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Louisville Council OKs New Rule Clarifying Immigration Enforcement Guidelines

An LMPD officer and a federal immigration agent confer outside the home of Mauro Perez-Perez on April 13, 2017.
An LMPD officer and a federal immigration agent confer outside the home of Mauro Perez-Perez on April 13, 2017.

People in Louisville will no longer be questioned about their immigration status by city employees, including police.

And police will only assist federal agencies in enforcing immigration laws with a warrant signed by a judge or when there is a risk for danger or violence, according to an ordinance approved Thursday by the Louisville Metro Council.

The council approved the measure in a 16-7 vote.

The proposed city ordinance closely mirrors a new Louisville Metro Police Department policythat 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.

The ordinance passed Thursday doesn't fit the federal government's definition of a sanctuary city and doesn't prevent Louisville police from enforcing criminal laws against undocumented immigrants.

But it does clarify that immigrants in Louisville won’t be asked their immigration status in certain interactions with public employees, except “when specifically required to do so by law or program guidelines as a condition of eligibility for the service sought,” per the ordinance.

Councilman Brandon Coan, a Democrat who sponsored the ordinance, said the measure's "primary purpose" is to ensure local law enforcement is separate from federal agencies.

"It addresses a real issue that people, a large portion of our community, do not feel safe here," Coan said.

And Coan said people cannot be safe if they're afraid of contacting the police or the ambulance or the fire department.

Republican Councilwoman Marilyn Parker suggested the policy is not necessary. Instead, she said it could hinder the work of future police chiefs who'd rather not abide by the limitations set forth in the ordinance.

Parker, who voted against the measure, said the ordinance could stir fear among local police officers and city employees.

"They've got to walk a really thin line," she said.

Councilwoman Julie Denton, a Republican, also voted against the measure. She fears the ordinance would cause the city to be at risk of losing federal funding.

"It just seems odd," she said.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, responded to the vote in a text message Thursday night.

“This law now codifies the policies we already have in place at LMPD," he said.

Ordinance Details

Under the proposal, public safety officials can only assist ICE with a warrant signed by a judge, 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.

Sarah Nunez, the assistant director of the University of Louisville's Hispanic and Latin Initiative, said it's imperative the city's immigrants can feel safe in their homes, schools, jobs and neighborhoods.

"We need policies that provide us protection in these harsh environments," she said.

Councilman James Peden, a Republican who initially voted against the ordinance in a committee, said during the more than hour-long discussion he'd decided to support the measure.

Peden teaches public school and said he's tired or hearing kids tell him they don't report domestic abuse at home to police because they're afraid of being deported.

He said if one person ends up calling the police instead of suffering abuse due to this ordinance, then it's a success.

Jesús Ibañez of Mijente Louisville reveled in the council’s approval of the ordinance. He shared hugs and high-fives as he left the council chambers.

He said the measure is a good step in ensuring equality and justice for all residents living in Louisville. He said too often people are trapped in abusive relationships because they fear calling police — they fear deportation.

But the push won’t end with this ordinance, he said. He said he’ll continue to push for a so-called “sanctuary city” status for Louisville.

“Sanctuary is not just policy at the government level,” Ibañez said. “It’s about what our faith leaders can do, what can our business leaders do, what can our schools do.”

Ibañez said his group is prepared to take that fight to Frankfort, and to Washington D.C.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.