By BRYNA GODAR
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin residents and immigrants packed a hearing Wednesday to speak against a bill aimed at preventing so-called sanctuary cities for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
The bill would bar local governments from prohibiting police from inquiring about immigration status or working with federal immigration authorities. Communities that enact such policies could be challenged in court and could lose shared revenue of $500 to $5,000 each day of noncompliance.
Opponents overflowed a large hearing room, some carrying signs saying “Wisconsin is not Arizona” and some offering their testimony in Spanish alongside a translator.
“This legislation is oppressive, it’s divisive, it creates fear,” said Waukesha resident Bernie Gonzalez, who said he previously lived in the U.S. illegally. “It’s overkill. Cities are already doing this.”
Bill author Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, introduced the legislation following an incident in San Francisco in which a woman was fatally shot by a Mexican immigrant. The suspect had been released earlier that year by the San Francisco County sheriff’s office, despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him.
Spiros said there haven’t been similar issues in Wisconsin and he hasn’t spoken with federal immigration officials, but he wants to be proactive instead of reactive.
“This is not an anti-immigration bill,” Spiros said. “The bill’s scope is to protect our citizens, and that’s whether they’re here legally or illegally.”
The bill would nullify any existing policies or previously adopted resolutions that don’t comply with the new requirements, though it’s not clear whether that would directly affect any Wisconsin communities.
Spiros listed Racine, Madison and Milwaukee County as “sanctuary cities” in Wisconsin, but officials from Milwaukee and Madison disputed that.
“The city of Madison follows federal law,” said Madison council member Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, who said she is an immigrant herself. “What we have said as a city, and I’m proud to say that we have said that as a city, is that we are a city that is welcoming to immigrants, we are a city that supports comprehensive immigration reform.”
Madison passed a resolution in 2010 calling on the Dane County sheriff to stop reporting immigration status to federal authorities, though it had no legal effect. A 2012 Milwaukee County Board resolution similarly called on the sheriff not to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immigration detention requests unless a person has been convicted of serious crimes, is a gang member or is a suspected terrorist.
The lengthy hearing Wednesday took place amid a heated national debate on immigration and one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a key immigration case. On Tuesday, justices agreed to review whether President Barack Obama has the power to defer deportation for up to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and make them eligible to work. The case will be argued in April and decided by late June, falling in the midst of a presidential campaign.