Republican leaders in Kentucky’s legislature are rallying around a bill that would ban cities, public agencies and universities from adopting so-called “sanctuary” policies that snub federal immigration officials.
The proposal has raised concerns from immigration and civil rights advocates who worry that it would prod public workers into enforcing federal immigration law and increase the number of Kentuckians facing deportation.
Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah and the bill’s sponsor, said that it would create more avenues for citizens to report undocumented immigrants.
“If you find out they’re an undocumented immigrant, they’re illegal in the country, you contact immigration and that is a tool that you can rid a community of someone who is putting the children and all of the residents of that community at risk,” Carroll said of a hypothetical non-citizen drug dealer.
“Folks, that’s what this legislation is about.”
The bill would bar any policy that grants “lawful presence or status” to undocumented immigrants or prevents state workers from asking about immigration status.
It would also block any state or local policy that would require immigration officials to get a warrant to pursue an undocumented immigrant, only requiring probable cause.
Though the official title of the bill is “an act related to federal immigration cooperation,” Carroll said that the proposal “is not a statement on immigration,” but rather a signal of support for law enforcement.
“This is a statement on law enforcement and what the law will be within this commonwealth when it comes to law enforcement’s ability to cooperate,” Carroll said.
The bill would exempt public school districts from the policy. But the state’s public universities would be barred from adopting sanctuary policies.
“We did not give the same exemption to colleges and universities because they are adults that go to college. It’s just a different set of rules and there is no federal legislation that covers that,” Carroll said.
None of Kentucky’s public universities have official sanctuary policies, but some of them have weighed in in recent years, saying that federal privacy laws protect all students — including undocumented immigrants – from having their information shared.
Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said that the bill would expand the list of people enforcing federal immigration law to librarians, medical providers, social workers and other state employees.
“Are these really the folks we want responsible for engaging in federal immigration enforcement?” Miller said.
“We have wrongly detained and deported United States citizens, but even when we deport people who are here unlawfully, that’s a very serious consequence, that’s a very serious outcome.”
According to the Pew Research Center there were about 50,000 undocumented immigrants in Kentucky in 2014, about 1 percent of the state’s population.