Investigations

Immigrant rights activists in Louisville are ramping up their push for “sanctuary city” policies in the wake of a report that Louisville Metro Police officers have repeatedly assisted federal immigration agents on service calls.

The mayor and police chief are still reviewing the implications of police assistance for federal immigration agents. But many in the audience in Metro Council’s chambers Thursday night held yellow signs reading “Sanctuary For All” as residents lobbied city leaders for policing and policy changes.

Activists cited a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story, which revealed that Louisville Metro Police officers were assisting ICE on a nearly weekly basis.

The story, published last week, showed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have asked LMPD officers to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

Louisville residents asked council members Thursday to support sanctuary policies, stop assisting ICE and to commit that Louisville won’t sign a 287(g) agreement, a federal program that deputizes local police or sheriff’s deputies to enforce immigration laws.

“This is not the job of LMPD,” said Margaret Sites, a University of Louisville law student. “Mayor Fischer’s commitment to investigating the relationship between LMPD and ICE and his commitment to a compassionate policy is important and valued. But a written commitment by the metro government not to sign 287(g) agreements is a tangible step that the council can take to clarify policy.”

Following the investigative report, Mayor Greg Fischer called on the police chief to meet with ICE and clarify its role assisting the federal agency. Fischer also said the city’s globalization chief, Bryan Warren, would meet with immigrant leaders to hear their concerns and feedback.

Warren said Friday that he is still identifying members of the community to talk to, and will have recommendations for the mayor by the end of next week. Spokesmen for LMPD have refused to respond to additional inquiries from KyCIR since the story was published.

Chief Steve Conrad told reporters last week that his officers wouldn’t be used by ICE — and that officers acted properly in 19 of the 23 calls cited by KyCIR. His office hasn’t said which four incidents are still under review.

It’s not clear whether one of them is the door-knock Metro officers made before ICE agents arrested Mauro Perez-Perez in April. Body camera footage showed LMPD officers knocking on Perez-Perez’s door after he ran from ICE agents — and before federal agents broke the door down to arrest him for illegal re-entry.

In this image taken from the Metro Council video feed, social worker Sofia Calleja implores leaders to enact sanctuary city policies.

Sofia Calleja, a social worker and law student at the U of L Brandeis School of Law, said she and others have long worked to teach immigrants their rights. Her advice: don’t open the door for anyone you don’t know, and don’t let federal agents in without seeing a warrant signed by a judge.

Those lessons don’t account for LMPD officers who knock on the door while ICE agents wait behind them.

“When LMPD is creating this criminal offense or justification for entering the home, that really just defeats our whole ‘know your rights’ spiel, because you’ve found a loophole for it in a way,” Calleja said. “So I don’t really know what to tell them anymore.”

Jesús Ibañez, a member of Mijente Louisville, said the immigrant community has been screaming for years about LMPD working with ICE. City and police leaders have always reiterated that LMPD does not enforce immigration laws.

“It’s absolutely infuriating. It’s a betrayal,” said Ibañez. “What the mayor and the leadership have been saying for months is the complete opposite of what reality is.”

Ibañez said all his group has heard so far is “basic politician rhetoric” — and at least one complaint about the group chanting Thursday night as they exited council chambers.

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.