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Louisville Metro Council To Vote On Immigration Enforcement Ordinance

city Hall
city Hall

An ordinance barring Louisville police officers and employees from enforcing federal immigration laws cleared a first hurdle Wednesday and will soon be up for a vote by the Metro Council.

The proposed city ordinance closely mirrors a new Louisville Metro Police Department policy that clarifies the agency’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The change follows a KyCIR report that revealed ICE agents had asked LMPD to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

On Wednesday, Lt. Col. Shara Parks of the Louisville Metro Police Department told the council’s public safety committee that the agency has no objections to the ordinance.

The measure’s sponsor, Councilman Brandon Coan, said it won’t interfere with federal investigations or provide safe harbor to criminals.

Instead, he said, it will ensure that immigrants in Louisville know they won’t be asked their immigration status in interactions with public employees -- and that police will only assist federal immigration agents due to danger or a warrant signed by a judge.

“Louisville is a welcoming city that is committed to protecting and serving all who call it home, and our strength is rooted in our rich diversity and proud immigrant history,” Coan said. “We will not turn our police officers into ICE agents.”

(Read “ Louisville Police Don’t Enforce Immigration – But Help The Feds Do It“)

The committee approved Coan’s proposal by a 4-3 vote. It will go to the full council as early as next week.

Councilwoman Julie Denton, who voted against the measure, said she thinks the ordinance is a knee-jerk response to the KyCIR story and that it “sets a dangerous precedent” in codifying police policy.

“They’ve got to have the flexibility to turn on a dime and change policy, and if we set this policy they aren’t going to be able to do that,” Denton said.

Council members James Peden and Angela Leet also opposed the measure.

Under the proposal, public safety officials can only assist ICE 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.

The proposed ordinance would also prevent 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. Other Metro employees would also be required to only ask about immigration status if they’re specifically required to do so by law or to assess eligibility for a program.

What the ordinance wouldn’t do: prevent city employees from communicating with and providing information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is how Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defined “sanctuary cities.”

Immigrant rights activists in Louisville have been petitioning the council for months to pass sanctuary city legislation. Sassa Rivera of Mijente Louisville said the ordinance doesn’t go nearly far enough to consider Louisville a sanctuary city, but it’s an important start.

“Of course it was very disheartening to hear the ignorance of a lot of people on our Metro Council about what immigration looks like in our city as well as what we actually contribute,” Rivera said. “But I think this is the point where we push to say that this is needed, this is necessary.”

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

Correction: The ordinance does not specify that LMPD officers will assist ICE when a felony or violent crime is in progress. The story incorrectly cited a previous version of the ordinance.

Kate Howard is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.