LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department
Louisville Metro Government - Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville immigration law jeopardizes funding

Courier~Journal - Louisville, Kentucky
Phillip M. Bailey - Courier~Journal
Louisville immigration law jeopardizes funding

The Trump administration is questioning whether Louisville is out of step with federal law after approving a measure that prohibits police and other city employees from enforcing immigration statutes - and implying the city could lose more than half a million dollars as a result.

Mayor Greg Fischer's office is pushing back against the threat, saying it is confident that the city remains in full compliance with federal law.

"Louisville is a growing international city - and we can both embrace our foreign-born residents while also being compliant with federal immigration law," Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said. "The city will be sending a strong message back to Washington that we are abiding by federal law, and that attempts to take away dollars that help fight crime in Louisville are wrong - and politically petty."

The ordinance, passed last month by the Metro Council, says local public safety officials cannot work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents unless a judge signs a warrant or federal officials alert police of a risk of violence or larger danger to the public.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson said in a Nov. 15 letter to Fischer's office that those policies could be out of compliance with the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.

He goes on to note that Louisville is receiving a federal grant that requires compliance with immigration law, a grant that Fischer's office says is about $587,000.

The money comes from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which is used by cities and states for an array of crime prevention programs. In Louisville, Fischer's office said, the grant is used for mobile data terminal systems for police vehicles.

In his letter, Hanson says cities that receive such grants may not prohibit or in any way restrict local officials from sending or receiving information from immigration enforcement agencies.

The Democratic-led measure passed 16-7, with only one Republican council member supporting the proposal.

Supporters, such as Democratic leader Bill Hollander, said the council approved the measure to make all residents, including immigrants and refugees, feel safer by encouraging everyone to cooperate with local law enforcement.

"We won't be bullied by President Trump and (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions into making Louisville less safe," said Hollander, D-9th District.

But Councilman Robin Engel, the Republican leader, said the ordinance was always about making Louisville a so-called "sanctuary city," which many of his caucus members discouraged.

"Now we find that the actions by the mayor and a majority of the members of the Metro Council are putting in jeopardy one of many federal grants," said Engel, R-22nd.

"We believe we are in compliance with the law, and we'll be able to show the federal government we are complying."

Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer

Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7th, who is running for mayor, said the measure's supporters never acknowledged that this policy change could carry some level of risk for the city.

"Yet, regardless of their intentions, we now find ourselves in the position of having to use city resources to defend the politicization of our police department by Mayor Fischer," she said.

Poynter said it is, "unfortunate that a few council members are overreacting to this news without the full facts."

Councilman Brandon Coan, the lead sponsor of the measure, told Courier Journal that the Justice Department is wrong in its assumptions about the local law.

"I know that on its face and by its intent in no way does our ordinance violate federal law," he said.

Before the council passed its measure, Fischer announced a similar policy after other media outlets reported two-dozen occasions where Louisville police had assisted ICE agents. The mayor had routinely said police did not cooperate with the federal agents, and he was skewered by Hispanic leaders once the news reports surfaced.

Pro-immigration groups have been pressuring Fischer and council members to declare Louisville a sanctuary city since President Donald Trump took office.

Coan and others had said their measure did not do that and would only clarify the separation between local law enforcement and ICE agents.

Among its other changes, the ordinance forbids the city from deputizing law enforcement officers to help detect undocumented individuals. And it stops city employees from asking about a person's immigration status unless required to do so by law or if city program guidelines seek eligibility for certain government services.

Coan, D-8th, said the ordinance makes it clear on numerous occasions that city employees can still provide information to ICE agents and other immigration enforcement agencies.

"After you cut through all the politics, threats, bullying and partisanship, the U.S. is based on the rule of law," he said. "And what we're talking about are laws, and according to the law, specifically the ordinance we created, we are not out of compliance in any way."

The Justice Department sent similar letters to more than two-dozen other local governments across the country.

Trump administration officials say they are trying to ensure those jurisdictions are complying with a federal statute that promotes information sharing related to immigration enforcement.

"Jurisdictions that adopt so-called 'sanctuary policies' also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents."

Justice officials gave the city until Dec. 8 to respond.