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Kentucky Could Be the Next State to Ban 'Sanctuary Cities'

Gov. Matt Bevin said Thursday he supports proposed legislation that would prohibit the creation of "sanctuary cities" and limit local governments' authority to enact policies prohibiting local police from cooperating with immigration officials or asking people about their immigration status.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin
(AP/Timothy D. Easley)
By Beth Musgrave

Gov. Matt Bevin said Thursday he supports proposed legislation that would prohibit the creation of "sanctuary cities" and limit local governments' authority to enact policies prohibiting local police from cooperating with immigration officials or asking people about their immigration status.

The proposed bill would prohibit any Kentucky city from enacting "sanctuary policies." The legislation defines sanctuary cities as any policy that limits local law enforcement from cooperating with federal agencies to verify immigration status or grants immunity to immigrants to remain in a city unlawfully, according to a copy of the bill.

It would also prohibit policies that require local police to get a warrant or a judge's order to work with immigration enforcement.

Bevin said the proposed bill, sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, and Rep. John Blanton, R-Saylersville, is not about immigration. It's about increased cooperation, he said.

Carroll said in a press conference in Lexington on Friday that under the proposed legislation, no city in Kentucky meets the definition of a sanctuary city. However, Carroll said that if the bill passed, it would invalidate a Louisville ordinance that prohibits police officers from assisting ICE unless there is a court order, warrant or public health or public safety concern.

"I think it would change that," Carroll said of Louisville's ordinance. "It would clarify that the local government has no ability to restrict that at all."

Both Carroll and Blanton are former law enforcement officers.

"This is just clarifying, for the sake of everybody what is or isn't the law in Kentucky," Bevin said. At the same time, Bevin said the proposed bill would also restrict local governments such as Lexington and Louisville from making their own policies or prohibiting police from working with ICE.

Bevin's comments come on the eve of an expected nationwide immigration enforcement operation to remove individuals and families with final deportation orders.

President Donald Trump postponed the planned sweep last month but immigration officials said this week the operation was back on. The sweeps are expected to take place in 10 cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

No Kentucky cities have been identified as being part of that enforcement effort.

Bevin said the bill and his statements were driven in part by the national conversation about immigration and comments made by Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton last month clarifying the city's stance on immigration enforcement.

Gorton has said Lexington will only assist ICE agents if there is a court order or ordered to do so by a judge. or if there is a public safety concern. That's been Lexington's policy for nearly 20 years, said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city.

Gorton also touted Lexington as a city open to immigrants in her statement last month.

"Lexington opens its arms to immigrants who provide great value to our community," Gorton said. "We welcome the diversity of thought, experiences and culture. We are a better community because of the many cultures represented in Lexington."

Gorton said after Friday's press conference that she doesn't believe the bill, if passed, would affect how Lexington works with immigration enforcement.

"Although we are continuing to review this proposed legislation, it does not appear to conflict with any of our long-standing policies. Lexington is not a sanctuary city," Gorton said. "Lexington is one of the safest cities of its size in the country because of our law enforcement partnerships. We have achieved that level of public safety by allowing our police to focus on local crime."

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for the city of Louisville, said prior to Bevin's press conference the U.S. Department of Justice has said a 2017 ordinance that prohibits Louisville Metro Police from assisting ICE unless there is an immediate danger or court order complies with federal law.

Porter said after the press conference Louisville is still reviewing the proposed legislation.

"As we have said before, Louisville is both a welcoming city and in compliance with federal and state law," Porter said. "We will review and monitor the bill.

City police do not have the authority to enforce federal laws, including immigration laws, both cities said.

"We don't enforce immigration laws. We don't arrest people solely for being undocumented," said Porter. "We arrest people for committing crimes. At the time they are arrested, a records check is done and if that person is undocumented than ICE is notified."

Lexington has the same policy, said Straub.

"Every person who has been arrested and taken to jail in Lexington is asked if he or she is an American citizen during our booking process at our jail," Straub said. "Federal agencies have access to those records. When they ask us to detain a person, we do so, giving the federal agents time to come and pick them up."

But the president of the Lexington's police union spoke in favor of the bill at a press conference Friday.

"Restricting valuable law enforcement partnerships and resources based solely on political rhetoric or agendas places entire communities at risk," said Sgt. Jason Rothermund, president of the Lexington Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4.

Bevin, who is running for re-election, faces Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear in the fall. The two have tussled over the state's ailing pension system and other issues but immigration has so far not been a major sticking point in the campaign.

Other Republicans also said they supported the bill Friday, including U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.

"I believe federal laws should be enforced," Barr said. "Local governments should not be in the business of picking and choosing which laws to obey and which laws to ignore. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent."

Carroll said the bill has not yet been filed. But it could be addressed at a special legislative session that had been proposed for later this summer. A date has not yet been set. That would be up to Bevin, who sets the agenda for special legislative sessions, Carroll said.

It's also not clear what would happen if a city or county violates the proposed law if it is passed.

"It's clear," Bevin said. "It's the jurisdiction of the state legislature."

(c)2019 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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