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Bill discouraging sanctuary cities introduced in Idaho Legislature

Federal, state and local power take part in national debate about immigration

The debate over illegal immigration has intensified over the past few years with the formation of sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities do not act in compliance with federal authorities who ask that illegal immigrants be handed over to agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), essentially acting as a place where undocumented immigrants are less likely to be deported. These cities have come under scrutiny and debate. As a result, an Idaho lawmaker is introducing a bill to prevent such cities in Idaho.

Although Idaho currently doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, the debate about them has come to Idaho. Representative Greg Chaney from Caldwell recently introduced a bill to the Idaho Legislature discouraging the formation of sanctuary cities in Idaho. The bill, formally known as House Bill 76, states any city not acting in compliance with federal immigration authorities would be subject to a withdrawal of state funds. 

Some have criticized this bill, saying it sends a message of intolerance to immigrants, while others support it saying it’s needed to ensure public safety.

Dr. Greg Hill, director of the Idaho Policy Institution, School of Public Service and associate professor of Public Policy and Administration, has studied immigration law and the issues surrounding it.

“If (someone gets) booked in the county jail, (they) end up getting fingerprinted and those fingerprints are shared with federal agencies—ICE included. If ICE determines that person is undocumented, then they ask the county to hold that person until they can take them into custody; sanctuary cities don’t hold them and let them go without reporting to ICE,” Hill said.

Critics of sanctuary cities, such as Chaney, argue these policies give arrested felons a layer of protection from being deported. Detractors argue the reputation of a city “being friendly to illegal immigration” can attract criminals that not only hurt the general population, but legal immigrants as well.

“These sorts of policies are very negative even for immigrants themselves. Adopting these policies turns communities into magnets where people with the wrong motives tend to flock,” Chaney said.

Supporters of sanctuary cities argue the constant threat of deportation is the reason why many undocumented immigrants feel unsafe. Francisco Salinas, director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, said when a city isn’t a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, they are often afraid to contact local law enforcement, making them greater targets for abuse and crime.

“Five years ago, I was dealing with a situation in which a female tenant had been the victim of sexual assault. The victim was not a legal resident and did not want to be exposed—she felt at risk for even contacting the police,” Salinas said. “When you’re in a society and you feel you can’t have folks to protect you, that creates a situation of people who are treated lesser than other humans.”

The assertion that enforcement of immigration laws such as House Bill 76 would target all undocumented immigrants was rebuffed by Chaney.

“The bill doesn’t do anything until someone is already placed under arrest. Not every undocumented person who is arrested is going to become subject to detainment,” Chaney said. “It’s not practical nor prudent to try to go pick up every single person with misdemeanor charges who is undocumented.”

Since Idaho currently doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, some have questioned the bill’s legitimacy. Salinas argued it would send a negative message to undocumented immigrants.

“It would have the effect of reinforcing a sense of not being valued for those populations in our state that already feel at risk,” Salinas said. “All students deserve to feel safe and valued. If we’ve got anything going on campus that makes students feel less safe or valued, that should be addressed.”

While disagreeing on the bill itself, both Chaney and Salinas showed support of immigrants in general. What’s left to be debated is how to deal with immigrants who come to America without proper documentation. Chaney argued his bill is meant to combat dangerous criminals committing felonies, and that sanctuary cities don’t protect average undocumented immigrants—only felons.

“(Sanctuary cities) don’t shield the sort of immigrant that’s generally put forward. It shields those who have a tendency in engaging in (illegal) behavior, or their motives for being here aren’t typical of the immigrant community,” Chaney said.

If the bill passes in both houses it will then go to Idaho Governor Butch Otter who, in a recent press conference with the Idaho Press Club, showed support for upholding federal immigration law.

“People in Idaho respect and count on the rule of law,” Otter said. “And even if it’s a federal law that I don’t like, I am obliged to enforce it—I’m obliged to obey it.”