Politics

Louisville officials defended the city’s new immigration ordinance in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Friday that called concerns about federal law violations inaccurate and out of context.

The letter from Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell was a response to Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson’s demand last month that Louisville prove its new ordinance doesn’t make it a “sanctuary city.”

Hanson said his office is “concerned” a recent ordinance will jeopardize the city’s eligibility to continue receiving a federal grant for police equipment.

The DOJ sent similar letters last month to 28 other jurisdictions across the country questioning whether local laws conflict with federal law Section 1373, which mandates local governments communicate with and provide information to federal agencies.

O’Connell noted that segments of Louisville’s ordinance quoted by the U.S. Department of Justice were selective and lacked context.

“Because our very ordinance states that Louisville will comply with the sharing directives contained in that federal section, it is perplexing that Louisville is singled out for scrutiny in light of Mr. Sessions’ directives to the contrary,” O’Connell said.

The Louisville city council passed an ordinance in October that says public safety officials can only assist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents with a warrant signed by a judge, or if ICE “articulates a reasonable suspicion of a risk of violence” or when there is a clear danger to the public.” Other Metro employees are required to only ask about immigration status if they’re specifically required to do so by law or to assess eligibility for a program.

The change followed a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting article in September that revealed ICE agents had asked Louisville Metro Police Department officers to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

The ordinance also prevents the city’s Department of Corrections from entering into a 287(g) agreement — a federal program that deputizes local police or sheriff’s deputies to enforce immigration laws.

“Louisville has no intention of preventing or prohibiting the sharing of information as is required under the statute,” O’Connell said.

Read the letter here.

Kate Howard can be reached at khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

Kate Howard is a veteran investigative reporter specializing in government accountability and higher education issues.