Hundreds Gather at State House to Protest Bill Punishing Sanctuary Cities

Apr 20, 2017

The visceral emotions fueling the national immigration debate were in full view at the State House Thursday. Both sides converged for a public hearing on a contentious bill designed to punish what are often called sanctuary cities.

The debate over sanctuary cities ultimately drifts into legal territory. And that means there’s disagreement over what exactly a sanctuary city is, or whether it even exists. But for supporters of anti-sanctuary-city bills, the issue is pretty simple.

“Make no mistake, these policies and practices have life-and-death consequences, and we’re not just talking about terrorist attacks,” says state Rep. Larry Lockman, a Republican from Amherst.

Lockman is the sponsor of a bill that would compel local governments and law enforcement to act as extensions of federal immigration authorities, to collect and share the immigration status of residents and to assist in the detaining of people who may not have received authorization to be here.

Under Lockman’s bill, the local communities that don’t cooperate — the sanctuary cities — would risk losing state funds. Lockman says the bill will facilitate the removal of potential criminals or terrorists.

“It’s reasonable to conclude that they would most likely gravitate to communities where the cops are not allowed to ask them about their immigration status,” he says.

Lockman is a controversial figure in Augusta, and his bill comes at a time of increased nationalism and economic and racial anxiety over immigration in America.

President Donald Trump deployed soaring rhetoric about immigrants during his successful campaign to the White House. And one of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order that withholds funds from cities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Lockman’s bill, and the nearly 30 other bills in state legislatures this year, are essentially state versions of Trump’s order. The proposals have been fought by the ACLU and immigrant advocates.

Prior to the public hearing before the Judiciary Committee, the ACLU of Maine organized a rally that drew close to 100 people to protest Lockman’s bill. Opponents spoke passionately about how the bill will lead to racial profiling, discrimination and erode partnerships between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

But Fatuma Hussein sees something darker in Lockman’s proposal. Her weary sadness filled her testimony during the public hearing.

“We’re not bad people. We’re not criminals — we’re tired of running around. We’re tired of running from violence all the time,” she says.

Hussein fled war-torn Somalia in 2001. She owns a business in Lewiston, and has eight children, two of whom made it to college. She doesn’t see safety in Lockman’s bill — she described the proposal and its accompanying rhetoric as fear and malice.

“For them to spread propaganda that does not exist is wrong. It is morally wrong. It’s the wrong thing to do,” she says.

Hussein invited Lockman to visit her family in Auburn. That appears unlikely, as does final passage of Lockman’s bill — and reconciliation of tensions from the immigration debate.