Anti-immigrant, anti-local government law passes Minnesota House

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The Minnesota House of Representatives, in its infinite Republican wisdom, just voted 77-52 to limit the power of cities to govern themselves. Specifically, in a vote cloaked with the grand rhetoric of protecting the nation from 9/11 terrorism, the House voted to invalidate all local immigration separation ordinances.

H.F. 358 is not a bill that police need or want to do their job. It’s not a bill that local government bodies want or need. The bill applies to all public employees, not just police.  Moreover, a threat contained in the law will prevent most local government bodies from passing any kind of law restricting any public employees from overreaching. H.F. 358 authorizes any citizen to file a lawsuit “to compel any noncooperating government entity, responsible authority or designee, or other official or employee to comply with reporting laws.”

Years ago, Minneapolis enacted an immigration separation ordinance (Municipal Code, Title 2, Chapter 19). Similar ordinances have been enacted in St. Paul and in cities across the country. The ordinances basically say that city employees, including police, should not inquire about immigration status of any individual unless it is relevant to their job.

Mayor R.T. Rybak defended the immigration separation ordinance in 2007:

The role of the police officer is to protect and to serve every person who is in Minneapolis. We know that if there is a fear that reporting something to the police could jeopardize someone’s immigration status, including those that have legal status, then people will not come forward with the information that we need to know. We need people to report domestic abuse, we need them to report gang activity. We have seen many cases where people are afraid to come forward for fear that it will jeopardize their immigration status, even if they are legal immigrants.

The immigration separation ordinance means that when a victim of domestic violence calls the police, they won’t ask her about her immigration status — they will offer her protection from her assailant. When a crime victim calls police, they won’t ask about his immigration status — they will look for the mugger or burglar or thief who committed the crime. Police think that’s a good idea. The Minnesota House of Representatives disagrees.

The immigration separation ordinance also applies to other city employees. If your house is on fire, the fire department comes to put out the blaze, and the firefighters do not question your immigration status. The Minnesota House of Representatives thinks they should be able to do so.

The current Minneapolis ordinance provides that city employees “shall only solicit immigration information or inquire about information status when specifically required to do so by law or program guidelines as a condition of eligibility for the service sought.” Public safety officers may “Investigate and inquire about immigration status when relevant to the potential or actual prosecution of the case or when immigration status is an element of the crime.”

The ordinance details various ways that the prosecutor’s office can take immigration into account:

City attorney’s office – criminal division employees shall be permitted to:

a. Inform persons of the possible immigration consequences of a guilty plea.

b. Question and conduct cross-examination of a witness or defendant regarding immigration status.

c. Inquire about immigration status for purposes of bail or conditional release.

d. Investigate and inquire about immigration status when relevant to the potential or actual prosecution of the case or when immigration status is an element of the crime.

e. Take immigration status and collateral effects of possible deportation into consideration during discussions held for the purpose of case resolution.

That’s fine with the police and the prosecutors, but it’s not good enough for the legislature.

The Advocates for Human Rights published a fact sheet on the city separation ordinances. You can read the full text here, or by clicking on the pdf attachment.

Police departments are among the strongest advocates for immigration separation ordinances, which help to establish trust and increase reporting of crimes by immigrant communities. These ordinances support community policing and do NOT protect people who are charged with crimes. They protect people who are victims of crimes and witnesses — and that protects all of us.

Too bad the Republicans in the legislature aren’t listening to the police on this one.