Legislators tangle over bill that would require police to investigate immigration statusby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that prohibit police from asking about or investigating an individual's immigration status would go away under a bill being considered at the state Legislature.
The legislation in the House would effectively prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities" in the state and would require cities to share immigration information with federal officials.
Five Republican House members have signed on to support the bill, including Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. Drazkowski and state Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, debated the bill on MPR's Morning Edition.
Drazkowski said illegal immigration is a problem in Minnesota, costing the state $188 million a year, according to a study Gov. Tim Pawlenty released in 2004. The main costs were found to be education, incarceration and medical care, he said.
"It's crime and it's money," Drazkowski said. "Certainly there's a cost to society. We know that people who come here illegally are predisposed to illegal behavior at a higher level than the rest of the population, so I don't know why exactly we'd want to create sanctuaries for these people."
But Harrington, the former St. Paul police chief, said any costs to the state have to be weighed against the money illegal immigrants bring to the economy.
"Economically, the immigrant communities in this community bring in an excess of $2 billion a year, which I think more than counter-balances the economic costs, which are really soft costs," he said. "We're going to have cops, we're going to have prisons, we're going to have judges whether there are immigrants here or not."
Harrington said St. Paul's ordinance allows the city to participate in crime initiatives with the federal government, such as targeting a group of illegal immigrants involved in a human trafficking ring. But he said proactively inquiring about people's immigration status is "bad police work."
"You don't go into a domestic and ask the woman who's been beat up, 'what's your immigration status?' Because that has a completely chilling effect on the victims," Harrington said, adding that tips from the community have helped bring crime rates down.
Harrington said another issue with the bill is transferring responsibility for immigration enforcement from the federal to the local level, putting an additional burden on cities.
But Drazkowski argued that states that have cities with "sanctuary" ordinances are only hurting themselves economically.
"We know that people who are here illegally have a much higher cost to society. [Local government aid] demands are going to be that much higher," he said.
"We want to avoid being a sanctuary state when other states in the union are developing stronger policies around immigration and finding ways to enforce laws in their communities," he added. "Where are those people going to go? They're going to go to the places where the people aren't going to check in on them."
(MPR's Jim Bickal and Cathy Wurzer contributed to this report.)
- Morning Edition, 02/18/2011, 7:45 a.m.