doing the federal government’s work by destroying families and kicking them out of the country,” he added.
More than 200 cities and counties in the U.S. have a policy of not cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Some of those communities have an unwritten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it comes to illegal immigrants in their towns. Others have a written policy or ordinance instructing police not to ask residents about their citizenship.
Detroit falls into the category of communities with an official policy because of an ordinance enacted by the city council in 2007, telling police to stop asking questions about whether residents are American citizens.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he doesn’t like Sen. Mike Kowall’s proposal, and does not want to have his city police officers asking residents for their green cards.
“I can’t believe that anybody would find this (Detroit’s) policy objectionable,” Duggan said. “It’s sound policy. You don’t profile your citizens and you don’t want victims and witnesses to be afraid to come forward.”
Detroit police officers are permitted to ask about a suspect’s immigration status after an arrest.
Susan Reed, the supervising attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, told the Detroit Free Press the Detroit ordinance should be a model for other communities.
“You do not want to be perceived as the deportation cops if you have immigrants in your community who you want to call you, contact you, call you when you’re trying to do your policing,” Reed said.
In the community known as being Michigan’s most liberal, Ann Arbor City Council members made it clear in 2003 they didn’t want city police doing anything to help federal immigration agents arrest illegal aliens.
Ann Arbor Police officers are trained to ask a person’s immigration status only in “cases of legitimate public safety concern.”
City Council member Sabra Briere told the West Michigan Politics blog she supports that policy.
”If you are asked to prove that you are legally here, you wouldn’t like being here.”