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Guest Blog: SB 2306 Would Weaken Local Control Over Budgets and Law Enforcement

March 21st, 2016

The Mississippi legislature is considering a bill ― SB 2306 ― that would reduce cities’ and towns’ control over their budgets, limit local law enforcement’s flexibility in doing its job, and potentially expose municipalities to federal lawsuits by requiring them to “assist federal immigration authorities in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”  Lawmakers should reject the bill, which would more likely create new problems for Mississippi’s cities and towns than solve any current ones.

The bill’s sponsors say it’s intended to stop any Mississippi city or town from becoming a “sanctuary city,” or one that limits the time and money that local law enforcement spends helping federal immigration authorities detain undocumented immigrants.   But they acknowledge that no Mississippi municipality is a “sanctuary city,” so it’s not clear why the bill is even needed.

The bill:

  • Reduces local control over city and town budgets. When local police and jails detain people on behalf of federal immigration officials, they aren’t fully reimbursed for the associated costs.  Limiting local law enforcement’s role in policing federal immigration law thus saves money for local taxpayers.  In the future, Mississippi municipalities and their taxpayers might reasonably decide to take this step, but SB 2306 would bar them from doing so.
  • Sets no limits on what “assistance” is required. SB 2306’s vague mandate to “assist” federal immigration authorities apparently sets no limits on what municipalities must do.  Rather than allow municipalities to decide which federal requests are reasonable, the bill forces them to comply, regardless of the budgetary impacts or the effect on law enforcement’s ability to perform its primary duties.
  • Makes it harder for local law enforcement to do its job. Cities or towns in Mississippi may decide that public safety is better served when police officers have some flexibility in assisting federal immigration officials ― for example, when the police want to encourage witnesses or victims of a crime to come forward but fear of deportation gets in the way.  This bill would take that flexibility away from law enforcement.
  • Could attract federal lawsuits. Cities and towns can be sued for federal civil rights violations if they detain a person solely on the request of federal immigration authorities, and they may very well lose in court, as cases in other states have shown.  Municipalities in Mississippi may already be at risk of these sorts of lawsuits, but the bill’s broad requirement as well as the attention the bill would attract would make such cases more likely.  While the bill includes language meant to protect against lawsuits, the state can’t immunize police against cases brought in federal court.

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Michael Leachman is Director of State Fiscal Research with the State Fiscal Policy division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzes state tax and budget policy decisions and promotes sustainable policies that take into account the needs of families of all income levels.

 

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