Feds threaten Louisville over immigration law

Feds threaten Louisville over immigration law
Metro Council voted to enact the ordinance in October 2017.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Department of Justice listed Louisville Metro as a city that may be in violation of federal immigration law.

The DOJ warned Louisville and 28 other "sanctuary cities" that federal grant money could be at stake if the city is not in compliance.

Louisville has not declared itself a sanctuary city, but the Metro Council recently passed an ordinance outlining when the police department can assist immigration officials and when they can't.

Councilman David James was a sponsor of the ordinance. He believes the ordinance will help fight discrimination.

"What we're trying to do is make sure we don't create second-class citizens within our own community," James said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer responded to the statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday.

"Complying with the law is also important to the city," Fischer said.

Mayor Fischer is confident the city's Separation of Powers ordinance does not violate federal immigration law.

"We're in contact with the DOJ all the time on different issues, so we're in good shape," Fischer said.

In the letter released Wednesday, Sessions specifically mentioned sanctuary policies as being the problem. Sessions believes such policies put residents' safety at risk by lending themselves to improperly processing criminals who are also undocumented.

Sessions referred to those individuals as "criminal aliens."

"They say it might be in violation," James said of Session's warning. "Those kinds of words mean they are not very confident themselves."

Under the new Louisville Metro policy, when immigration officials call Metro Police for help, a commanding officer will handle the call, assess what level of help, if any, is appropriate, and join officers at the scene if dispatched.

Officers will only be dispatched if there is a criminal (not immigration status) warrant, when a crime has occurred or is occurring, or in an emergency situation when there is a clear public danger.

The ordinance also stops other city employees from asking about a person's immigration status.

The DOJ warned federal grants could be at stake if the city is found in violation of federal rules. Councilwoman Angela Leet says it could cost the city nearly $600,000. Those funds are used for crime fighting programs, Leet said.

"We could have avoided all this and focused on what we really need to do which is protecting our citizens, ensuring law and order, and ensuring that we're reducing crime in our community," Leet said.

Louisville Councilman Robin Engel also released a statement.

"This ordinance was about creating a Sanctuary City," Engel said. "The sponsors believed using the word separation instead of sanctuary would somehow change the minds of the Justice Department. Now we find that the actions by the mayor and a majority of the members of the Metro Council are putting in jeopardy one of many federal grants."

"Louisville's policy - as codified in the ordinance - is designed to make all residents safer by encouraging everyone to work with LMPD," Councilman Bill Hollander, the chair of the Louisville Metro Democratic Caucus, stated.

"Our legal advisers have assured us that it violates no federal law. We won't be bullied by President Trump and Jeff Sessions into making Louisville less safe," Hollander said.

According to LMPD Chief Steve Conrad and Mayor Greg Fischer, LMPD will not respond to requests to assist ICE in enforcing federal laws, such as knocking on doors to clear a house or apartment.

A press release from Louisville Metro stated that Mayor Fischer directed Chief Conrad to review calls and confer with ICE officials on their process before creating this new policy.

The press release also stated that the new policy ensures an extra layer of scrutiny by a commanding officer and greater transparency in handling calls.

"Jody Meiman, director of Emergency Management Agency/MetroSafe, will train MetroSafe staff so they know to contact a commanding officer when someone from ICE calls MetroSafe/911. Further, the calls between the commanding officer and the ICE official will be recorded to ensure ultimate transparency," the statement continued.

The cities listed to be in possible violation are:

  • Albany, New York
  • Berkeley, California
  • Bernalillo County, New Mexico
  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Contra Costa County, California
  • City and County of Denver, Colorado
  • Fremont, California
  • Jackson, Mississippi
  • King County, Washington
  • Lawrence, Massachusetts
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Louisville Metro, Kentucky
  • Middlesex, New Jersey
  • Monterey County, California
  • Multnomah County, Oregon
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Riverside County, California
  • Sacramento County, California
  • City and County of San Francisco, California
  • Santa Ana, California
  • Santa Clara County, California
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Sonoma County, California
  • Washington, District of Columbia
  • Watsonville, California
  • West Palm Beach, Florida
  • State of Illinois
  • State of Oregon
  • State of Vermont

To read the full statement by AG Sessions, click or tap here.

Copyright 2017 WAVE 3 News. All Rights Reserved.